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Ugly or not, Bucks get much-needed 86-83 win, climb back into series with Nets

The Bucks needed a win. Any kind of win. It didn’t have to be pretty.

It wasn’t. It was a grinding, ugly-to-watch, rock fight of a fourth quarter.

But the Bucks finished that fight on a 6-0 run, with Jrue Holiday taking advantage of no timeout call from the bench and a scrambling Nets defense to show off his spin move and hit the go-ahead bucket.

“To take the ball and get to the basket and finish with a scramble defense, we needed that,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said after the game. “We needed that one play from him, and he made it. And it was big.”

Behind that shot and an improved night from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, Milwaukee got the Game 3 win that was beautiful to them, 86-83, making it a 2-1 series with Game 4 coming on Sunday.

How ugly was this game? The Bucks’ 89.6 offensive rating beat the Nets’ 85.6 rating. Both teams were not just scoring less than a point per possession, Brooklyn was 33.8 points per 100 possessions worse than their regular season average. (For comparison, the Thunder had the worst offense in the NBA this season at 103.9, all stats via Cleaning the Glass).

In the fourth quarter, the Bucks shot 7-of-26, the Nets 8-of-24.

Going into this game, Milwaukee needed bigger nights from their stars — and they got it. Not terribly efficient nights, but better. Middleton finished with 35 points and 15 rebounds, Antetokounmpo had 33 points and 14 boards.

What this game lacked in beauty, it made up for in drama.

Brooklyn started the night ice-cold, shooting 5-of-25 overall and 1-of-9 from three in the first quarter. All those misses allowed the Bucks to get out and run, leading to points in the paint as Antetokounmpo started playing downhill and got six shots at the rim in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, the Bucks stars started hot — Antetokounmpo and Middleton each scoring 15 in the first quarter. The problem was no other Buck scored until a few minutes into the second quarter. Milwaukee led by as many as 21 points in the first, but all the trends that led to that lead seemed unsustainable.

They were. Brooklyn went on a 17-2 run to start the second quarter, going on to win the quarter 31-15. At the half, it was 45-42 Bucks, and we had a game.

The game stayed tight the rest of the way, and the fourth quarter was a back-and-forth affair — with a lot of missed shots, but still close. At one point in the final six minutes, the teams combined to miss 10 consecutive shots.

A Durant jumper with 1:55 tied the game at 80-80, and the next possession down a Durant 3 had the Nets up 83-80 with 1:23 left, forcing the Bucks to take a timeout.

Milwaukee got its next bucket on a Middleton shot at the rim that was poor defense from the Nets. Then the Bucks got Holiday’s spinning basket to take the lead with 11.4 left. Meanwhile, the Nets’ next shots were a missed wide-open baseline jumper by Joe Harris, a missed Bruce Brown shot in the lane, and then another missed Brown shot at the rim.

In crunch time of a close game, the Bucks execution wasn’t spectacular, but it was better than the Nets, who couldn’t get the ball in the hands of their stars for a shot until Durant’s desperation three at the buzzer trying to tie it up.

Milwaukee got its win, but if the Bucks can’t build on that Sunday it will all be moot. Milwaukee is not digging out of a 3-1 hole against these Nets.

And hopefully Game 4 is a little more fluid, too.