We were very excited about the series between the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, like most fans of the NBA were. It was supposed to be an ultra-competitive series with two teams that had three legitimate stars, even though the Nets’ stars were definitely of a higher stature.
The Bucks’ big three had even played well against the Nets in their regular season games, where Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 39.7 points. He combined for 85.4 PPG with Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday against Brooklyn.
The Bucks even had the advantage of James Harden straining his hamstring again less than a minute into Game 1. In that game, the Bucks kept it close for the first half before collapsing in the third quarter and getting outscored 35-23 and never recovered in a 115-107 loss.
Well, they had a couple of days to prepare both their offense and defense to plan for Harden’s missing presence and they responded with an unbelievable stinker.
The 125-86 embarrassment was never truly competitive, and Brooklyn led from wire to wire. The two closest scorelines in the game were when it was 3-0 and 8-7 in Brooklyn’s favor in the first quarter.
Before we get into what Milwaukee did wrong, let’s first focus on what Brooklyn did right. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have shown up to answer the call after the heartbreaking loss of Harden.
Durant, who sat out the entire fourth quarter, had 32 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, a steal and a block on 12 of 18 shooting (4 of 6 from three). Irving was slightly less efficient, shooting 9 of 17 (4 of 8 from three) while tallying 22 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and a steal. The two of them combined for a grand total of four turnovers.
Brooklyn kept the ball moving freely as their star duo only shot 35 of 94 total field goals, a total of 37.2% of the Nets’ shots. Their teammates rewarded them for that. Joe Harries and Bruce Brown both dropped 13 points, while Mike James, Reggie Perry and Landry Shamet combined for 27 points off the bench.
The Nets were frighteningly efficient, too, shooting 49 of 94 (52.7%) from the field and 21 of 42 (50%) from deep. They also only shot a total 7 free throws, and missed one.
That means the Nets simply outplayed the Bucks from wire to wire. There can be no blaming the refs for any sort of home favoritism, as the Nets were actually called for more fouls at 17 to the Bucks’ 12.
Brooklyn’s dominance was matched by a terrible performance from the Bucks that was as bad as their opponents were good.
Antetokounmpo only had eight points in the first half, and finished the game with a stat line of 18 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and a block before sitting out the entire fourth quarter of the blowout. He shot 2 of 7 from the line and missed all three shots from deep. He also didn’t have a great time on defense.
Middleton followed up his terrible shooting in Game 1 with a 7 of 20 performance that netted him 17 points, 5 rebounds, an assists and a steal. Holiday went 6 of 10 from the field for 13 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists.
Milwaukee, who averaged 121.3 PPG against Brooklyn in the regular season, have now averaged 96.5 PPG over the first two games of their series. In Game 2, they finished with 14 assists to the Nets’ 27.
This game was nothing short of an embarrassment, and the blame goes around to everyone. From Antetokounmpo’s rough night, to Middleton’s terrible shooting, to the team looking disjointed, and to coach Mike Budenholzer seemingly being unable to make adjustments to counter Steve Nash.
We even saw instances of Antetokounmpo falling back into bad habits in patches of the game, trying to force his way into the paint while defenses collapsed on him and made life difficult.
Let’s be clear, though. The Bucks’ bad play is no excuse for this loss. The Nets deserve credit for putting on a clinic and schooling their opponents. Nash will be delighted with how his men played, and rightfully so. While Brooklyn are certainly stronger with James Harden, they’re also reminding us that they’ve got two NBA champions that know what it takes to win at the highest level.
After this Game 2 performance, Milwaukee will have plenty of questions to ask themselves. NBA fans who have been calling them a good regular season team, but not a playoff kind of team, are being proven right so far. They didn’t really face adversity in the first round, but at the first sign of it in the conference semis, they look like they’ve wilted under the pressure.
There’s still a lot of series left to play, but this 2-0 deficit isn’t the product of any bad luck. They’ve been sorely outplayed.