Mike Budenholzer could probably feel his job security hanging in the air for three scoreless minutes.
Kevin Durant could taste the thievery of a third game when a 30-footer left his hand, looking on line.
The Fiserv Forum crowd went from the obscene to a wild scene, fearful Thursday night would be a cruel conclusion: Grand opening, grand closing.
The tension was palpable as the Milwaukee Bucks weren’t just dealing with a “win or go home” situation, but “win or start over,” avoiding disaster and a 3-0 deficit to the Brooklyn Nets with an ugly 86-83 win.
It seemed the Bucks were begging to be put out of their own misery, unable to put the Nets away after a start that gave the impression they would return the favor from absorbing a Game 2 thrashing.
But the despair was in the air whenever Antetokounmpo launched one of his eight stress-inducing 3-pointers, continuing his woeful trend. It’s somewhat of a mind game with him, wanting to make Blake Griffin and the Nets pay for giving him that much space — all the while ignoring the interior hell he unleashed early before Middleton and Jrue Holiday saved them late.
This infatuation with the perimeter seems to parallel his hesitance at the foul line, where he missed five of his nine attempts and was called for a 10-second (actually 13-second) violation. It’s the worst time to fall in love with a shot you can’t make because of shots you don’t want to take, two patterns that are unlikely to change in this series.
Budenholzer said it would be a test of Milwaukee’s character, considering they were smarting after two losses in Brooklyn. Nobody questioned their competitiveness, but nobody expected a throwback game to the ugliest part of the ’90s either.
Brook Lopez blocked six shots and P.J. Tucker riled things up by getting in Durant’s face a day after lobbing compliments his way.
The edge was necessary.
Kyrie Irving said he liked it, but Antetokounmpo didn’t grow up with the same nostalgia.
“Personally, I enjoy fast, fast-paced, high scoring games,” Antetokounmpo said. “It was a low scoring game, possession by possession, you have to get stops. We can move the ball better so we can get back to scoring 110, 120 points.”
The Bucks became familiar with desperation, their only ally because they haven’t been able to doctor up reasonable adjustments to take advantage of an undermanned and underwhelming defensive unit in the Nets.
“I feel like for us, that’s the type of defense that we want to play and we got to muck up the game and we got to muck it up,” Holiday said.
The struggle of the playoffs was on full display. The Bucks have been there all series, they just happened to drag the Nets into the mud with them, holding the Nets to 25% from 3-point range while shooting 19% themselves — mostly, though, misses from the two-time MVP.
“You gotta shoot,” said Antetokounmpo, noting the space he’s being given from the perimeter. “You got to make the best decision. … At the end of the day, my instincts telling me that’s the right decision to take. You know, I live with that.”
Is it the best decision because he feels confident in his shot? Or is it because he’s been playing for Budenholzer for years now and witnessed the lack of creativity offensively, so the last resort is the only one — which speaks to a bigger problem that would be exposed in the next few days.
We keep expecting the Bucks to look like the regular-season snipers they’ve been, or the juggernauts they were in round one against Miami, but the evidence seems clear enough for judgment.
The wonderful ball movement has been replaced by heavy isolation from non-isolation players, and it seems like a matter of time before this swings permanently in the Nets’ favor, even as they’re still without James Harden.
This is who the Bucks are, a team that can’t rely on its offense unless getting the largest chunk of team scoring in NBA playoff history from Antetokounmpo and Middleton is a recipe for anything more than a one-game reprieve.