While the Brooklyn Nets were glad to escape with a win over the Detroit Pistons amid defensive struggles, the Milwaukee Bucks enjoyed their defensive display in the final minutes of a road win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Coming off those drastically different showings, the Nets and Bucks get together Thursday night in New York.
The Nets (40-36) are moving towards clinching a play-in berth in the East. They entered Wednesday’s action one game ahead of the Charlotte Hornets for eighth place.
Brooklyn is 8-3 since March 8 following a 3-17 skid that dropped them into the play-in race. While the Nets have scored at least 120 in five of those eight wins, they also have allowed at least 120 points four times in the 11-game stretch.
One of those instances occurred Tuesday when the Nets rallied for a 130-123 win over the Pistons. They needed 41 points from Kevin Durant to compensate in a game where they faced a 12-point deficit and did not get the lead for good until late in the fourth quarter.
“It comes down to how much edge we play with. I think when we play with edge, we’re a much better team defensively,” Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said. “When we take our foot off the gas a little bit, we’re not good enough to just roll out there and shut people down.”
Nash made that comment after the Nets allowed the Pistons to shoot 50.7 percent through the first three quarters. They were able to escape by holding Detroit to 42.3 percent shooting from the field in the fourth quarter.
Milwaukee (47-28) is in a four-way battle for the No. 1 seed with the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and Sixers. Entering Wednesday, the teams were separated by 1 1/2 games.
The Bucks are 11-3 since their 126-123 home loss to the Nets on Feb. 26. Milwaukee has allowed under 120 points nine times in that span, including Tuesday when it eked out a 118-116 win in Philadelphia.
Giannis Antetokounmpo totaled 40 points, 14 rebounds and six assists and the game-winning block on Joel Embiid with 1.6 seconds remaining. Khris Middleton contributed 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
While the Bucks enjoyed those performances from their stars, they were pleased about the defense that helped them rally from a 10-point deficit in the opening minute of the fourth.
Milwaukee allowed the 76ers to shoot 50 percent and hit 14 3-pointers for the game. But in the second half, the Bucks outscored the 76ers 67-55, allowing 43.8 percent shooting while shooting 53.3 percent themselves.
“Most importantly for me is that last five minutes of that fourth quarter, being able to lock in and execute when it really matters and counts,” Milwaukee guard Jrue Holiday said. “I feel we’ve been doing a great job of it all year and for us to consistently do it is a good sign.”
Milwaukee cruised to double-digit wins in the first two meetings with the Nets. Irving scored 38 and Bruce Brown hit the go-ahead 3-pointer in the last meeting when Durant was still recovering from a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
–Field Level Media