The Eastern Conference isn’t going to be a cakewalk, after all, for the high-powered Brooklyn Nets.
A difficult afternoon in Milwaukee saw the Bucks cruise to a 107-96 victory in Game 4 of their second-round series to tie it up at two games apiece. But in an even bigger blow, the Nets lost star point guard Kyrie Irving to an ankle injury in the second quarter after he rolled it coming down on Bucks star big man Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Without him, the Nets struggled to keep up with the Bucks, who were led by the “Greek Freak’s” 34 points and 12 rebounds with support from the 19 points of Khris Middleton.
The last remaining member of the Nets’ “Big 3” after Irving joined the injured James Harden on the shelf, Kevin Durant, led Brooklyn with 28 points, but no other member of his team other than Irving recorded a double-digit points output.
After a strong finish of the first quarter that carried over into the second, the Nets built an 11-point lead before the Bucks unleashed a 14-2 run to get back into things.
Brooklyn’s second quarter went from bad to worse as Irving was lost for the rest of the game as he went up for a layup attempt and came down awkwardly on Antetokounmpo’s foot.
Irving rolled his ankle on the landing and remained down on the floor before hobbling off into the locker room. He had been off to a solid start on the night, recording 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the field.
It was a controversial move by Antetokounmpo, as it’s always dangerous to cut under a player that has left the floor to attempt either a shot or a layup because that direct result is such a common occurrence.
With the Nets’ star guard sidelined, the Bucks maintained a comfortable lead that swelled from five points at halftime to 16 midway through the third quarter behind another big Milwaukee 12-2 run.
All the while, cagy play continued stemming off tempers flaring in Game 3 as Bucks forward Pat Connaughton took a forearm to the eye from Joe Harris and laid on the court bleeding from the eye while play continued around him.
While they tried to up the physicality, there was no way back for the Nets, who would not get their deficit back to within single digits for the remainder of the game.
They couldn’t have drawn their road trip out to Milwaukee much worse, but the Nets have a chance to stabilize with Game 5 coming back home in Brooklyn on Tuesday.