Nets’ defense helping to power their offense in series vs. Bucks

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MILWAUKEE — The quantum leap the Nets have made on the defensive end in the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Bucks has produced an amazing side effect. Rather than detract from the NBA’s highest-rated offense because of the energy spent at the defensive end, the Nets’ defensive success has pushed their offense to an even higher level.

They have a 2-0 series lead going into Game 3 Thursday night at Fiserv Forum and are averaging 122.4 points. But most impressive is the efficiency of their shooting line as they are right on the verge of a 50/40/90 performance in terms of shooting percentage overall, from three-point range and from the foul line. That is hallowed ground.

The Nets shot 49.6% overall, 43.2% from three and 90.8% from the line in the first two games. “We’ve gotten good looks,” center Blake Griffin said after Wednesday’s practice. “We gave up a lot of second-chance points in that first quarter [of Game 1], and then we sat down and got stops, didn’t have to take the ball out every time, got in transition, got some easy ones, and then, the ball starts moving around.

“We’ve shot the ball well from three for the most part, but our looks have been really good as well. It’s not like we’ve hit a bunch of tough shots. We’ve hit some, but I think our ball movement has been really good, not settling.”

Obviously, coach Steve Nash loves what he has seen from his roster despite the absence of injured James Harden (right hamstring tightness) and Jeff Green (left plantar fascia strain). Both traveled to Milwaukee, but both have been ruled out for Game 3.

“Jeff is out tomorrow but progressing nicely,” Nash said. “Hope he’s back, if not Game 4, then Game 5. But he’s on the right track, and I think it’s highly possible he plays sooner rather than later. James will miss Game 3, but he’s progressing nicely as well. So we’re optimistic that we can have him back at some point.”

In the meantime, the Nets’ offense has virtually been unstoppable by the Bucks, who trailed in Game 1 by up to 27 points and in Game 2 by as much as 49 points.

“We’ve played well,” Nash said. “We have high-quality shooters, we move the ball, we’ve trusted in each other, we’ve made the extra pass. We’ve made simple plays. It’s something that we’ve preached, but it’s difficult to find that cohesion early.

“Our team’s willingness to do that the first two games has been outstanding. It’s created a lot of opportunities, and we’ve been very difficult to face. So I think our guys are growing into one another, learning to play off one another and trusting each other.”

No one has been more efficient for the Nets than the remaining “Big 2” of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Durant has been off-the-charts good, averaging 32.0 points for seven playoff games while shooting 55% overall, 50% from three and 91.1% at the foul line. Irving, who became the ninth player in NBA history with a 50/40/90 line for the regular season, is averaging 24.4 points in the playoffs with a shooting line of 48.5%, 38.2% and 92.3%.

Explaining the Nets’ success in their 125-86 Game 2 blowout, Irving said, “We were able to get stops, push the ball in transition and capitalize off a lot of opportunities we had with mismatches. We’re asking each other to be at a certain level, and it’s paying dividends for us right now. Going into Milwaukee, it’s going to be unbelievable energy, and we’re just looking forward to the challenge.

“This team, we’ve grown so much and we continue to do so. Obviously, we’re missing James, and we’re just filling in the pieces for him.”



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