MILWAUKEE — The white flag officially was withdrawn from its casing with 4 minutes and 45 seconds left in the game. Khris Middleton had just drained another 3-pointer and gotten fouled. Fiserv Forum was so loud, it rocked on its foundation. The Nets called timeout. When they returned, James Harden and Kevin Durant were on the bench.
For the Bucks, Thanasis Antetokounmpo — team mascot, human victory cigar, Giannis’ older brother — replaced his kid sibling. The capacity crowd of 16,310 tried to blow the lid off now. Basketball season in Wisconsin wasn’t quite done. Not yet. There will be one more game, at least. Bucks 104, Nets 89 saw to that.
And that game …
Well, there’s no need to be coy about this: Game 7 of this Eastern Conference semifinal will be the biggest sporting event conducted in Brooklyn since Game 7 of the 1956 World Series. The Dodgers were defending champs that fall, had won Games 1 and 2 at home and then Game 6 there facing elimination.
Then Yogi Berra hit a two-run home run off Don Newcombe in the top of the first inning, the Yankees kept drawing away, and by the time it was over, the Bombers had reclaimed the championship, 9-0.
There were already whispers that the Dodgers were existing in the Borough of Churches on borrowed time, but on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 1956, there was no way for the 33,782 who filed out of Ebbets Field to understand: Sports would soon vanish from the local landscape for the next 55 years.
In their time in the Dodgers’ old neighborhood the Nets have played one Game 7 at home and it went about as well as the ’56 Series finale did — a 99-93 loss to Tom Thibodeau’s short-handed Bulls team in the ’13 Eastern first round.
That was a buzzkill but, then, there wasn’t that much buzz inside Barclays Center that night eight years ago, and so there was little to be harmed.
It will be different Saturday.
“It’s all or nothing at this point,” Nets guard Joe Harris said. “It’s the biggest game of season.
“There’ll be great energy in Barclays because we have unbelievable fans.”
They sure did Tuesday night. Based on the way the Nets’ home gym crackled to life in Game 5 once the Nets started their comeback from 17 points down, once it was clear Durant was going to engrave one for the ages right in front of them, we now know for certain that Barclays has a night like that in it. The fans there have it in them.
The fans in Milwaukee certainly had it in them, gathering inside and outside the arena, a steady stream of joy and hope and pleading and begging. It worked. The Nets tried to make run after run at the Bucks. The Bucks wouldn’t allow it. Fiserv Forum wouldn’t allow it.
Your serve, Brooklyn.
“Their season was on the line,” Harris said. “They played with a level of desperation and energy and it’s great to have the crowd behind you. Every time momentum started to shift they made big plays.”
The desperation will be thick on both benches Saturday. Both teams have far more to lose than a single basketball game if things don’t go well. For one of the few times since the Nets enjoyed a legit home-court advantage back in Nassau Coliseum in the old ABA days, the Bucks should be walking into a house-of-horror home-court advantage.
And the Nets need the help. Harden was much better Thursday night (16 points, seven assists) but he is still limited. Absent a miracle of science Kyrie Irving won’t be there. Durant was terrific again (32 points, 11 rebounds) but it’s impossible to expect him to duplicate what he did in Game 5.
And he wasn’t even the best player on the floor Thursday. That was Middleton — 38 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, five steals.
Right this moment, the Nets have to know that they are at least a little fortunate that they somehow stole Game 5 from the Bucks, that they weren’t flying home to a cleanup day Friday. Instead, there will be at least one more game. There will be Game 7.
There will be a Saturday night at Barclays.
A few steps away from where Walter O’Malley wanted to build his beautiful baseball basilica 65 years ago, the Nets will try to bring athletic honor back to Atlantic Avenue, they will seek another highlight to what has mostly been a splendid joyride in this first season of the Durant/Harden/Irving pairing. And they will do it in Brooklyn.
The Bucks will show up, you bet. They were given a bookend set of sendoffs at Fiserv Forum on Thursday night, everyone in the building standing as the final seconds melted away, screaming: “BUCKS IN SEVEN! BUCKS IN SEVEN! BUCKS IN SEVEN!”
And then, an extra tweak: the Beastie Boys flooded the PA system. “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” of course.
We got a safe in the trunk with money in a stack
With dice in the front and Brooklyn’s in the back …
Brooklyn, actually, will be front and center Saturday, first time, for real, in 65 years. And Nets fans understand. There surely will be little sleep for them from now till Brooklyn, from now till Saturday night.