When the Brooklyn Nets waltzed to a 39-point victory in Game 2 to take a two-games-to-none lead, it seemed plausible to think a short Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series with the Milwaukee Bucks was unfolding.
Enter a far more determined Bucks team that has taken advantage of its opportunities and displayed more consistent performances to force one of sports' most thrilling treats: Game 7.
In a series where the home team is unbeaten, second-seeded Brooklyn hopes the trend continues in a winner-take-all game Saturday night.
"It's all or nothing at this point," Nets guard Joe Harris said. "It's the biggest game of the season. There'll be great energy in Barclays (Center) because we have unbelievable fans."
Since taking a 2-0 lead with their 125-86 victory on June 7, Brooklyn is averaging 95.5 points on 43 percent shooting and 31.2 percent from 3-point range. Milwaukee is averaging 101.3 points on 44 percent shooting since Game 3.
NBA home teams own a record of 109-31 in Game 7s, although the Nets' past two Game 7s bucked that trend. They won Game 7 in the first round in 2014 at Toronto and lost Game 7 at home in 2013 to the Chicago Bulls.
Milwaukee is 2-8 in Game 7s and is seeking its first win in a playoff series' seventh game since defeating the Charlotte Hornets in the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals.
"As I've said all season long, we are built for this moment, simple as that," Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said. "And nobody said it's going to be easy. It might be hard, but we are capable of doing it."
The Nets are expected to be shorthanded for the seventh consecutive game. Their star trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving has spent 43 seconds on the floor together in this series after playing 130 minutes together in Brooklyn's five games against the Boston Celtics in the first round.
Harden missed Games 2, 3 and 4 with right hamstring tightness before returning in Game 5 Tuesday when Durant willed the Nets to a 114-108 comeback win by scoring 49 points. Irving has not played since spraining his right ankle with about six minutes left in the second quarter in Game 4 on Sunday and is unlikely to play Saturday.
On Thursday in Game 6, the Nets were unable to duplicate their comeback as Milwaukee forced a deciding game with a 104-89 victory.
The Bucks got off to an 18-5 start, led by as many as 21 and survived after the Nets got to within five by ripping off 14 consecutive points midway through the fourth quarter.
"We didn't look like we had a ton of energy all night," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "I think we wanted it; we just couldn't find it. And when you can't find that rhythm, it makes it even harder, and so it's kind of chicken-and-the-egg. Is the rhythm because you don't have the energy, or is it compounded because you don't have a rhythm?"
Bucks superstar and two-time league MVP Antetokounmpo posted his 10th consecutive double-double of the playoffs with 30 points and 17 rebounds, while Khris Middleton caused Brooklyn even more problems. Middleton scored a playoff career-high 38 points and pulled down 10 rebounds while shooting an efficient 11 of 16 from the field. He had 35 points in Game 3.
"He had a great game with timely possessions," Milwaukee guard Jrue Holiday said of Middleton. "He really carried us through those moments when we needed a lift. He's done it all year and you know it's win or go home, and he took it upon himself to go ahead and do that."
After going a full 48 minutes in his Game 5 masterpiece, Durant followed it by scoring 32 points on 15 of 30 shooting in 40 minutes of Game 6. He had some help Tuesday as Jeff Green scored 27. Harden, who looked slightly less limited with his hamstring injury, added 16 points in 40 minutes.
Game 7s are typically hard-fought on the defensive end, although the Bucks might prefer a wide-open affair. Milwaukee had a 26-4 advantage in fast-break points in Game 6 to compensate for missing 26 of 33 from 3-point range.