With 2 minutes and 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter on Saturday night, the Milwaukee Bucks trailed the Brooklyn Nets 86-80, and Giannis Antetokounmpo was going to the line for two free throws and a chance to cut the deficit to four. When the quarter ended a short while later, the Nets were in front 98-84, and the Bucks never recovered.
Now that the Nets have secured a 115-107 win, and a 1-0 series lead, let's take a closer look at the two-minute stretch that sealed the Bucks' fate, and what it means for the rest of the series.
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2:15: Nets 86, Bucks 80 -- Giannis misses two free throws
For as great as Giannis is, he's struggled at the free throw line in recent seasons. He went 0 for 3 in this game, and is now shooting 58.3 percent from the line in the postseason. This wasn't a great time in the game for it to happen, but Giannis missing free throws is just part of the deal.
2:07: Nets 89, Bucks 80 -- Kyrie Irving hits a 3 in transition
After Giannis misses the second free throw, the Nets secure the rebound. Mike James tosses the ball ahead to Landry Shamet, who finds Kyrie Irving in the corner for a 3. A missed free throw is one thing, but this cannot happen. The Nets are hard enough to stop without gifting them baskets because you got caught sleeping.
1:51: Nets 89, Bucks 80 -- Giannis drives, turns the ball over
Coming down the court, the Bucks put the ball in Giannis' hands, and let him run a pick-and-roll with Jrue Holiday as the screener. Giannis tries to attack the open space, and loses control of the ball. Not really much to say here. Time and score make it extra costly, but sometimes you're just going to turn the ball over.
1:46: Nets 91, Bucks 80 -- Shamet dunks in transition
The Nets pounce on the loose ball and race the other way. Irving tosses a nifty bounce pass to Shamet, who throws it down to push the lead to double digits. Live ball turnovers are absolutely brutal against the Nets.
1:36: Nets 91, Bucks 82 -- Lopez hits two free throws
Wisely, the Bucks tried to settle things down a bit, and went to Brook Lopez in the post. He has a mismatch every time down low against this thin Nets frontcourt, and quickly drew a foul on Kevin Durant. The Bucks showed some good poise here, and would have done well to remember this possession.
1:23: Nets 93, Bucks 82 -- Durant drives and hits a short runner
Coming off a screen, Durant caught the ball on the wing and went to work against Giannis. The Greek Freak got slightly off balance as he tried to close out, which gave Durant the split second he needed to get past on the drive. Even so, he had to make the floater while surrounded by three defenders. All in all, this wasn't even terrible defense, just a tough bucket by Durant.
1:04: Nets 93, Bucks 82 -- Giannis misses a 3-pointer
Once again, the Bucks put the ball in Giannis' hands, and had him run a pick-and-roll. This time, instead of trying to attack the space, he settles for a 3-pointer that doesn't go down. The Bucks challenged a foul call on the rebound and won, which resulted in a jump ball. But while they got bailed out with that, it's more about the process than the result. This isn't good offense at any point, but especially not while the Nets are making a run.
51.8: Nets 93, Bucks 82 -- Giannis travels
The Bucks won the jump ball from the successful challenge, and again they went to a pick-and-roll with Giannis. This time, however, he was the roller. Unfortunately, that didn't work either, as he caught the pass from Holiday and traveled. Pretty good defense here from Nic Claxton to show to the ball and recover to Giannis.
40.4: Nets 95, Bucks 82 -- Durant hits two free throws
Down on the other end, Durant set up shop in the mid-post and got Giannis with the rip through move. Just a savvy play by one of the best scorers in the world.
28.4: Nets 95, Bucks 82 -- Holiday misses a layup
Looking for some sort of response, the Bucks again go to the pick-and-roll with Holiday as the ball-handler. It turns into an iso at the top of the key, and he bullies his way right to the rim before missing a layup. This summed up Holiday's night well. He went for just 17 points on 7 of 19 from the field, which the Bucks absolutely cannot afford given their depth issues.
5.1: Nets 98, Bucks 82 -- Durant drains a step-back 3
With time winding down, the Nets put the ball in Durant's hands and let him cook. He sized up Giannis, broke out the crossover and drained a step back 3 right in his face. Again, there's really nothing you can do about that. Giannis was right there to contest, and it didn't matter.
0.0: Nets 98, Bucks 84 -- Lopez hits a leaner at the buzzer
The Bucks rushed the ball up the floor, and Holiday found Lopez in the paint. He took the contact from Durant and tossed in a little leaner at the buzzer. Too little, too late, however. The damage from the Nets' run at the end of the quarter had been done.
So what can we learn from this stretch? Here are a few takeaways:
Bucks can't compound mistakes
Defensive breakdowns, missed free throws, turnovers and the like are part of the game, and no one is ever going to be perfect. One key for the Bucks, though, is to avoid compounding these mistakes, because that's where things can really spiral out of control against the Nets.
A missed free throw leads to a defensive breakdown, which leads to a turnover and then a bad shot because you're pressing to get the points back as fast as possible. All of a sudden the Nets have ripped off eight points and you don't know what's happened.
It's much easier said than done, but when the Bucks feel things slipping a little bit, they need to slow it down and work the ball inside to Lopez or Giannis. The only successful halfcourt possession they had in this whole stretch was when they got Lopez a post touch. Brooklyn really has no answer for either of them inside.
Durant is just unstoppable
Not exactly breaking news, but Durant is incredible and there's no answer for him in isolation. He's too smart, too skilled and too big. In the playoffs he has the third-most isolation possessions per game (7.7) and has been the fifth-most efficient scorer in those situations (1.239 points per possession) per Synergy Sports.
Even when the Bucks put Giannis on him, it didn't matter. Giannis was a step off-balance on a closeout and Durant drove past him for a floater. Giannis crowded him in the post and Durant ripped through to draw a foul. Antetokounmpo played perfect defense on the perimeter and Durant still knocked down a step-back 3 in his face.
Giannis attacking from the top of the key isn't the answer
Giannis is an amazing player, and he had an amazing game, finishing with 34 points and 11 rebounds. This was a rough stretch for him, however, and it wasn't a surprise that two of the worst possessions of the bunch came when he tried to attack from the top of the key.
Antetokounmpo is talented and athletic enough that he'll have success sometimes, especially against mismatches. But without a jumper to hold defenders accountable, those possessions just become too predictable. Especially in the playoffs, opponents are going to be locked in and prepared to force him into tough shots and bad decisions.
That's not to say he should never have the ball in his hands, but he had so much more success in this game when he was getting post touches or catching the ball on the move.