The Brooklyn Nets were in danger of being blown out Saturday, but a group of reserves made it competitive before the Milwaukee Bucks pulled away for a 129-115 win.
A funny thing happened on the way to a massive blowout loss for the Brooklyn Nets Saturday evening at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.
Trailing the Milwaukee Bucks 95-69 with 5:06 remaining in the third quarter, a Nets club playing without starting point guard D’Angelo Russell and backup center Ed Davis and that lost power forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to a hip injury just three minutes into the game did the unexpected.
Powered by backup guard Shabazz Napier — out of the rotation for most of the last month — and reserve big man Kenneth Faried, who had logged just 50 minutes all season before Saturday, Brooklyn roared back before falling 129-115.
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The Nets (17-21) cut the deficit to 20 at 106-86 at the quarter break before opening the fourth period with a 14-3 run to get the deficit into single digits with eight minutes left.
Napier’s floater off the glass with 4:51 remaining cut the Milwaukee (25-10) lead to seven at 116-109.
After leading by 26 points in the third quarter, the Bucks had to bring back their starting unit to close out the plucky Nets.
Giannis Antetokounmpo took over at that point, scoring six points in an 8-0 run that pushed the Milwaukee lead back to 15 at 124-109 to finally put Brooklyn away with 3:10 to go.
Russell and Davis were rested on the second night of a very difficult road back-to-back, with the 5 p.m. Eastern start time Saturday just at the NBA rule for the minimum turnaround time on a back-to-back — 22 hours between tip times.
The Nets had played in Charlotte with a 7 p.m. tip on Friday.
Then the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, now wearing the uniform of the Bucks, got hot.
Brook Lopez banged in the first of his five first-half 3-pointers and Antetokounmpo recovered from a stunning blocked shot on a dunk attempt by Jarrett Allen to get two straight throwdowns as the Bucks ran off 10 straight points.
Milwaukee took the lead for good on Malcolm Brogdon‘s free throw after a defensive three-seconds technical foul against the Nets with 2:10 left in the first and closed the period with a 29-23 lead.
The Bucks caught fire late in the second period, closing the first half on a 12-2 run to open up a 71-52 halftime edge.
After Brooklyn opened the third quarter with a 12-4 burst to get the deficit back to 11 points, Milwaukee erupted again with a 24-5 run to take their biggest lead with 5:06 left in the third.
The Nets — with a unit of Napier, Faried, Theo Pinson, DeMarre Carroll and Jared Dudley — chipped away at the lead and that unit spent most of the remainder of the game on the floor. Napier scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and Faried added nine as Brooklyn closed the gap.
The Nets recovered from a tough shooting night at Charlotte to hit 48.1 percent on Saturday (38-for-79) and made 15-of-35 from 3-point range (42.9 percent). Their 24-of-35 mark at the foul line cost them some chances to get closer in the game.
They outrebounded the Bucks 40-39, but in a game when each team had just five offensive rebounds, Milwaukee had a 14-5 edge in second-chance points and scored 19 points off 14 Brooklyn turnovers. The Nets had 11 points off 10 Bucks’ mistakes.
Milwaukee shot 49 percent (47-for-96) and tied a Nets’ opposition record with 21 3-pointers while setting another with 51 attempts, shooting 41.2 percent for the game.
The Houston Rockets had set the mark of 21 makes from 3 on Jan. 15, 2017, and held the opposition mark of 50 attempts, set Nov. 27, 2017.
Napier matched his career-high of 32 points set in the penultimate game of the 2016-17 season when he was a member of the Portland Trail Blazers and added seven assists, hitting 9-of-15 from the floor, 4-of-7 from 3-point range and matching a career-high with 10 free throws in a career-best 12 attempts.
Faried, meanwhile, logged 27 minutes — by far a season-high and his most since logging 32 for the Denver Nuggets more than a year ago, Dec. 10, 2017.
He finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, his first double-double since Dec. 8, 2017, against the Orlando Magic and his highest scoring output since dropping 21 against the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 28, 2017.
Carroll added 18 points as the Brooklyn bench outscored the Milwaukee reserves by a whopping 80-21. Harris finished with 15 points and Dinwiddie added 10. Dudley finished with three steals and Allen blocked two shots.
Antetokounmpo posted his third triple-double of the season with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to go with three blocks. Khris Middleton went for 29 points and seven assists and Lopez was 7-for-15 from deep and finished with 24 points.
No one in the starting unit played more than Rodions Kurucs, who logged 22 minutes. The five non-starters all played at least 27 minutes.
Here are three takeaways from a loss that was lopsided much of the way, yet oddly encouraging at the same time because of the no-quit attitude displayed by players who hadn’t gotten much time.