The series was 2 to 1 in favor of the Nets going into the game on Sunday. The Nets easily held homecourt in the first two games, with a particularly devastating thirty-nine-point win in Game 2. Brooklyn swagger was rampant. Something of a bureau coup was underway with an end goal of U.S. take over. I could almost see Jay-Z looking over Tidal’s black and yellow theme on his laptop as Blake violated Giannis on a dunk to return to his laptop screen to find an estimate of his previous stake’s worth. The only blemish for Brooklyn during the first two games was a rare James Harden injury.
Then, Game 3 commenced, the players reached into their pockets and pulled out rocks. In a game that could pass for a 1990’s or early 2000’s game, Kevin Durant seemed to bring us back to the present with a three that put the Nets up by three with 1:23 left in the game. But this game rewarded brutish grind. In the end, the most brutish team was the Milwaukee Bucks.
The story read, if two of the three Nets stars were healthy, they were fine. The Bucks still had to win a road game, which thus far they had been frustratingly impotent. However, if one of the remaining two goes down, well, then…
Game 4 was like a cult classic that exceeded expectations, fulfilling its viewers throughout and plausibly resolving its story, only to be ruined by a sequel. The first half was spectacular. A sense of urgency was present for both teams. Extreme physicality made the regular shot-making extraordinary.
The game began quickly for the Nets as they jumped to a 9-2 lead. However, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the team back, not solely by scoring but with his court persona. Commentator Van Gundy piquantly illustrated how Giannis was aggressive in the open court yet active in his restraint in the half-court.
Giannis, the Greek god, on occasion reveals his mortality in half-court sets; through schematic isolation play that ends in a three and through conceit as he routinely collides into a three-man wall. Both were corrected for in the first half, as the Bucks traveling offense seemed to swing and cut around the dominating centerpiece that started possessions in the low-post, high-post, dunker, and baseline. Still, with the improvement, the Nets balanced attack withstood their efforts as they lead at the end of the first quarter.
Though, the storyline revealed a plot twist. The Nets led and were competent through the second quarter, but their stars were flailing. Kevin Durant was restricted in a broad straitjacket, as P.J. Tucker smothered him through screens and off-the-dribble. Kyrie Irving was playing well. He shot 5-11 for 11 points, but he seemed to be in the ether at times. Regardless, the two have that quality that none of the Bucks stars have, the ability to spree ten points in two minutes. So, one could not fully commit to the wave of momentum.
The Bucks countered with Giannis and Kris Middleton, and the Nets gift of the corner three, which P.J. and Brook Lopez made today. Still, with the Bucks best efforts, the score was narrow. Then near the end of the 2nd quarter, on a cunning cut to the basket and a fading away lay-up, Irving’s ankle kissed the floor. With it, the Nets kissed their chance at victory goodbye.
The Bucks five-point halftime lead felt like much more, considering the injury to Irving and the unavailability of Harden. “They played without one or two of them all season. They will be fine.” The second half started, Joe Harris drove to the basket and hardly contacted the backboard on a lay-up, and Mike James, with skill as pedestrian as his name, missed his chance at a lay-up.
That was the alternative to force-feeding Durant each possession. The answer to tactics was simple, Durant versus the herd of dear. For a few minutes, Durant shrewdly drew fouls, gaining a rhythm at the free-throw line. This kept their deficit to around ten points. But the Bucks responded with a less forceful defense. Practically, ending the game near the end of the third. Finally, the Bucks won, 107-96, tying the series at 2-2.
The mood has changed in Brooklyn. The same, Jay-Z’s regretful Tidal venture. What next? Can James Harden or Kyrie Irving return for Game 5? If yes, can they be relied upon to stay healthy for the remainder of the series? One, if not both, is needed for victory. Blake Griffin‘s elderly sensitivity to gravity, Joe Harris trying to score within five feet of the basket, and Mike James being on an American court will not help Durant win this series.
Late in the game, Coach Nash experimented with a point guard free line up to a mixed result. This and further creativity from him and his assistants are needed to compete. Nevertheless, win this series without one or both of their stars.
For the Bucks, it is a case of making Barclay’s home for two and half hours. Their defense usually gets brought on the road; it is a matter of whether their offense can find comfort.
Stay loyal to starting a half-court possession with Giannis in different locations and players around, be cardio fit for motion. If they can get more from Jrue Holiday or a quality collective effort from their role players, their chances are good to survive the second round.
But an Uncle and a Beard might have something left to say about this.