The Nets' hold on this series with the Bucks may be seriously slipping away.
The Nets lost Kyrie Irving. And they lost Game 4. And, just perhaps, they lost control of the Eastern Conference semifinals, all in one bloody Sunday.
After Irving went down with a sprained right ankle, the Nets lost 107-96 to the Bucks before a sellout crowd of 16,310 at Fiserv Forum — a defeat that could shift the momentum of the second-round series, and possibly the balance of the NBA championship.
The raucous crowd chanted “Bucks in six! Bucks in six!” with the Nets trailing by 15 in the fourth quarter. After the Nets have dropped consecutive games in this series — and have lost both Irving and James Harden (right hamstring) to injuries — who could blame them?
The Nets not only had been the heavy betting favorites to win the title, but they also looked poised to run away with these conference semis after routing the Bucks by 39 points in Game 2 at Barclays Center. Now, however, they’re injury-riddled and locked in a 2-2 tie in the best-of-seven series.
The Bucks have health and the momentum, with two-thirds of the Nets’ Big 3 now in street clothes. Harden has been out with the hamstring injury he suffered just 43 seconds into this series.
Kevin Durant did his share Sunday, with a team-high 28 points and 13 rebounds. But no other Net cracked double-digits, except for Irving, who left with 11 points after spraining his right ankle with 6:04 left in the second quarter.
When Irving went down — after landing awkwardly on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s foot following a layup — he’d just cut the Nets’ deficit to 44-40. After the injury, the stunned Nets immediately coughed up a 22-10 run that the second and third quarters and put the game out of reach — and delivered the series momentum into the Bucks’ hands.
Antetokounmpo finished with a game-high 34 points and added 12 boards, while Khris Middleton scored 19 points.
“I think we have to be ready for their first hit,” Nets coach Steve Nash warned beforehand. “They’re gonna come out at home and be aggressive. They need this game. And for us, we just have to come out with the right intensity and approach and try to hit them as equally as they hit us to start the game.
“It’s just about getting into the game as quickly as possible. And we struggled with that, couldn’t find a rhythm or our best level in that first quarter, and it just took too long. So hopefully it’s right from the gate. But if it’s not, can we find it quickly and recover and play well relatively early.”
Nash’s Nets did all that, jumping out to a quick 9-2 lead.
It went back-and-forth after that in the first half, in a manner befitting a high-level playoff game. The Nets were within striking distance at 56-50 with 10:03 left in the third when Durant passed to Jeff Green for a 7-foot driving hook shot. Green had just returned from his own plantar fascia injury, and was playing for the first time since May 25.
But right after Green’s bucket, the Nets coughed up 10 unanswered points to lose contact.
The Nets went ice-cold. They missed six straight shots and Mike James committed a turnover. That got Antetokounmpo and the Bucks out on the break. They hit five-of-six in that run, with a driving layup by Jrue Holiday (14 points, nine assists) making it 66-50.
The clock read 6:50 left in the third quarter, but the contest was essentially over. In Game 3, the Nets had rallied from 21 down to take a late fourth-quarter lead. But that was with Irving on the court.
Game 5, on Thursday at Barclays Center, now becomes a must-win for the Nets.
“I think they were physical, I think we’ve been physical throughout the series. We’ve got to match that or win that battle,” Nash said beforehand. “But it felt watching the game that they took us out of things. And I think they did. You have to give them credit.”
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Brian Lewis