What a difference a round makes. After a dominant first-round sweep against the Heat, the Bucks now find themselves in danger of losing in similar fashion in the East semis. The Nets dominated Milwaukee on Monday, cruising to a 125–86 win to take a 2–0 lead in their second-round series. Brooklyn took a 17-point lead after the first quarter and never looked back, with the lead nearly reaching 50 points by the fourth. With James Harden sidelined with hamstring tightness, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving combined for 54 points while shooting 60% from the field. The Bucks, who were out of sorts on both ends of the floor, were led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 18 points in the loss. Here are three thoughts on the Nets’ commanding performance.
Kevin Durant Cannot Be Slowed Down
Durant in this series looks every bit like the player he was before tearing his Achilles in 2019, which is to say he could very well be the best basketball player in the known universe right now. The Bucks have no answer for KD. He gave buckets to every last one of their staunchest defenders, whether it was P.J. Tucker, Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, or Giannis. Nobody can seemingly even make Durant uncomfortable, and right now it’s hard to imagine anyone left in the postseason giving Durant trouble. Milwaukee is in a bad spot, because KD can’t be guarded one-on-one, and Brooklyn’s role players appear to have drowned themselves in the secret stuff Michael Jordan used at halftime before his comeback against the Monstars. Any time the Bucks helped on KD, Mike James was there to hit a three. Any time Middleton fought over a screen to stay attached to Durant, Landry Shamet took advantage of the space created to hit a three of his own. Brooklyn shot 50% from three on 42 attempts in Game 2. The Nets’ offense is simply firing on all cylinders right now, and I haven’t even gotten to Irving yet, who dazzled with his own solo brilliance. The Bucks appeared to have the personnel to at least make Brooklyn work. So far that clearly hasn’t been the case.
It Can’t Be Like This, Mike Budenholzer
Mike Budenholzer is a very accomplished coach, and I can’t sit on my couch and act like I have all the answers for the Nets. Still, some of Bud’s decisions in this series have been hard to understand. Offensively, there are still too many possessions when Giannis is trying to initiate as a ball-handler, and his lack of shooting gums up everything Milwaukee wants to run. It doesn’t appear to be the right way to attack the Nets, especially when Antetokounmpo draws so much attention as a roll man when he sets screens himself. Why not put Giannis in more situations in which he’s diving toward the rim, and maybe give more space to your shooters on the perimeter?
Defensively, why put Holiday on Durant if that means he’s going to need someone to help off a shooter? Wouldn’t Holiday make more sense on Irving and Giannis on KD? Does Brook Lopez really make sense in this series if he’s not able to get up on Durant when his man sets a screen?
Again, there are no simple solutions here. And Bud wasn’t helped out by Middleton’s poor shooting night, Tucker’s foul trouble, the team’s lack of depth, and the injury to Donte DiVincenzo from Round 1. Such a thorough beatdown means everyone in the organization is fair game for criticism at the moment. But it’s Bud’s job to find answers to difficult questions.
The Nets Aren’t Even at Full Strength
The most terrifying part of Game 2 for the both the Bucks and the remaining playoff field is Brooklyn did all of that without Harden. The Nets scored 125 points against a top-10 defense in what should have been a desperate, hungry effort from their opponent. And they did so with a former MVP and elite scorer wearing a Prada shirt instead of a uniform. Brooklyn has never felt more inevitable than it does in this current moment. The breadth of their dominance in Game 2 felt not only like a message to the Bucks. It may have put every other team in the league on notice.