MILWAUKEE — First Steve Nash lost his temper. Then the Nets lost the game.
Nash losing it probably shocked the basketball world. But the loss? The Nets blowing a third-quarter lead to collapse in a 110-99 loss to the Bucks probably didn’t surprise a soul that has watched them play this season.
The Nets led by 12 coming out of the halftime locker room, and were up 70-66 with 4:24 remaining in the third quarter. But the image of the normally mild-mannered Nash’s eyes bulging and his chill leaving is what will stick out from this defeat. The Nets coach was escorted out after a pair of technical fouls as the sellout crowd of 17,341 at Fiserv Forum roared.
The Nets immediately allowed six unanswered points and never led again. The Milwaukee run reached 11-2 on a Bobby Portis tip-in. That made it 77-72 with 2:08 left in the third, but this contest was over.
Giannis Antetokounmpo dominated the second half, finishing with a game-high 43 points on 16 of25 shooting. He had just nine points on 3-for-10 shooting at halftime, before breaking the Nets in the second half. The two-time MVP poured in 34 points on 13-for-15 shooting after intermission.
Kevin Durant had 33 points and six rebounds to lead the Nets, while Kyrie Irving added 27 points and nine rebounds. But the Nets squandered both big games in falling to 1-3.
The Nets actually wasted some promising signs.
Ben Simmons was actually willing to attack the paint and drive to the cup. Even when he found tough sledding against Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee’s top-ranked defense, the Nets benefitted early from his improved aggression.
Both teams started slowly on offense, and the score was knotted at 7-all with 6:36 left in the first quarter. The Nets took an 11-10 lead on a Durant free throw with just over four minutes left in the first, before the Bucks scored eight unanswered points.
The Nets fell behind by seven on a Portis 3-pointer, and his layup left them down 34-31 with 7:40 left in the first half. But that’s when the Nets flipped the momentum — at least temporarily — and closed out the half on a 24-9 run.
The Nets’ league-worst defense held Milwaukee to 4-for-12 shooting the rest of the half, forcing three turnovers.
And in the midst of that run, they may have actually found something that works.
Simmons checked back in for Nic Claxton with 4:22 remaining, getting his first extended run this season as a small-back 5. It’s something the Nets have repeatedly teased, but which had not paid off — until Wednesday.
The Nets, who had struggled with spacing when Simmons was on the floor with other non-shooters, such as centers Claxton or Day’Ron Sharpe, hit five of seven shots down the stretch and had a 16-7 run.
But they couldn’t hold their halftime lead.
The Nets led late in the third quarter when things got testy and Nash got tossed. With the Nets on defense, Patty Mills was knocked to the floor by a forearm shot from Antetokounmpo, but there was no whistle. Nash protested.
About 10 seconds later, the Nets forced a miss and Durant grabbed the rebound amid contact, again with no call.
Nash, still protesting, then was whistled for a technical foul, and was in utter disbelief. Replays show him pointing to himself in shock and mouthing “On me!?” He sprinted down the sideline to give ref Josh Tiven an earful, and drew a second technical — and ensuing ejection.
The normally mild-mannered Nash had to be restrained by Royce O’Neale and lead assistant Jacque Vaughn before he eventually was led off. Vaughn, who had been Nash’s predecessor as interim coach and has served as defensive coordinator the past three seasons, finished out the game as head coach.
George Hill sank both technical free throws after Nash’s ejection, and Antetokounmpo followed with a driving layup to knot the score at 70-70 with 3:59 left in the third.
A Portis putback 30 seconds later gave the Bucks the lead and put the Nets behind for good.
This story originally appeared on NYPost