Kevin Durant couldn’t help but smile as he walked off the court on Sunday evening when his game-tying three-pointer didn’t go down, relegating the Nets to a 117-114 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
It featured one of the top-scoring duels in the NBA this season as Durant’s 42 points in 40 minutes was eclipsed by Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 49 points in 36 minutes, living up to the billing of two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference meeting each other so late in the season.
With the loss, the Nets moved a half-game behind the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 1 spot in the East while the Bucks pulled to within 2.5 games of the Nets and three games back of the Sixers.
Despite the ramifications on the standings with just seven games to go, Durant couldn’t help but relish the duel against Antetokounmpo, who is also the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
“You want to gauge yourself against the best defender, best team defense, best coaching,” Durant said. “That’s the only way you’ll get better as a player. So, I get excited and I relish these opportunities, and we do as a team.
“It’s one of those games you enjoy playing in,” Durant said. “And hopefully, it’s a better one for us next game.”
Antetokounmpo only sang Durant’s praises after besting him.
“What he does is unbelievable,” Antetokounmpo said. “Being 6-foot-11, being able to shoot over everybody. The way he handles the ball and gets to his spot is unbelievable, the best I’ve seen in my life. I look up to him, I’m not going to lie.”
What’s even more fun is that these two teams get to do it again on Tuesday night once again in Milwaukee as the Nets try to keep pace with the 76ers.
Durant admitted that the rematch won’t hold any sort of animosity after the Bucks came out on top Sunday, rather than the Nets just need to focus within their own ranks.
“Every day you wake up and it should be about your craft,” Durant said. “That’s how everybody approaches this thing. We take it a day at a time, a possession at a time. We have to take advantage of each moment. Guys are locked in.
“There’s no real emphasis on anything, just be a pro, come to work and we’ll figure the rest of it out.”
The schedule does ease up after a difficult three-game stretch that includes the rematch with the Bucks and trips to face the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets. Brooklyn ends its regular season with two games against the 12th-place Chicago Bulls, one against the San Antonio Spurs, and a finale against the 13th-place Cleveland Cavaliers.