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Updated: Saturday, April 26, 2003 9:57 PM EDT
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NEW JERSEY NETS
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MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Milwaukee Bucks
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MILWAUKEE 119, NEW JERSEY 114 (OT) ----------------------------------

MILWAUKEE (Ticker) -- The Milwaukee Bucks tried to give it away, but the New Jersey Nets would not take it.

Toni Kukoc and Michael Redd hit crucial 3-pointers late in overtime as the Bucks survived a shocking collapse in the fourth quarter to hold off the Nets, 119-114, and even the Eastern Conference first-round series at two wins apiece.

Milwaukee appeared to be in control, holding a 99-85 lead with 6:33 remaining in regulation. But the Bucks went scoreless for more than five minutes and scored just one point for the remainder of the fourth period.

"It was a (heck) of a win for us," Milwaukee coach George Karl said. "A lot of things went against us. They had two players playing well in (Kenyon) Martin and (Richard) Jefferson. There were offensive stretches where we were really good and others where we were bad. A lot of calls went against us, but we stayed in there and got in the mental toughness of the game."

While the Nets erased the deficit with a 14-0 run, they did not take full advantage, missing 8-of-12 free throws in the final 3:50 of regulation. They fell short despite shooting 52 percent from the field (39-of-75).

"Obviously, at the end, free throws were the thing that hurt us," New Jersey coach Byron Scott said. "The things that hurt us tonight were free throws and rebounds. We didn't dominate them on the boards like we have been."

Trailing 109-107, the Nets missed a chance to tie it as Lucious Harris hit only 1-of-2 from the line with 2:15 left. Kukoc's 3-pointer made it 112-108 with 1:47 remaining.

After Jason Collins' follow shot pulled the Nets within two, Redd drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner to give the Bucks a 115-110 lead with 76 seconds to go.

Martin made two from the line with 1:07 to go and Gary Payton and Kukoc missed jumpers for the Bucks, giving the Nets a chance to tie.

But Martin's 3-pointer from the left wing bounced off the front of the rim with eight seconds left. Sam Cassell converted four foul shots in the final six seconds to put away the victory.

"Our bench is probably the key to our team," Karl said. "Michael Redd and Toni Kukoc would get MVP votes on our team."

Kukoc scored 23 points and Cassell added 21 for the Bucks, who recorded a season-high 36 points in the third quarter to turn a one-point halftime deficit into a 12-point lead entering the fourth period.

Kukoc bounced back after being held to only seven points in Thursday's 103-101 loss.

"He didn't score in Game Three and we lost," Payton said. "I went to him after the game and told him he needed to be more aggressive, and I'm going to keep putting that bug in his ear."

Karl spoke at a pregame pep rally, imploring the fans for support, telling them that if the Bucks could get a lead, the Nets would not be able to come from behind.

Those words nearly came back to haunt him as the Bucks collapsed after Cassell's 3-pointer made it 99-85.

But the Nets never got the lead, even though they had a number of chances. With New Jersey trailing, 100-99, Collins had an opportunity to put the Nets ahead, only to miss a pair from the line with 1:12 remaining.

"We left New Jersey talking about winning both (in Milwaukee)," Scott said. "So in a sense, we are disappointed. The main objective is to get home-court advantage back and we did that. Now, we need to take care of business there."

After Payton missed a jumper, the Nets had yet another chance from the line. This time, Jefferson could only make 1-of-2, leaving the contest tied with 28.5 seconds remaining.

On the ensuing possession, the Bucks got the ball to Kukoc, but he was tightly guarded by Martin and missed a fallaway jumper from the right baseline.

The Nets had a chance to win it, but Jason Kidd's off-balanced jumper from the foul line fell short of the rim, forcing overtime.

Martin and Jefferson led the Nets with 30 and 26 points, respectively. Harris added 19 off the bench.

"We should have won this game," Harris said. "If we could have made those free throws, we would have won this game. We kept taking their punches and coming back. Those free throws we missed cost us the game. You aren't going to make them all, but down the stretch we need to make them."

Coming off a heartbreaking loss in Game Three, the Bucks were flat early and fell behind 24-11 with 4 1/2 minutes left in the first period. Milwaukee regrouped and closed within 52-51 at the intermission.

Payton believes the Bucks need a better start in Game Five on Tuesday at Continental Airlines Arena.

"We need to come out more motivated and play stronger in the first quarter," said Payton, who contributed 20 points and 14 rebounds. "We can't let them jump on us like that in Jersey or it'll get out of hand."

Tim Thomas, who was held to eight points on just 2-of-8 shooting in the first half, provided a spark in the third quarter for the Bucks. He made three 3-pointers and scored 12 of his 20 points in the period.

Thomas' third 3-pointer of the third made it 77-63 with 4:07 left in the third.

The Bucks made 11-of-24 3-pointers, while the Nets were just 3-of-10 from beyond the arc.

Game Five is Tuesday at Continental Airlines Arena.


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