Bucks big 3 combine for 89, pull away from Nets to force Game 7

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From the start, the Bucks got out and ran.

That meant they were getting stops, and it meant that meant Giannis Antetokounmpo was playing downhill. The Greek Freak was 5-of-6 in transition, 11-of-15 in the paint, and he curbed his bad habit of this series and didn’t take one pull-up, early shot clock 3. Antetokounmpo was aggressive.

Antetokounmpo scored 30, Khris Middleton had a monster night with 38 and hit 5-of-8 from 3, and Jrue Holiday chipped in 21, and all of that from the Bucks big three overwhelmed a Nets team that has one-and-a-half of its big three. Plus, Brooklyn was just not as sharp as two nights earlier.

Milwaukee won Game 6 104-89, setting up a Game 7 on Saturday back in Brooklyn.

Kevin Durant had another impressive game, scoring 32 points on 15-of-30, but he didn’t get nearly the same help he did in Game 5. Jeff Green was 2-of-9 shooting for 5 points, plus was physically overpowered multiple times when defending Antetokounmpo. James Harden had 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting but was not a factor in the second half and still lacks any explosiveness due to his hamstring. Joe Harris continued his cold street and was 1-of-4 from 3 on his way to nine points.

Part of Brooklyn’s struggles should be credited to a more active Milwaukee defense, they switched far more on pick-and-rolls than they have all series, which led to turnovers. However, part of it was just the Nets didn’t have the same offensive mojo they did at home — they had a 96.7 offensive rating, less than a point per possession.

The weight of this game could be felt in the rotations — both Steve Nash and Mike Budenholzer went with essentially six-man rotations, with a couple of other players getting just spot minutes to rest a guy (at least until garbage time at the end).

Budenholzer also leaned into what has been one of his best lineups this series, with Antetokounmpo at center. It consists of four starters — P.J. Tucker, Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Holiday — but with Pat Connaughton instead of Brook Lopez. It worked brilliantly and helped spark a 14-0 run in the fourth quarter that sealed the game. Budenholzer — who may be coaching for his job Saturday — needs to lean into this lineup even more.

Milwaukee’s two All-Star forwards dominated from the start.

The Bucks lead 59-48 at the half, powered by Middleton and Antetokounmpo each scoring 19 on a combined 13-of-17 shooting. Bucks big three accounted for 49 first-half points, while the bench only had just two. Durant had 13 for the Nets in the first half but needed 15 shots to get there. Harden led the way with 14 on 5-of-7 shooting as he picked his spots — spots that were not available the same way in the second half.

While the Bucks led the entire game, the Nets lurked around. In both the third and fourth quarters Brooklyn cut the lead to five, only to have Milwaukee answer with a run.

Maybe that gives the Nets some confidence as they head home, but it’s a Game 7 and Durant continues to have to carry a ridiculous burden with Harden hampered by his hamstring and Irving out with a sprained ankle.

Maybe Durant has one more huge game in him to win the series. Maybe Antetokounmpo takes over and steps up. But it’s a Game 7, and that often means an unlikely hero, a role player from one team steps up and makes a huge difference. The only question is who that role player will be on Saturday night.