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Watch Kyrie Irving score 38, lead shorthanded Nets past Bucks

MILWAUKEE — Kyrie Irving enjoyed this trip to Fiserv Forum much better than his last visit.

Irving scored a season-high 38 points and Bruce Brown sank a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:38 left in the Nets’ 126-123 victory over the slumping Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night.

This marked Irving’s first game in Milwaukee since spraining his right ankle in Game 4 of last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals, an injury that helped the Bucks rally from a 2-0 deficit to win that series in seven games.

“It was definitely emotional for me to prepare for this game just because of (that),” Irving said. “I haven’t been back in the building since then. I try my best not to wear my emotions on my face or on my shoulders, but sometimes they can get the best of me. It definitely felt like there was a weight lifted just being back here, being healthy, getting the win, knowing that there’s a possibility we could see them down the line again.”

Irving was playing just his 15th game of the season. He still can’t play in home games because he hasn’t met New York City’s vaccine requirement.

But he’s been outstanding the times he has taken the floor. He has scored at least 27 points in each of his last four appearances.

His performance Saturday helped Brooklyn snap a two-game skid and win for just the third time in 16 games. The Bucks have lost four of their last five.

“We got together as a group after the All-Star break,” Irving said. “We put some goals on the board, just a daily reminder of what we’re gearing up for, just the things that we can control and just focusing on those things.”

The Nets, who are eighth in the Eastern Conference standings, need Irving at his best as they continue to play without Kevin Durant and the newly acquired Ben Simmons.

Durant hasn’t played since Jan. 15 due to a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. Simmons, who came to Brooklyn in a Feb. 10 trade that sent James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers, still hasn’t made his 2021-22 debut.

Nets coach Steve Nash said after Saturday’s game that Durant probably won’t play in either of Brooklyn’s next two games. Nash said before the game that Simmons is dealing with back soreness while preparing for his return to action.

The Nets were good enough to win without those two Saturday, thanks largely to Irving.

“When you watch Kyrie, it feels like he’s in the video games,” new Nets guard Goran Dragic said. “It’s just crazy how he moves and how he’s making those tough shots.”

Bobby Portis had 30 points and 12 rebounds and made a career-high eight 3-pointers for the Bucks. Antetokounmpo had 29 points, 14 rebounds and six assists. Khris Middleton added 25 points.

The Bucks had a couple of opportunities to come back in the closing seconds.

Brooklyn led 119-116 when Grayson Allen was fouled by Irving while attempting a 3-pointer with 14.6 seconds left, giving the Bucks a chance to tie the game.

Allen, who entered the day shooting 85.7% from the line, made his first attempt but missed his second before sinking the third to make it 119-118.

The Bucks had one last chance with 2.1 seconds and no timeouts remaining. Wesley Matthews threw a long inbounds pass to Antetokounmpo, who had a clean look at a game-tying 3-point attempt that bounced off the rim.

The Bucks went just 25 of 38 on free throw attempts and committed 15 turnovers. The Bucks were outscored 27-9 in points off turnovers.

“We’ve just got to find a way to be better,” Middleton said. “Simple as that.”