The 2021 NBA playoff series between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Brooklyn Nets was expected to be the most entertaining one in Round 2.
The Milwaukee Bucks, after struggling in NBA playoffs in recent years, dominated the Miami Heat in Round 1, cruising past them 4-0. An improved roster featuring a better bench and an in-form Jrue Holiday was expected to provide a close challenge to the dominant Brooklyn Nets.
However, that has not happened till now. Two poor shooting performances, poor defending and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s struggles with free-throw shooting have resulted in two comfortable wins for the Brooklyn Nets.
Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets will be delighted with their performances so far, as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have dominated proceedings.
The Nets have relied on a smaller team than the Bucks but have been better in ball movement and efficient with their shooting. They have hit the Milwaukee Bucks with pace and precision for large parts of the two games.
On that note, let’s take a look at five things we have learnt from the two games in the semi-final series thus far.
#1 Brooklyn Nets haven’t struggled in the absence of James Harden
James Harden did not feature in Game 2 against the Milwaukee Bucks and played less than a minute before hobbling off the court in Game 1. Harden is set to play a part in the upcoming matches, although Nets head coach Steve Nash might be in no hurry to rush him back into action.
The Brooklyn Nets have stuck to the same approach they had against the Boston Celtics; DeAndre Jordan has been benched, and they are relying on good ball movement to get passes to the likes of Joe Harris and Landry Shamet for easy three.
The Milwaukee Bucks would have hoped for respite in the absence of Harden. But that has not been the case, with the Bucks’ wayward shooting not helping their cause.
The Bucks have taken difficult shots in the two games but got just 14 of their 57 3-pointers on target. With Harden set to return, the rest of the series might prove to be long and hard for the Milwaukee Bucks.
#2 Milwaukee Bucks’ Khris Middleton has struggled
Khris Middleton has had a big impact at both ends of the court for the Milwaukee Bucks for most of the season. He averaged more than 21 points and had a double-double in Game 4 of the Round 1 series. However, the former All-Star has struggled against the Brooklyn Nets.
In Game 2 against the Nets, he missed his first eight shots and finished with a shooting efficiency of 35%, despite getting 17 points and five rebounds. Middleton’s efficiency was a vast improvement on the 26.5% he shot in Game 1, as he finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Jrue Holiday has also looked ordinary in the two matches, and both stars will need to better support Giannis Antetokounmpo if the Bucks are to post any kind of a comeback in this series.
#3 Giannis Antetokounmpo has hit a wall (again)
Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the most gifted players in the NBA. He is a prolific scorer inside the paint and has the athleticism to get past defenders with ease. However, his lack of ball-handling skills and poor shooting has often resulted in defenses shutting him out by putting multiple interior defenders on him.
Antetokounmpo has struggled to drive, something that was especially apparent in Game 2. That’s because the Brooklyn Nets are relying on quick defenders who can recover in transition, which has curtailed the Greek Freak’s ability to find 3-point shooters with easy looks or slam dunks.
A better overall shooting performance from the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks’ roster should help their talisman find more space.
#4 Brooklyn Nets have opted for speed over size defensively
The Brooklyn Nets have proved lethal in transition and have capitalized on the Milwaukee Bucks’ dependence on their big centers. With the Bucks sticking to Brook Lopez, the Nets have been able to push inside the paint, and their offensive players have gotten easy looks on the basket.
The Brooklyn Nets have dropped DeAndre Jordan to the bench, thereby sacrificing on size but have added another offensive scorer in the lineup. They have had enough quality to pick out players with easy shots. The Nets are relying on versatile offensive players and playing a high-intense defense to dominate the Bucks at both ends of the court.
Nicolas Claxton, Bruce Brown Jr. and Blake Griffin have all made sizeable defensive contributions in the two matches. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks have appeared clueless at times and are paying for their poor decision making and shot selection at the offensive end.
#5 Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are on fire
With Harden out, the Milwaukee Bucks might have looked at the first two games of the series with reasonable optimism. However, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have absolutely dominated proceedings and toyed with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Irving is averaging 23.5 points and seven assists, while Kevin Durant has produced 30.5 points and seven rebounds in the two matches so far. Both have been in the thick of the action and have attempted a large volume of shots for the Brooklyn Nets.
The Milwaukee Bucks have struggled to restrict Kevin Durant’s influence and need to shake things around defensively if they are to stay alive in this series. For now, the writing appears to be on the wall for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Please help improve our NBA/basketball coverage by taking a quick, 30-second survey here.