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Bucks face character test after getting embarrassed by Nets in Brooklyn

Bucks face character test after getting embarrassed by Nets in Brooklyn

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Bucks forward Khris Middleton looks to shoot as Nets forward Nicolas Claxton on Monday night. Middleton has connected on just 30% of his shot attempts in the series.

MILWAUKEE — No second-round matchup had more advance billing than the Brooklyn Nets-Milwaukee Bucks series that featured the NBA’s two highest-scoring offenses.

So far, it’s been no contest.

Budenholzer discusses the Bucks' approach to defending the Nets' star-studded offense, Jrue Holiday's NBA Sportsmanship Award and more Friday afternoon ahead of Milwaukee's second-round opener Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn has been every bit as potent as advertised in building a 2-0 lead. But the struggling Bucks posted their lowest point total of the season in a 125-86 Game 2 loss.

The Bucks’ chances of making this a competitive series depend on whether they can return home and regain the form they showed before these last couple of games.

“I think they have a great track record and history of playing well and responding,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said Wednesday. “We talked about how your character is tested.”

These Bucks certainly have a great track record in the regular season. They posted the league’s best regular-season record in 2018-19 and 2019-20 before finishing third in the Eastern Conference this season.

But they’re staring at the likelihood of a second straight second-round playoff exit unless they turn things around quickly, beginning with Game 3 on Thursday night.

“This is going to be a really tough game,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We’ll see the best Milwaukee has in Game 3. We’ve got to be prepared for that and be ready to come out of the gates really strong.”

Brooklyn entered the playoffs with a reputation as an offensive juggernaut and with question marks on its defense. But the Nets have spent the first two games of this series shutting down Milwaukee’s high-powered offense.

The Bucks were the first team since the 1984-85 Denver Nuggets to finish a regular season averaging at least 120 points per game, but their offense has looked like a shell of itself so far in this series. Brooklyn’s constant switching on defense has thrown the Bucks out of sync.

“They’ve had great intensity the first two games,” Bucks forward P.J. Tucker said of the Nets. “I think they’ve kind of been all over the place, all over the floor, on offense and defense. I think they just had a little more of an edge than we’ve had.”

The Nets are coming off their most lopsided playoff victory in franchise history and have a chance to take a commanding 3-0 lead. Kevin Durant has outplayed Giannis Antetokounmpo thus far in the matchup of former MVPs, but the most notable difference in this series is 3-point shooting. The Nets are 36 of 81 (44.4%) on 3-point attempts. The Bucks are 14 of 57 (24.6%).

Another key for the Bucks is getting more production from forward Khris Middleton. The two-time All-Star has shot 13 of 43 overall and 3 of 13 from 3-point range this series. Although Middleton scored 17 points in Game 2, he missed his first eight shots and much of his production came after the game was already out of reach. Middleton scored at least 23 points in each of the Bucks’ three regular-season matchups with Brooklyn.

“I’ve just got to find a better rhythm, a better shot selection I think,” Middleton said after Game 2.

Nets forward Blake Griffin is averaging a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) this series and has done a nice job of defending Antetokounmpo, who averaged 39.7 points against Brooklyn in the regular season but had just 18 points in Game 2.

Nash said Brooklyn’s James Harden and Jeff Green won’t play in Game 3. Harden left Game 1 in the opening minute with right hamstring tightness and hasn’t played since. Green hasn’t played at all in this series due to a plantar fascia strain.

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