Joe Harris was so flustered that he actually shot a 2-pointer.
Maybe that is hyperbole, because Harris has expanded his game inside the arc over the years. Then again, maybe it’s not.
As the Nets clung to a one-point lead in the final minute of Game 3 of a playoff series against the Bucks, the NBA’s best 3-point marksman pulled up for a 19-footer. The ball clanged off the rim — just like nine of Harris’ other 10 shots in a performance that stirred up echoes of the Knicks’ John Starks (2-for-18) in Game 6 of the 1994 NBA Finals.
Harris wasn’t the only one misfiring in the Nets’ 86-83 loss. Add in Landry Shamet (1-for-4) and Mike James (1-for-5), and three Nets who can make a defense pay for double-teaming Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were a combined 3-for-20 from the field, including 2-for-11 from 3-point range. If those supporting cast numbers are repeated Sunday in Game 4, the series soon could be tied.
“If you look at it, only one or two buckets in the last three or four minutes that we needed to fall and they just didn’t,” coach Steve Nash said. “I thought plenty of opportunities. Now, would I want Kevin or Ky shooting every single ball? Of course, but that’s not always the way it works out. We can learn from it.”
It would have been impossible for the Nets to stay as hot as they were during Games 1 and 2 at home, when they shot 49.4 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from 3-point range, with Harris, Shamet and James combining for 65 points.
But Game 3 represented more than hot hands cooling off. It was more like landing in the Arctic Circle. While it would be easy to shrug off as a one-game anomaly …
“We can’t expect to make shots next game just because we missed,” Durant said. “We have to go out there and take it one possession at a time, but prepare these next two days and practice and get our bodies right, get our minds right and come back.”
The Bucks won without much help for Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, who combined for 68 of Milwaukee’s 86 points. While the Nets are billed as a Big 3 — or a Big 2 while James Harden is sidelined — the offense looks best when the ball is moving to create open looks.
“It’s [defensive] stops first,” Bucks guard Jrue Holiday said. “Great defensive possession, especially being at home with the crowd to back you, going into offense.”
Harris, who was not available to the media Thursday or Friday, bears the brunt of the poor shooting because he has the $75 million contract, the label (courtesy of teammate Blake Griffin) as one of the Nets’ primary four weapons and two 3-point shooting season titles in the past three years.
Harris made at least two baskets in every regular-season appearance this season except the one he played fewer than five minutes. That’s also the only time he shot less than 20 percent from the floor.
Then Game 3 happened. But all great shooters keep shooting to get out of a funk.
“We have to try to make it tough and contest every shot,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said, “and live with the results.”