LOS ANGELES • The Milwaukee Bucks started strong and clung on late to beat the Brooklyn Nets 86-83 on Thursday, clawing back into their National Basketball Association (NBA) Eastern Conference second-round play-off series.
Khris Middleton scored a game-high 35 points and two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 33 as the Bucks - routed in two games in Brooklyn - trimmed the deficit in the best-of-seven series to 2-1.
Kevin Durant led the Nets with a team-high 30 points and 11 rebounds, but his three-point attempt to force overtime bounced off the rim as the Bucks avoided falling into a near-insurmountable 3-0 hole - no NBA team have come back from such a deficit.
"It looked good, but thank god it didn't go in," Antetokounmpo said of Durant's final attempt.
The Bucks were coming off a humiliating 39-point loss to the Nets in Game 2 in Brooklyn, but in the first game of the series in Milwaukee, they came out playing as if their lives depended on it.
Antetokounmpo and Middleton scored 15 points apiece in the first quarter, as the Bucks seized a 30-11 lead and the Nets did not get their first lead of the game until the third quarter.
The game was tied at 80-80 with 1min 30sec and Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was delighted with how his defence stayed strong.
"To take the ball and get to the basket and finish with a scramble defence, we needed that," he said, praising Jrue Holiday. "We needed that one play from him, and he made it. And it was big."
"We stayed together," Antetokounmpo said.
"We kept trusting our habits and we were able to stay in the game and get the win."
The Bucks will try to level the series when they host Game 4 tomorrow and the Nets are ready for another scrappy meeting.
20 Of 88 three-point attempts the Bucks have scored in this series. They had a franchise-record 14.3 three-pointers per game during the regular season.
"That's a good old-fashioned play-off game right there," said Kyrie Irving, who added 22 points for a Brooklyn team who were again without the third piece of their All-Star trio, James Harden, because of a hamstring injury.
In Western Conference action, Donovan Mitchell scored 37 points and the Utah Jazz held on for a 117-111 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Jazz centre Rudy Gobert - fresh from winning his third Defensive Player of the Year award - scored 13 points, pulled down 20 rebounds and blocked three shots as the hosts took a 2-0 series lead.
Reggie Jackson led the Clippers in scoring with 29 points, while Paul George added 27 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
DENVER V PHOENIX
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