How the tables have turned. It sure looked like the Brooklyn Nets were going to have no problems with the Milwaukee Bucks after jumping out to an easy 2-0 series lead. The loss of James Harden early in Game 1 seemed like a mere speed bump for the Nets, even as the Big Three became the Big Two.
Well, now heading into Game 5, the Big Two is the Big One, as Kevin Durant and a patchwork lineup will have to defend home court to avoid running the risk of elimination in Milwaukee on Thursday. The Bucks are -5 at MyBookie Sportsbook with a total of 217.5 in this pivotal Game 5 matchup.
The lead story at every major sports outlet is the injury problems for the Brooklyn Nets, but the Milwaukee Bucks deserve a lot of credit, too. The Bucks looked like they were going to be run off of the floor by the Nets, who racked up 340 points to Milwaukee’s 193 in the first two games of the series. In Game 3, however, the Bucks really buckled down defensively.
It was an ugly game. A hideous game. A game only a mother could love. But, the Bucks did what they had to do. Despite giving up nearly all of a 30-11 lead after the first quarter, Milwaukee found a way to prevail in the 86-83 slopfest that was the June 10 game. Brooklyn shot 36.2% from the floor and just 25% from three. The Nets were also limited to eight free throw attempts, six for Kevin Durant and two for Kyrie Irving.
It was far from a thing of beauty for Milwaukee on offense. Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo combined for 68 of the 86 points and took 56 of the 90 shots for the Bucks. They combined to go 26-of-56 from the floor. The rest of the team was 8-of-34, but it was enough to sneak by. Middleton had 15 rebounds, all on defense, and Giannis had 14.
Game 4 was much higher scoring, but the Bucks caught a break. Kyrie Irving only played 17:17 before leaving the game with an ankle injury that has since required a boot and crutches. It was largely the Middleton & Giannis Variety Hour on offense again, but the Bucks did shoot 44.3% from the floor and 34% from three, so things went a little bit better on that end.
If the Bucks were facing a full Nets team, this wouldn’t even be a series with the paltry offense they’ve been getting. But, injuries are often the greatest equalizers.
The saving grace for Brooklyn is that Milwaukee has been so bad in this series offensively. The Bucks are only shooting 43% from the floor and 27% from three. Milwaukee is even shooting under 60% at the free throw line. It’s honestly sad that this series is tied 2-2, but the Nets have had plenty of problems of their own. They are shooting 45% overall and 37% from three, but the lopsided Game 2 box score is a big reason why the profiles for the two teams look so dissimilar.
The question for the Nets now is who will step up? Who will replace the lost production of both James Harden and Kyrie Irving? Durant has scored 119 points in his 158 minutes in this series, but even he is only shooting 46% and 35% from three. Will it be Joe Harris? Will it be Blake Griffin? Will somebody step up from out of nowhere?
Brooklyn was 18-of-44 in the second half without Kyrie. Durant took 15 of the 44 shots and had 16 points, though he was 0-for-4 from three. It sure looked like head coach Steve Nash was trying to figure out some sort of lineup to put out there to help Durant, but nobody stepped up. Bruce Brown had seven points in the second half, but he isn’t really thought of as a scorer.
The Bucks can dedicate all of their defensive resources to stopping Durant now, so somebody else is going to have to make a shot. The Bucks clearly have their go-to guys in Giannis and Middleton. Even Jrue Holiday chucked up more shots in Game 4. How the Nets put the ball in the basket will dictate the rest of this series.
Bucks vs. Nets Free Pick
We saw Game 4 played at a very high pace after Game 2 and Game 3 were played slowly. It would make sense for the Bucks to try and speed up Game 5 since the Nets don’t have many scoring threats. On the flip side, the Nets would be well-served to slow it down, so we’ll end up with a pace war of sorts here.
It might seem square, but the only option here is Bucks -3.5. Until we see who can actually score for Brooklyn, we have to assume that Durant will be hassled and double-teamed on every possession and somebody else will have to knock down shots. The Nets don’t have a lot of somebody elses to knock down shots. Durant had 25 of the team’s 42 free throw attempts, so cheap points aren’t even an option.
Pick: Milwaukee Bucks -5