The Bucks knew they needed more out of their so-called “Big 3” upon returning home Thursday night, and their top trio provided practically all of the heavy lifting to get them back into their second-round playoff series against the Nets.
Leading scorers Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton accounted for nearly 80 percent of the team’s offensive output — and point guard Jrue Holiday got to the basket for the go-ahead bucket with 11.4 seconds remaining — as the Bucks drew within 2-1 in the series with a 86-83 victory in Milwaukee.
“A win is a win, and at the end of the day, we got the win. … We knew it was a very tough game and we needed this game as much as possible,” Antetokounmpo said. “It was a very low-scoring game, possession by possession, you had to get stops and knock down shots to win this game.
“You enjoy to win a game like that, but we can play better.”
The Bucks unquestionably needed the two-time league MVP to make a more dramatic impact than he had in Game 2 (18 points), and Antetokounmpo netted 15 of his 33 points in Thursday’s first quarter.
Middleton also overcame a two-game offensive swoon in Brooklyn by matching his star teammate with 15 in the opening period and finishing with 35, including two free throws with 2.1 seconds remaining.
“It was just a matter of staying with it,” Middleton said. “I think we did a great job setting the tone tonight … and defensively we did a great job of making it tough for those guys.”
Antetokounmpo had acknowledged that he needed to be “more aggressive” at home after the Bucks had dropped the first two games in Brooklyn, including a 39-point obliteration by the Nets in Game 2 on Monday.
While Middleton struggled finding his scoring touch in the first two games (30.2 percent), the Greek Freak at least had connected on 8-for-15 overall from the floor in Game 2. But he hoisted nine fewer shots than he had in netting a team-high 34 points in a 115-107 Milwaukee loss in the series opener.
“I knew I had to be aggressive and let my instincts take over,” Antetokounmpo said.
The two Milwaukee stars combined for an even split of their team’s first 30 points in Thursday’s first quarter, combining to shoot 12-for-17, including three 3-pointers on as many attempts by Middleton, and three high-flying dunks through the lane by Antetokounmpo before the Nets clawed back to make it a close game into the closing minutes.
“For us to have the big first quarter and then things changed, but for us it was just find a way to win a game,” Bucks coach Mike Buenholzer said. “Your character is tested in the playoffs, and now we have to fill our cup back up and get ready to do it again.”
Holiday had missed 10 of 13 shots until he found an opening along the right side and made a spin move around Bruce Brown to get to the rack to put the Bucks up 84-83 with 11.4 seconds left.
“I saw me and Brown one-on-one, I made a move and it was a good one, and I ended up making it,” Holiday said. “That was one of the only one-on-one plays I had all game. … And now that we’re down 2-1, we have to protect home court.”