The Milwaukee Bucks have spent most of the past year trying to make sure this season’s playoff run goes differently than they did in the previous two.
But after being wiped out 125-86 by the Brooklyn Nets without James Harden in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series on Monday night in New York, the Bucks are heading home for Game 3 on Thursday knowing that they are now two losses away from a disastrous third straight end of the season.
Yet despite the situation, Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo said he didn’t feel any different from what he felt when Milwaukee was on his way to a Miami Heat sweep in the first round.
“It’s easy,” said Antetokounmpo, when asked how he could prevent his teammates from falling after falling into a 2-0 hole. “That’s what I do.
âI’m not going up too high, I’m not going down too low. After the Miami streak we were up 4-0, and coming to this streak I wasn’t high. Now that we’re down 2 -0, I’m not weak. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, keep trusting my job, keep trusting my teammates, keep believing in the team, keep believing in the habits that we’ve been building all year, and hopefully in Game 3 we get a win. “
After Milwaukee’s loss in Game 1 on Saturday – a game in which they missed 24 3-point attempts and the Nets got an unexpected production from Blake Griffin and Mike James after Harden left 47 seconds with hamstring strain – leggings – the expectation of some was that the Bucks even the series with Harden watching from the side.
Instead, the Nets demolished the Bucks early on, taking a 36-19 advantage after a quarterback and leading wire-to-wire in the biggest win in franchise history – and the worst playoff loss. Mike Budenholzer’s three-year playoff as Milwaukee coach.
The Bucks looked bewildered from practically the opening spike, settling for one jumper after another instead of attacking the paint – which, in turn, allowed the Nets to pick up a pace on the other end. .
It turned out to be a fatal combination for Milwaukee.
âThere are some places we want to attack, some guys we want to attack with,â Budenholzer said. “[But] we just didn’t play well overall. First quarter, the whole game. â¦ I think we need to play better from start to finish. “
Even with Harden out of the field, there was nothing the Bucks could do to stop the remaining Brooklyn stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. They combined to beat Milwaukee 22-19 in the first quarter, and Durant, in particular, got everything he wanted throughout the game, finishing with 32 points on a 12-for-18 shot with six assists in 33 minutes.
But they weren’t alone.
James impressed again with 10 points off the bench. Bruce Brown, who entered the starting lineup in place of Harden, scored 13 points with six rebounds, four assists and no turnovers. Landry Shamet scored three points in 16 minutes on the bench.
âI liked our attention to detail,â Durant said. âWe didn’t get a lot of perfect plays, but we had second and third efforts. They didn’t destroy us on the offensive rebounds, which showed we were boxing.
“For the most part we just did what we were supposed to do at home. Now we have to see if this game can travel the road for us, and we have to stay locked up.”
Entering the series, Milwaukee’s biggest advantage seemed to be on the inside, where Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez are significantly bigger than the defenders the Nets have on them – especially with Brooklyn playing small and using Griffin or Nicolas Claxton. In the center.
But after the Bucks got eight offensive rebounds in the first quarter of Game 1, the Nets have effectively bricked the paint since. Milwaukee had just 11 offensive rebounds in Game 2 – and barely edged Brooklyn overall in rebounds (44-42). Milwaukee was 20 points less in the paint in Game 2 than in Game 1, while committing 16 turnovers which led to Brooklyn’s 23 points.
Khris Middleton followed his clunker in Game 1 with another in Game 2; he shot just 7 for 20 from the field and missed all six shots he took in that fateful first quarter. And after hitting the basket several times in Game 1, Antetokounmpo had a fairly pedestrian line – certainly by his standards – of 18 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 turnovers (he’s also gone 2 for 7 since the foul line). ) in 33 minutes.
âI missed a few that I thought I could have, forced a few that I shouldn’t have,â said Middleton, who is now 13-for-43 in that series. “You just have to find a better rhythm, a better selection of shots, I think.”
Combine that with the Nets shooting 52% overall – and an absurd 50% (21 of 42) from a 3-point range – while Milwaukee only shot 8 for 27 (29.6%) from deep , and it’s easy to see how Brooklyn led the Barclays Center Bucks so well.
âI think for us we saw them hit shots and we just got a little too selfish, and we tried to do it ourselves,â Bucks goaltender Jrue Holiday said. âWe had a few hits in the paint, but they were hard hits, contested by two, sometimes three people.
âI feel like when we get in there we have to try to pulverize it and get those 3 wide open. We didn’t shoot well from 3 either, and that’s probably because that we didn’t have that many wide openings, and they did. We just need to be able to play a little better with the pass. “
Milwaukee will have to do a lot of much better things in Game 3. Otherwise, this series will head quickly in the same way as Milwaukee’s first-round series against Miami – only this time the Bucks will be receiving a sweep of four. matches.
âIt’s an opportunity,â Antetokounmpo said. âAt the end of the day we have to go about business and take one game at a time. I don’t want to hear that we have to win two at home. We have to win one at home. We have we have to win the Game 1. We have to get Game 3 and try to give everything to get it, and Game 4 try to do the same. But we have to focus on Game 3 now. “