One can simply name the Milwaukee Bucks’ efficiency in opposition to the Nets on Monday evening a humiliation.
It was, in any case, a 39-point drubbing, and gave the Nets a commanding 2-0 lead of their Eastern Conference semifinal sequence. The 125-86 win was the largest in the Nets’ playoff historical past, and their largest margin of victory all season.
Kyrie Irving hit a 3-pointer to open the game. Soon, the Nets’ lead was 10 factors. By the finish of the first quarter, it was 17. And then the floodgates opened. At one level, the lead grew to 49.
The Bucks had no solutions. Their followers couldn’t even blame the referees for letting the sport get out of hand: The Nets shot only seven free throws. They merely scored each time they needed.
“We didn’t play very well overall,” Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks coach, mentioned in a stone-faced understatement. “First quarter. The whole game. Yeah, so, I think we’ve got to play better from start to end.”
Keeping the rating nearer may need been merely a beauty gesture, although. The Nets are the superior workforce, each in expertise and in execution. And they’ve dominated each video games of this sequence whereas lacking James Harden, considered one of the greatest offensive gamers in the league.
Unlike most groups the Nets play, the Bucks have a counterpoint for Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Harden: a dominant former most respected participant of their very own in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo performed nicely in the opening sport of this sequence, scoring 34 factors on 24 shots and grabbing 11 rebounds. The downside for Budenholzer and his workforce is that the Nets simply brushed it off. It isn’t an excellent signal when a workforce’s star performs like a star, when the opposing workforce loses considered one of theirs to harm, and the video games are nonetheless not aggressive.
The Bucks have been vexed by Durant specifically, their incapability to cease him traced to one vital benefit: Durant has no weak spots as an offensive participant. Defenders can’t pressure him left or proper for a extra advantageous place as a result of he can rating from wherever on the flooring.
P.J. Tucker is stronger than Durant. Antetokounmpo could be taller. Jrue Holiday is faster. All three are wonderful defensively, and all three have taken their turns attempting to guard him. Durant had counters for all of them. When he’s single-covered, he simply acquired round greater defenders together with his distinctive ball dealing with. Against smaller ones, he merely shot over them. When the Bucks double-teamed him, Durant slipped passes to teammates like Joe Harris or Irving.
On Monday, Durant completed with 32 factors and 6 assists in 33 minutes. He was mesmerizing. Unguardable.
All isn’t misplaced for the Bucks. If there may be a technique for them to preserve these video games shut, it may very well be by hitting their 3’s.
The Bucks have been dismal from deep up to now, capturing 24.5 % mixed in the first two video games of the sequence — nearly 15 factors decrease than their regular-season common.
If Milwaukee can discover one thing approximating its regular-season kind, it’s going to open up the paint for Antetokounmpo. This could require extra minutes for Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes, bench gamers who can shoot, and beginning Antetokounmpo at heart, to enable for extra perimeter quickness.
And the Bucks can take some classes from the Nets’ solely postseason loss up to now: Game Three of their first-round sequence in opposition to the Boston Celtics. The overmatched Celtics stole a win that evening, whilst Durant and Harden had robust video games, as a result of they shot 16 of 39 (41 %) from behind the arc, which allowed them to preserve tempo late in the sport.
Of course, Jayson Tatum, the Celtics star, helped fairly a bit by scoring 50 points. Milwaukee goes to want nights like that from Antetokounmpo, who had problem entering into an offensive rhythm on Monday. The Bucks are usually not going to win many video games with Antetokounmpo, their greatest participant, capturing solely 15 instances.
“I’ve got to be more aggressive and get to my spots more,” Antetokounmpo acknowledged after the sport. “That’s pretty much it.”
Not fairly. It’s not essentially solely a query of aggression. There had been far too many possessions Monday on which Antetokounmpo put his head down and tried to drive right into a wall of defenders. Aggression and not using a Plan B leads to 39-point losses. Antetokounmpo wants to get the ball in several spots and never simply carry it up as the workforce’s de facto level guard.
But all the changes in the world received’t shut the expertise hole between the two groups. It’s not simply that Durant and Irving are outclassing the Bucks’ prime gamers. It’s that the remainder of the Nets roster — even position gamers like Bruce Brown and Mike James — are enjoying a few of their greatest basketball of their season at the proper time. And to make issues worse for Milwaukee, the Nets would possibly get the injured Harden and Jeff Green again for Game 3.
Short of the Nets forgetting what time that sport is on Thursday, the Bucks may very well be in for extra of the similar.