Checking in on the Nets-Bucks series after four games

Published June 15, 2021, 9:00 PMMiguel Flores

What did we see in the first four games of this series? NBA.com Philippines writer Miguel Flores takes a look.

The series billed as the true NBA Finals has shifted dramatically in all sorts of directions. As the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks head into Game Five tied at 2-2, how are these two title contenders looking? Do they even still look like contenders?

The Nets Big 3 in the time of injuries

Brooklyn might have expected health to be a factor in their run this year, given the injury history of their initial two stars in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. That's probably why they traded so many assets for the previously-indestructible James Harden early in the season.
Fast forward to the playoffs and the Nets Big 3 now consists of Durant, Blake Griffin, and… Joe Harris?

The Nets are finding out just how volatile a playoff run can be. They so far have gotten just 43 seconds of James Harden against the Bucks and now will probably have to play without Irving for the next few games. A team that was built on overwhelming opponents with sheer star power is now severely lacking against a rejuvenated opponent.

KD has been awesome against Milwaukee, averaging 29.8 points on 45.8 percent shooting with nine rebounds. Outside of Griffin, Brooklyn has barely gotten anything from their supporting cast in the last two games. Joe Harris has shot four-for-19 in that stretch while everyone else has also failed to score in double-digits. KD could very well take over the next few games, but he’s going to need some help to get past Milwaukee.

What a difference two games make

Remember Game One and Two? The first two games of this series when the Nets pretty much dominated the Bucks from tip-off?

Brooklyn could have very well had a 3-0 lead and a virtual lock on the series had a few more breaks gone their way at the end of Game Three. Now we’re tied and, not only that, the Bucks seem to have the upper hand with the Nets ailing.

The Bucks deserve plenty of credit in regaining footing this series. Khris Middleton stepped up big time in Game Three with a 35-point explosion and has low-key been a terror on defense. In Game Four, Middleton had just 19 points, but his defense manifested into two blocks and two steals. Speaking of defense, that was all Jrue Holiday could offer for the first three games of the series, before tallying 14 points in Game Four. Holiday and Middleton entered this series as pseudo-superstars to fit the narrative of Brooklyn's Big 3 meeting the Bucks'. But they aren't really superstars. They can’t be expected to carry teams every game. With the Nets' trio down to a solo act, Middleton and Holiday suddenly aren’t playing up to expectations anymore. They’re in a prime spot to finally exceed expectations.

Is Giannis a number one?

That has been a prime topic for talking heads show for a while, but it has taken off this series.

For all his freakishness, Giannis Antetokounmpo seems to be an awkward fit as the prime superstar on a team. The two-time MVP thrives in the open court or whenever he gets the ball within 10 feet of the rim.

But when Giannis tries to imitate LeBron or Kevin Durant, he looks like he's trying to do ballet while wearing Nikes. Giannis as an initiator and ball-handler has proven ineffective. The Bucks offensive rating goes down significantly in possessions when Giannis initiates a pick-and-roll. When Giannis isolates and takes more than three dribbles in a possession, his field goal percentage plummets to 32.1 percent from 61.6 percent when he only takes a single dribble or 69.6 percent when he doesn't dribble at all.
All this means is Giannis isn’t your typical playoff superstar that takes all the tough shots down the stretch. He isn’t Kobe. He's more like Shaq. 

Shaquille O’Neal was one of the most dominant players ever, a number one, an alpha, a top dog, whatever you want to call him. But he needed Kobe Bryant and later on Dwyane Wade in clutch moments when all defenses would allow were contested midrange jumpers. He needed them to make free throws because he was historically the worst free throw shooter ever.

Giannis, in his current two-time MVP form, may need a Kobe or D-Wade. Is that person already on the team?