NBA

NBA Big Game Focus: Bucks stuck in a hole heading back home against Nets

By Sports Desk June 09, 2021

The most anticipated series of the 2020-21 NBA playoffs has not delivered quite as expected thus far.

The Milwaukee Bucks, having swept the Miami Heat, were backed to provide stern opposition to the Brooklyn Nets' array of superstars.

And when James Harden went down 43 seconds into Game 1, the Bucks must have thought their luck was in.

Instead, they head back home on Wednesday looking to belatedly get on the board, having fallen 2-0 behind in dismal fashion.

The first meeting was at least close, but a 125-86 Game 2 defeat in Brooklyn made unwanted history.

With Harden on the sidelines, the Nets became the first team ever to win a playoff game by 35 or more points while having a former MVP on their roster but missing.

Home comforts alone surely cannot bridge the gap for Milwaukee after such a humbling...
 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Khris Middleton – Milwaukee Bucks

Optimism around the Bucks centred on a trio of leading men. Only Giannis Antetokounmpo could realistically be compared to any one of the Nets' 'big three', but Middleton and Jrue Holiday each showed their worth against the Heat.

It has been a different story in this round.

After 20.4 points per game in the regular season and 21.5 in the Miami series, that mark has dropped to a mediocre 15.0 through two games on 30.2 per cent shooting.

Regardless of any improvement from Antetokounmpo, who is averaging a solid if unspectacular 26.0 points, the Bucks need the supporting cast to be better.

Blake Griffin – Brooklyn Nets

While the Bucks would have hoped for Middleton to offer more, Griffin is exceeding all expectations in Brooklyn. The six-time All-Star is rebuilding his career.

Griffin has started all seven playoff games this year, having seemingly initially been signed as a bench option, and he had 18 points and 14 rebounds in Game 1.

It appeared the versatile forward refound his mojo the moment he left the Detroit Pistons, though, ending a 25-game drought with a dunk on his debut – one of 18 across the remainder of the regular season.

Griffin has continued these show-stopping contributions into the playoffs, too, with seven more, including one particularly eye-catching effort over Antetokounmpo on Monday.
 

KEY BATTLE – Durant evading effective defense

Griffin was not the only Net to find joy against Antetokounmpo, with Durant too easily working room to shoot and punish the Bucks in typical fashion. His 61 points lead the series.

Antetokounmpo and Holiday – both previously named to the All-Defensive First Team – might have backed themselves to manage this three-headed monster. So far, they cannot get to grips with just the two.

For as much as the Bucks need more scoring, offense alone cannot beat a team as talented as Brooklyn. Milwaukee actually allowed marginally more points (114.2 per game) than the Nets (114.1) this season and must now find a way to slow them.
 

HEAD TO HEAD

Of course, very recent history is against the Bucks, even if they had a 2-1 regular-season record in this matchup. The omens are better at Fiserv Forum, where both of the 2020-21 wins came as the Bucks improved to 66-32 at home versus the Nets in the regular season and postseason combined.

Durant is 7-5 at Milwaukee, averaging 26.8 points per game – more than any Buck so far in this series.

Related items

  • Jeff Van Gundy to join Clippers as lead assistant coach Jeff Van Gundy to join Clippers as lead assistant coach

    Jeff Van Gundy will finally make his NBA coaching return next season after reportedly agreeing to become Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue’s top assistant.

    The 62-year-old Van Gundy spent this season as a senior consultant for the Boston Celtics, who won their 18th NBA title by beating the Dallas Mavericks 106-88 in Game 5 of the Finals on Monday.

    Prior to working with the Celtics, Van Gundy was a television analyst for ESPN for 16 years after being the head coach of the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets.

    Van Gundy took over the Knicks in March 1996 and resigned 19 games into the 2001-02 season, a stretch that saw New York reach the NBA Finals in the lockout shortened 1998-99 campaign.

    Houston hired Van Gundy in June 2003 and fired him after a first-round playoff exit in 2007.

    Van Gundy owns a career coaching record of 430-318 in the regular season and 44-44 in the playoffs.

    The Clippers went 51-31 this season and won the Pacific Division title for the first time since 2013-14, but they were eliminated by the Mavericks in six games in the first round of the playoffs.

    Los Angeles signed Lue, who coached the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA title in 2016, to a five-year, $70million extension last month.

