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Nets Notes: Brooklyn Turns Focus to Milwaukee Bucks

Nets down Celtics in five games to set up series against Bucks

It didn’t take long after the Brooklyn Nets clinched their first-round series with Tuesday night’s 123-109 Game 5 win over the Boston Celtics for the focus to be directed toward what’s next. The Celtics were already history.

That meant the Milwaukee Bucks, who wrapped up a first-round sweep of the Miami Heat over the weekend.

“Personally, I’m thinking about them right now, just the matchups and things that they do on both ends of the ball,” said James Harden shortly after the game. “Obviously, we know how good they are on both sides and their individual talents. Tomorrow we’ve got an off day and on Thursday we go watch film and prepare for them.”

The third-seeded Bucks (46-26) finished two games behind the second-seeded Nets (48-24) and that difference will give Brooklyn home court advantage for the series, beginning with Saturday’s Game 1 at Barclays Center. The Bucks won two of the three games with the Nets during the season, losing 125-123 at Barclays Center on Jan. 18 then taking a two-game set in Milwaukee at the start of May — 117-114 and 124-118 — with Harden missing both games for Brooklyn.

“It’s not going to come down to Xs and Os and plays and different schemes,” said Harden. “At the end of the day, after Game 1 and Game 2, we’re going to know each other’s plays. So it’s about details and the small things, the boxouts, who can dive on the basketball on the floor, who’s going to make winning basketball plays and whoever does is going to have a chance of winning in the NBA.”

The Bucks had the NBA’s best record in each of the last two seasons but failed to reach the NBA Finals either time. So they made a big move for guard Jrue Holiday before the season started, then added Harden’s former Houston teammate PJ Tucker along the way.

Aside from that, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Brook Lopez playing for coach Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks represent something Nets coach Steve Nash has been referencing lately, a core that has been together for several years and has a foundation of time together that the Nets are still building.

“We know who these guys are,” said Kevin Durant. “Their strengths and weaknesses as individual players, as a collective. We’ve got to watch film and see how we can be at our best. We can take from what they did throughout the whole season, especially the second half once they got PJ and once Bryn Forbes got more minutes and once they start shoring up their rotation we could definitely take a peek at some of those games but for the most part got to come out there and just play extremely hard and execute.”

After going to overtime in Game 1 against a Miami team that had upset them in last season’s playoffs, the Bucks rang up three one-sided wins to bring that series to a quick end. They posted a suffocating 95.4 defensive rating through the four games, by far the lowest in the 2021 NBA Playoffs so far, and limited the Heat to 39.5 percent shooting, also the league’s lowest.

Antetokounmpo, winner of the last two MVP awards, was fifth in the league with scoring this season, averaging 28.1 points, and ninth in rebounding, averaging 11.0 rebounds. Against Miami, he averaged 23.5 points, 15.0 rebounds, and 7.8 assists per game.

“What makes him great is not one thing,” said Nash. “It’s the four or five things he excels at at both ends of the floor.”

“He's long, athletic, plays hard, he cares about his teammates, he cares about winning,” said Durant. “You put that combination together, you make a tough player. And his game is expanding. He's hitting the turnaround J now, he's shooting 3s so we got our work cut out for us. I mean he's a two-time MVP, defensive player of the year for a reason. So we're looking forward to the challenge.”

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