Nets losing streak ties season-high as they drop 5th straight in loss to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Some blame the Milwaukee Bucks for breaking the Nets. You remember it. That game at Barclays Center on Dec. 27 where former head coach Jacque Vaughn — in conjunction with Brooklyn’s front office — decided to rest multiple key players and did not provide an explanation that satisfied the NBA’s Player Participation Policy.

The Nets entered that game 15-15 coming off of back-to-back wins against the Detroit Pistons and lost by 22 points. They were fined $100,00 by the league and have gone 11-27 since, tumbling toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

In truth, the reasoning behind Brooklyn’s turbulent season is far more nuanced than one regular season loss in late December. But — fair or not — that will remain the night fans point to when asked about the turning point of the Nets’ 2023-24 season. Fast forward to Thursday, the Bucks’ championship aspirations have not wavered while Brooklyn is fighting just to qualify for the league’s Play-In Tournament as losers of four straight games.

However, the Nets had their full host of players available this time around, minus Dorian Finney-Smith, who did not travel with the team because of left ankle soreness. And while it was a far more competitive game, Brooklyn fell 115-108 and tied its longest losing streak of the season with five straight defeats.

Brooklyn is now five games behind the Atlanta Hawks for 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings with 12 games left. Damian Lillard led the way for Milwaukee with 30 points and 12 assists, and Giannis Antetokounmpo added 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

The Nets trailed by 20 points in the second quarter and went into the locker room at halftime down 16. Milwaukee was able to create that separation courtesy of an 8-of-15 clip from 3-point range in the period. One of the biggest issues that have plagued Brooklyn this season has been its inability to withstand the offensive runs of its opponent.

The Nets had 11 turnovers at the break. They were shooting just 27.8% from deep as a team. They were getting punished in the paint. And at that point, the night appeared destined to be another disappointing night for Kevin Ollie’s team.

Except this time, they kept fighting. Mikal Bridges came to life after another sluggish first half on offense. The jumper re-calibrated, and his 3-pointer cut Milwaukee’s advantage to eight with 8:06 left in the third quarter, which capped off a 12-4 run to start the period.

And the Nets’ charge, led by Bridges, continued. His fifth trey of the night made it a four-point game with 3:12 left in the third quarter and suddenly Milwaukee, the hunters, became the hunted. The Bucks eventually responded with a pair of AJ Green triples that helped push their lead back to 12 points entering the final frame. But Brooklyn’s performance at both ends of the court in the third quarter was enough to inspire a final push. Bridged scored 13 of his team-high 24 points in the third quarter and limited Milwaukee to 33.3% shooting as they outscored the Bucks 25-21.

The Nets continued to fight and led 94-93 with 4:34 left, but Lillard and Antetokounmpo proved to be too much down the stretch. Milwaukee’s deadly duo combined for 21 points in the final frame. A Lillard 3-pointer pushed the Bucks’ lead back up to 10 with 41 seconds left, which proved to be the final nail in Brooklyn’s coffin.

Milwaukee scored 23 points off 14 Nets turnovers in their 45th victory of the season. Brooklyn’s four-game road trip will continue on Saturday against the Knicks.