The Milwaukee Bucks struggled to stave off the Brooklyn Nets for the first half, but a strong final two quarters carried them to a fifteenth straight win at 118-104 and an undefeated February. Life is sweet right now as the Bucks head back home to face Orlando Wednesday night.
It is not only the longest streak in the league this season, but also the most consecutive victories in the NBA since Phoenix peeled off 18 straight last season. Several members of the current Bucks core was part of the franchise’s second-longest win streak, which was also 18 games in the 2019-20 season.
After the win over Phoenix on Sunday, Middleton said that the 2019-20 team got into the streak but now – while they are enjoying each win – they’re not as focused on the extended run of success. Giannis Antetokounmpo agreed.
“First of all we’ve never been a part of that before – it’s hard not to be excited about it, not to oh, this month we didn’t lose a game,” Antetokounmpo said Tuesday night. “It’s hard. I think that was 2020. Yeah, it was 2020. We were a younger team, never been in that position before, so obviously we were very happy about it.
“Now at the end of the day, that year did we win a championship? We didn’t. I can still tell my kids and my grandkids that we won 18 in a row. It’s a great story. But at the end of the day it’s a better story when from these 15 games you’re able to build good habits. Me personally, it’s great. It’s great. I’m not gonna lie. Being able to be a team that win 15 in a row, it’s a great feeling, but it doesn’t matter.”
The rebuilding Nets looked good in stretches, but the white-hot Bucks were great when it counted. The Nets took a big lead, but couldn’t hold on to it, and lost 118-104 to Giannis Antetokounmpo and company before a sell-out crowd of 17,732 at Barclays Center.
The Nets built a 15-point cushion late in the first quarter, and they led by 10 with 6:47 left in the third quarter. But Antetokounmpo had seven of his game-high 33 points during a 27-9 blitz that spanned the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth to sink the hosts.
“Yeah, we just weren’t there,” said Mikal Bridges, who led the Nets with 31 points. “We weren’t in our shifts, not getting back as hard. And then Giannis got going, got to the line, got the and-ones and dunking and got them going. So we just got to get back, have that mindset coming out. … They dominated the second half, but it started with us in that third.”
The Nets (34-27) lost for the third straight game, and for the fifth time in six games since they traded Kevin Durant to Phoenix. They’re a game behind the Knicks, which they will play Wednesday at the Garden, for the fifth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and are now just 1 ½ games ahead of seventh-place Miami and in danger of falling into the dreaded play-in.
The Bucks reeled off their NBA season-high 15th straight win to improve to a league-leading 44-17. And they did it behind a dominant Antetokounmpo, who was coming back from a quad injury and looking every inch an MVP.
He had a game-high 15 rebounds, added four assists and hit the 12-foot fadeaway that capped the game-changing run. That basket put the Nets in a 93-85 hole just 30 seconds into the fourth quarter, and they never recovered.
“The third quarter, Giannis picked up aggressiveness and lived at the rim. Our collective activity level didn’t march his aggressiveness. He turned the tide of the game, took over. I mean we went from up 10 to down seven,” said Spencer Dinwiddie, who had 26 points, eight assists and six rebounds, but was among a host of Nets who were helpless before the Bucks star.
“So I mean, when you look at the big picture you think about the guys we have on this team, any lineup we throw out there we have a chance to win. If some lineups don’t work we can try a different way, different lineup, different style of basketball and we can figure out a way to win and match up with most of the teams out here. So I think that gives us confidence going forward.”
Pat Connaughton agreed, noting how the team had to come from several double-digit deficits to beat the Nets. The halftime message in particular was about focusing in on the 24 minutes left, “It wasn’t hey, let’s keep the streak going – it was what is happening this game, how do we do our best at wining each game,” Connaughton said.
“One of the reasons we did such a great job on that 18-game win streak a few years back was that’s what we did and we had guys that were hungry to play the Bucks brand of basketball that weren’t just starters, weren’t just the rotational guys, it was the guys after that. Look at tonight, two minutes left they cut the lead to 13 and it got a little, in theory, dicey, and then got some great shots, hit some great open looks and all of a sudden it’s back up to 18 and it’s nothing to worry about. that’s the cool part about this team is we’ve got a lot of great basketball players but the mental side of taking it stride and being good at learning through adversity is what I think will pay off in the end.”
The victory moved the Bucks to 44-17 overall and the Nets dropped to 34-27. Five Bucks reached double figures in scoring and they dominated in the paint, outscoring Brooklyn 62-44 in that area.
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