Nets vs. Bucks Game 1: Brooklyn and Milwaukee Could Be Tipping Off a Classic
High stakes for high-powered rosters in second round of 2021 NBA Playoffs
They were the two highest scoring teams in the NBA this season and if you scan any of the other top offensive statistical rankings from the 2020-21 season you’ll finding them hugging the top of the list. There’s two MVPs on one roster, a two-time MVP on the other.
It’s the Brooklyn Nets against the Milwaukee Bucks in an Eastern Conference semifinal that will send one of these two high-powered teams home earlier than anybody will be comfortable with. It’s a stage set with all the elements for a playoff series that could be one to remember.
“There’s no question the potential is there,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “We will see how it plays out, but they’re playing as well as any team in the league right now and we have the talent to match any team in the league, it’s just a matter of who performs, who has that grit and toughness to try to get ahead in this series and then see how the other team responds. So, but definitely on paper you could see this being a classic series. But let’s see who brings it and who has the rhythm and timing and performances that are sharper.”
Going into Saturday night’s Game 1, the second-seeded Nets come in off a five-game dispatching of the Boston Celtics that featured an epic offensive display. Brooklyn put up an offensive rating of 128.0 points per 100 possessions against Boston, well above their 117.3 mark during the regular season, which was only an all-time NBA record. The third-seeded Bucks, a top-10 defense during the regular season, throttled the Miami Heat in allowing 95.4 points per 100 possessions in a four-game sweep.
The Bucks represent the type of opponent Nash has been referencing as waiting for the Nets all season — a group that has built playoff experience together over the past few years. Milwaukee had the NBA’s best record each of the past two seasons before finishing two games behind Brooklyn this season.
It was that “continuity” that jumped out to Blake Griffin as a defining characteristic of this Bucks team.
“Obviously Jrue (Holiday) is a little bit new to their team, but I think they just have a system sort of, and they all know their positions,” said Griffin. “For them, they have three guys that can really, really hurt you. And then they have a great group of complementary players. So those are the things that jump out at you right away. And then defensively, they're long. So you know, this series — even more so than last — is a detail oriented series, in my opinion.”
The Nets have been navigating a different course, integrating all sorts of new pieces and navigating plenty of twists along the way. There was Nash, the new coach, and Kevin Durant returning after missing the 2019-20 season. Kyrie Irving played just 20 games a year ago. Then, less than a month into the season, came the blockbuster trade for James Harden. That was nearly four months ago, but injuries kept the group from coalescing for much of the regular season.
So Nash has emphasized the ongoing mission of building cohesion and connectivity and doesn’t mind saying that it continues into the playoffs
“It just feels authentic,” said Nash. “That is our reality. We’re trying to put the pieces together on the fly and that’s our challenge. I think it’s also normal to ask those questions and I think it’s honest and authentic to answer it. That is true. We accept that and that’s OK. We don’t hide from it. We accept it and it’s not an excuse. We’re not sitting here trying to have a built-in excuse either. I don’t want any excuses from our staff or our players or anyone. That is the gap that our team is fighting against. Every team has their gap, has their deficiency or growth area that they need and that is the primary one for us.”
ABOUT THE BUCKS
The Milwaukee Bucks are coming off a first-round sweep of Miami in which they limited the Heat to 95.4 points per 100 possessions and a 39.5 field goal percentage. Milwaukee averaged 59.0 rebounds and 26.8 assists in the series, ranking first in the league in both categories through the first two weeks of the playoffs. The Bucks are the No. 3 seed after finishing the regular season two games behind the Nets with a 46-26 record. In sweeping a two-game series in Milwaukee in early May in which the Nets were without James Harden, the Bucks edged the Nets 2-1 in the season series. Milwaukee had one of the few offenses in the NBA that operated in the same air as Brooklyn’s all-time leader in offensive rating. While the Bucks were fifth in that category with 116.5 points per game 100 possessions, they led the NBA in points per game (120.1) and were second in effective field goal percentage (56.6), third in field goal percentage (48.7), and fifth in 3-point percentage (38.9) while playing at the league’s second-fastest pace (102.85). Milwaukee ranked ninth in defensive rating (100.7), second in rebounds per game (48.1) and first in defensive rebounds per game (37.8). Giannis Antetokounmpo was fifth in the NBA in scoring (28.1) and ninth in rebounding (11.0) while shooting 56.9 percent and also averaging 5.9 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game. Khris Middleton averaged 20.4 points per game while shooting 41.7 percent from 3-point range with 6.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. After posting the best record in the league each of the last two seasons but falling short of the NBA Finals, the Bucks reshuffled this season with a big trade for guard Jrue Holiday, an elite defender who averaged 17.7 points, 6.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.6 steals while shooting 39.2 percent from 3-point range. They also picked up defensive-minded forward P.J. Tucker in a midseason trade with Houston.