MILWAUKEE 88, NEW JERSEY 85 ---------------------------
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- The Milwaukee Bucks did not look very distracted.
Gary Payton scored 22 points and Sam Cassell added 21 as the Bucks evened their Eastern Conference first-round series against the New Jersey Nets with an 88-85 victory in Game Two.
Milwaukee was outplayed in Game One and its situation seemed even more dire when Payton, Cassell and forward Jason Caffey surrendered to police in Toronto following the game on assault charges. Although coach George Karl expressed concern that the problems would alter his team's focus, the Bucks never looked out of sync Tuesday.
"There were things we didn't do the other day that we did today and we won," Cassell said. "This is still one game. No matter how much you win or lose by, you still only get one win for it."
In a game that featured 30 lead changes and 18 ties, the Nets had their largest lead of the second half at 81-79 on Richard Jefferson's free throw with 3:19 left.
New Jersey native Tim Thomas responded with a 3-pointer from the left corner for Milwaukee. Toni Kukoc got a steal at the other end and threw the ball ahead to Cassell, who made a layup for an 84-81 lead with 2:35 to go.
Kukoc caused major problems for New Jersey down the stretch, making a clutch basket and three steals in the final three minutes.
"Toni is long and a veteran ballplayer," Nets guard Jason Kidd said. "He has a couple of rings to show for it. He was awesome, big for them tonight. We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball down the stretch."
Kidd buried a jumper for the Nets, but Kukoc's finger roll gave the Bucks an 86-83 lead with 2:03 remaining.
New Jersey committed consecutive turnovers before pulling within 86-85 on Kenyon Martin's follow shot with 11.1 seconds left. Cassell was fouled by Jason Collins before the inbounds pass, giving Milwaukee a free throw and possession.
Cassell made the ensuing free throw and the Nets fouled Thomas, who missed two from the line. After Kidd misfired on a jumper from the free-throw line, Desmond Mason made 1-of-2 free throws to give Milwaukee an 88-85 edge with 2.9 seconds to go.
The Nets failed to get a shot off on their final possession as Rodney Rogers lost control of the ball when he tripped over Payton. It was the fourth turnovers in the game's final 2:44 for New Jersey, which had 18 for the game.
"We won the game with defense," Milwaukee coach George Karl said. "We had a couple of nice stops at the end. I have a feeling that this series has just begun. We made critical stops in the fourth quarter and were more aggressive on the ball."
"We knew they were going to come out and be much better than they were in Game One," Nets coach Byron Scott said. "The bottom line is that we did a lot of good things, but we didn't make enough shots. We had our chances in the last two minutes of the game and we just couldn't take advantage."
Thomas finished with 18 points and Kukoc collected 11, six assists, six steals and five rebounds for the Bucks, who host Game Three at the Bradley Center on Thursday.
"We have to put the pressure on them," Payton said. "Tonight was a great game, nobody wants to see a blowout like Game One. Tonight we came ready to play and you saw what happened."
Martin had 22 points and 12 rebounds and Kidd had 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds for New Jersey, which held a 45-34 advantage on the boards.
The Bucks made just 9-of-20 free throws but shot 50 percent (38-of-76) from the floor despite cooling off considerably in the second half.
"When you play Milwaukee, you have to make shots because this is a very potent offensive team," Scott said. "We allowed them to shoot 50 percent. You're not going to win a lot of games with a team like this shooting 50 percent."
Milwaukee shot 56 percent (19-of-39) in the first half but was tied with New Jersey at halftime. The Nets shot 48 percent from the floor (19-of-39) and held a 21-13 rebounding advantage in the opening 24 minutes.
Both teams were considerably worse offensively in the second half. Milwaukee shot just 43 percent (15-of-35) while New Jersey managed just 35 percent (13-of-37).