NEW YORK (AP) – Back on the site of a thriller in overtime in the playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks quickly made it clear that it was not going to the end.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 31 points on his return from a one-game absence, Khris Middleton added 15 of his 20 in the third quarter and the Bucks blew up the Brooklyn Nets 121-109 on Friday night.
Bobby Portis scored 20 of his 25 in the first half to help the Bucks break a two-game skid. The latest loss came without Antetokounmpo, who did not play against Toronto on Wednesday night due to an illness unrelated to COVID-19.
He added nine rebounds and seven assists on his return.
“He comes with the fatal blow,” interim coach Darvin Ham said. “Once he sees us in position, he knows where he wants to go.”
The Bucks are deprived of coach Mike Budenholzer, playmaker Jrue Holiday and a number of other key players due to coronavirus health and safety protocols.
“But at the end of the day the guys are ready to step up,” Antetokounmpo said.
Kevin Durant had 29 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for the Nets, who have lost five straight home games. James Harden finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Brooklyn won Wednesday night in Indiana with Kyrie Irving making her season debut. He was not in the building on Friday, ineligible to play at home because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19 as a warrant for professional athletes in New York.
Harden said having Irving on Wednesday felt like he had a new life.
“But we have to live with what lies ahead, and it’s the home games that we have to find ways of and even the road games,” he said. “Just because Ky is on the road with us doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy for us too. So we have to engage and find ways to win matches every time we play. “
The Bucks won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals here in overtime.
This time, Portis scored 10 points in the first quarter, when it should have been 12. He missed a breakaway dunk with no Nets nearby.
He had 10 more in the second, sending Milwaukee at halftime with a 60-49 lead even though Antetokounmpo only played 2.5 minutes of the period before going on the bench with a third foul. .
Middleton took over from there, scoring three 3-pointers – one fouled – in a 19-4 push in the third that took a nine-point lead to 87-63 halfway through the period.
The Bucks scored 77 points in the first half on Wednesday, but had just 11 in the third.
“Last two games where we lost leads,” said Middleton. “This one, we were able to extend our lead, which was huge.”
Patty Mills shot 1 for 8 for three runs. He returned to his reserve role when Irving played on Wednesday, but was back in the starting lineup on Friday. Coach Steve Nash said the Nets need to keep Mills in the home roster while swingman Joe Harris recovers from left ankle surgery.
“I think Kyrie’s situation is hopefully helping Patty,” Nash said. “I think we’ve seen him kind of overused and too dependent, and I think it was sometimes difficult for him to be able to continue at his level of play because we overloaded him. So, can Kyrie keep his minutes in a great place where he can consistently keep them high? “