  • Irving backs Mavericks to be regular championship contenders after NBA Finals loss Irving backs Mavericks to be regular championship contenders after NBA Finals loss

    Kyrie Irving is confident the Dallas Mavericks can be regular championship contenders after their NBA Finals loss to the Boston Celtics came as a "bitter" ending to a "really positive journey".

    Jayson Tatum delivered a magnificent performance in Game 5 with 31 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists, as the Celtics capped a dominant season by cruising to a 106-88 victory over the Mavericks on Monday to capture their first league championship since 2008.

    It was a difficult night for Irving at TD Garden. Boston's All-Star forward and Finals MVP Jaylen Brown compiled 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists and played lock-down defence on the Mavericks star, who was held to under 39 per cent shooting in three of Dallas' four losses.

    Irving, who spent two seasons with Boston before signing with the Brooklyn Nets in 2019, went just 5 of 16 from the field while managing 15 points, the third time in the series he produced 16 points or fewer.

    But Irving was looking at the positives despite the 4-1 series loss and hopes Dallas will be back to go one better in the years ahead.

    "We answered a lot of questions this year on what we were capable of doing and now it is just about being consistent," Irving said, per ESPN.

    "I said that I wanted to be remembered as one of the best teams of this era and our last few champions have been a new one each and every year.

    "So, I see an opportunity for us to really build our future in a positive manner where this is almost like a regular thing for us, and we are competing for championships. 

    "From a spiritual standpoint, I think I enjoyed this journey more than any other season, just because of the redemption arc and being able to learn as much as I did about myself and my teammates and the organization and the people that I'm around."

    After Dallas substituted its starters in the closing stages, Irving and Doncic exchanged an embrace and a few words on the sideline as the final seconds of the Celtics' victory ticked away.

    "We said, 'We'll fight together next season, and we are just going to believe'," revealed Doncic.

    Doncic battled injuries during the postseason and it remains uncertain if he will be able to represent Slovenia at the Olympic Games.

    "I don't want to talk about what's next, man," Doncic said. "I have some decisions to make. I'm just trying to get a little bit healthier.

    "It doesn't matter if I was hurt, how much was I hurt. I was out there. I tried to play but I didn't do enough."

    With Doncic on the team, Mavericks coach Jason Kidd is optimistic there will be more NBA Finals appearances to come for Dallas.

    He said: "For [Doncic] at the age of 25 to get to the Finals, to be playing his basketball at the level that he's playing...

    "Now it's just being consistent. When you have one of the best players in the world, you should be always fighting for a championship."

  • Celtics' NBA title win will be remembered for the rest of my life, says Tatum Celtics' NBA title win will be remembered for the rest of my life, says Tatum

    Jayson Tatum says the Boston Celtics' 18th NBA title is a "night I will remember for the rest of my life".

    The Celtics capped a dominant season by cruising to a 106-88 victory over the Mavericks in Game 5 of the NBA finals on Monday, capturing their first league championship since 2008.

    After recording the league's best regular-season record at 64-18, Boston continued that fine form in the post-season, going 16-3 to earn their record-breaking 18th title, moving them above the Los Angeles Lakers.

    After losing Game 4 on the road, the Celtics responded in style, with Tatum the standout performer, getting 31 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists.

    "I mean, this is going to be a night that I will remember for the rest of my life, from the game, the celebration, these moments," Tatum said.

    "Over the last couple years, we had some tough losses at home in the playoffs. We've lost the NBA championship at home in front of our fans. We had a chance to beat Miami in Game 6 a few years ago and lost that one.

    "So, to have a big win - the biggest win that you could have in front of your home crowd - I felt like that was really important to go out there and do everything in my power to make sure we won this game tonight."

    "It means the world," Tatum said on stage. "It's been a long time. And I'm grateful."

    Kristaps Porzingis missed Games 3 and 4 with a leg injury but managed 16 minutes off the bench to help his team to victory in the decider.

    He confirmed after the game that he would need surgery on the injury but did not want to miss out on the occasion.

    "I think something could have happened, for sure, especially compensating now on the other leg now, which I just came back from," Porzingis told ESPN.

    "There was definitely some added risk, but I didn't care. I was like, 'I want to give everything I can and then fix it after if I need to.'"

    "Since last game, I've been thinking ... 'How can I get my body ready for next game?'. Like, no matter how it is. And today I was like, 'I'm going to try everything possible to get out there.'

    "And, man, it feels great to be a champion."

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.