Inside the frantic Nets-Bucks finish

Under normal circumstances, some kid and his family would have left the Barclays Center on Martin Luther King Day with a story for the ages.

For starters, there was no school for the holiday as three former MVPs, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden and Kevin Durant, went toe to toe in a high-level showdown, with the Brooklyn Nets edging the Milwaukee Bucks, 125-123.

Even in the fan-less environment forced by the pandemic, the final five minutes of regulation between these two Eastern Conference powerhouses left those watching at home fast-forwarding to thoughts of a potential playoff matchup.

After Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez hit a three-pointer with 5:01 to play to tie the game at 110, there were eight lead changes and 10 go-ahead field goals. Those 10 go-ahead field goals tied for the most in the final five minutes of a game that ended in regulation over the last 25 years, including playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Antetokounmpo nearly put up a triple-double with 34 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists to go along with two steals.

Here’s a closer look at how the final stretch played out:

4:07 to play: Pat Connaughton hits 3-pointer, Bucks lead 113-112

3:37 to play: Harden hits shot, Nets lead 114-113

Harden and Durant combined to score 64 points Monday, becoming the first teammates ever to each score 30 or more points in each of their first two games together with a franchise, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

3:17 to play: Jrue Holiday makes layup, Bucks lead 115-114

1:55 to play: Harden makes floating jumper, Nets lead 118-117

In the opening half, Harden scored with ease, but also had six turnovers, which were his most in a half this season. He made cleaned that up in the second half, though, with zero turnovers, including some crucial playmaking near the end, including this floater while driving in the lane over the long arms of Lopez, an All-Defensive second team center. Through two games with the Nets, Harden has scored or assisted on 129 points, which is the most in a player’s first two games with a team in NBA history.

1:44 to play: Khris Middleton makes driving layup, Bucks lead 119-118

1:17 to play: Antetokounmpo tip-in snaps 119-119 tie, Bucks lead 121-119

Emotions were on display early on between Durant and Antetokounmpo, with Durant running into Giannis after a Nets bucket in the opening quarter then shoving him to the ground while running on another play. So, it was only right for the Greek Freak to attack the basket aggressively with a two-handed putback jam off a missed layup by Jrue Holiday.

1:05 to play: Joe Harris makes 3-pointer, Nets lead 122-121

55.4 to play: Middleton makes 14-foot pullup jumper, Bucks lead 123-122

36.8 to play: Durant hits 3-pointer, Nets lead 125-123

One of the biggest concerns with the Nets organization once they acquired Harden was how the three stars would mesh during crunch time, although Kyrie Irving missed his seventh consecutive game Monday. Durant quieted that noise with a clutch go-ahead 3-pointer to pull out the victory. Durant’s catch-and-shoot hoop, one of his trademark shots, came with an assist from Harden, who had rebounded his own miss.

“We’re still trying to find our way and we’ve still got room to improve, but it’s a solid start,” Durant said.

1.1 to play: Middleton misses 23-foot 3-pointer, Nets win 125-123

Middleton ended the night with 25 points, but saw his step-back 3-point attempt roll in and out after catching an inbounds pass from the sideline. Although multiple options were set up, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer had no issues with at the attempt, even with Antetokounmpo being the superstar for the team.

“Khris is very gifted. He got off a shot. I thought it looked like it was going in, so if you can just get the ball to Khris,” Budenholzer said. “His footwork, his height, but it’s multiple things we’re looking at. Khris is one of those looks so good read, good decision by Jrue, good shot by Khris. We’ll take that.”

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