The Brooklyn Nets played two prime time games against the Milwaukee Bucks, and in two close competitive games, the Bucks pulled out two victories.

The short-term effects of these losses are that the Nets are now in second place in the Eastern Conference and lost the series to the Bucks.  If the Nets and Bucks are tied when the season ends, the Bucks have a series advantage, pushing the Nets down a seed. The long-term effect is that if the Nets are not the number one seed, they will face the Bucks in the second round of the playoffs, leading to a more challenging road to the Finals.

The first game ended 117-114, with a potential game-tying three, taken by Kevin Durant, clanking off the front of the rim.  The highlight of this game was the battle between Durant, scoring 42, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, scoring 49. Both of them put on a show, and it was a battle between the two, as they both scored 11 points in the fourth quarter. Khris Middleton helped out Antetokounmpo with 10 points in the fourth and 26 in the game. Kyrie Irving struggled, shooting 38% from the field, with 20 points and only 5 in the fourth. Irving’s poor shooting night had something to do with Jrue Holiday, who, as well as adding 18 points, is an elite guard defender and showed that against Irving.

This game would have been entirely different if James Harden had been healthy, which is good and bad news for the Nets. That statement is speculative based on how good Harden is and the likelihood that he would have scored more than 4 points if he was on the court, leading to a Net win. You could also say that Holiday would have had to switch defensive assignments between Harden and Irving, allowing Irving to have a better night shooting. Again, this is all speculation, and we don’t know what would happen if Harden was on the court, and that is the downside.  Harden would have also added his play-making ability, which was something the Nets desperately needed. The discussion of not having enough minutes with the big three again shows its ugly face. Down the stretch, the Nets needed more other than letting Durant cook, and with Irving cold, it was the only option to keep the Nets in striking distance.

The other big thing in this game that then continues into the second game is the defense against Antetokounmpo. In all honesty, how exactly are you supposed to defend Antetokounmpo when over two games he shoots 40% from three, taking 20 three in those games. The Nets threw their two biggest people, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, at him, and they both sagged off him to force him to shoot. It semi-worked because Antetokounmpo took the shots. The issue was that he was making them. It would have been nice to see more of Nicolas Claxton or Alize Johnson, both solid post defenders, along with being super switchable and can defend the permitter. Claxton was slowly coming back from sitting out a few games with health and safety protocols, so maybe that is the reason he only played five minutes in the second game. It is also possible that Head Coach Steve Nash is keeping his cards close to his chest, knowing he will see the Bucks again in the playoffs, and doesn’t want to show his hand too early.

The second game ended in a whimper, with the score being 124-118. Irving showed that he rarely has back-to-back poor games, coming out and dropping 38 on 56% from the field, while Durant stayed hot, scoring 32 on 50%. However, like in the first game, the offense felt flat, and if Harden were on the court, it would have been a completely different game and a Nets win. The Nets also missed ten free throws, going 16 for 26. That alone could have been the game-changer, even with the overall offense struggling. The Bucks big three also combined for 62 points, led by Antetokounmpo’s 36, with Holiday and Middleton scoring 23.

This game felt a little less winnable than the first game, and a big part of that was just due to the effort by the Nets. It seemed like the Nets lacked energy, which is never good when you are less than ten games from the playoffs, playing a team you will see in the playoffs. The Nets got outrebounded 39 to 55 and allowed 15 offensive rebounds, 6 of them going to shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo. On top of that, the entire defense on a 19-1 Bucks run in the fourth quarter was just horrible. The paint was wide open for nearly five minutes as the Bucks just attacked the paint over and over, getting meet with little to no resistance. A lot of this could be because Nash is taking his time to bring Claxton back, who was getting the bulk of the minutes a center before sitting out and was a big reason for the Nets’ improved defense.

A Nets team with a healthy Harden and Claxton might be a different animal in the playoffs, along with the fact that this is a team built for a deep playoff run, and once the playoffs are here, you hope to see more energy. These two games felt like winnable games that would shoot Nets fan’s hopes straight to the NBA Finals. Instead, it just left more questions you hope are answered soon than later.

 

 

 

Photo: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports/Brew Hoop

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