Given how the rest of the playoffs have shaken out, particularly with superstars in their mid-30s reckoning with injuries, this Brooklyn Nets vs Milwaukee Bucks second-round series already feels like a Finals-worthy matchup. Game One certainly lived up to the billing, mostly for the myriad of quandaries it set up for the rest of the series.
No Beard, No Problem?
Not even a minute into the series we already saw a superstar suffer a major injury, which very much fits the vibe check of this entire postseason. James Harden tweaked his right hamstring going to the basket 43 seconds into Game One and never returned. His status remains questionable for Game Two.
For any other team, losing a former MVP and scoring champion would be a death blow. But the Nets uniquely equipped themselves for this specific situation by having two other offensive juggernauts in the lineup. Sure, Joe Harris, Bruce Brown, Mike James, and old Blake Griffin (more on him later) stepped up and played key minutes. But the Nets won this game thanks to the onslaught of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
Durant finished with 29 points while Irving added 25. For every Milwaukee run, Durant or Irving responded with back-breaking plays over tough defense. By the fourth quarter, the Bucks just didn’t have enough ammunition to keep up.
Whether or not Harden returns, the Nets can be fully confident that they can still have the best players on the court in any given game.
The Bud Conundrum
Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenhozer has developed a reputation for trusting his system a little too much. Last year, he refused to play Giannis Antetokounmpo more than his allotted 36 minutes per game, even when they were suffering in the playoffs.
This year – or at least for Game One of this series -- the weird rotations have begun for Coach Bud. The Bucks starting unit of Giannis, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, PJ Tucker, and Brook Lopez only played 13 minutes together, including just two minutes in the fourth period when the game was blown wide open.
This Nets team is bound to present plenty of unique problems that are going to require creative solutions. Coach Bud might be overthinking this if he's not trying to play his best lineup as much as he can.
Overall, Game One was a disaster for the Bucks, particularly from the 3-point area where they went 6-for-30. The Bucks aren’t going to shoot that poorly for the entire series, especially Middleton and Holiday who went 2-for-12 combined. Perhaps an offensive jolt from that pair will inspire more confidence from their coach to play them more minutes.
It was around three months ago when people were lamenting the twilight years of Blake Griffin. All the ruminating of the former MVP candidate was justified: he couldn’t even dunk anymore.
With the Nets, not only is Blake dunking again, but he just had one of his best playoff games ever, tallying 18 points and 10 rebounds while providing steady enough on Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak still had 34 points, but Griffin made him work. Giannis wasn’t going to outmuscle Blake.
At this point in his career and on this team, Blake isn't going to have this type of game every time out. The Nets don’t need Lob City Blake, just Steady County Griffin is going to suffice.
If anything, Griffin speaks to the larger ethos of the Nets' role players. Throughout the season, someone from the non-Big Three group steps up and makes an impact. It was Griffin’s time in Game One. Don't be surprised to hear more from other Nets role players in the coming games.