One week ago, the Milwaukee Bucks faced a 0-2 as they left The Big Apple, appearing to have zero answers for the James Harden-less Brooklyn Nets. Today, they’ve made up that ground and return to New York with the chance to steal one on the road and seize control of the series. Did anyone see this coming? Of particular note: in series tied at 2 games apiece, the winner of Game 5 goes on to win the series 82.4% of the time.
Where We’re At
While they’re still far from resembling their regular season success, the Bucks’ offense was efficient enough to tie the series on Sunday. The outside shooting improved—for the first half anyway—and the defense remained stout, particularly on Kevin Durant (28 points on just 9/25 shooting). As has been the case all series, Donte DiVincenzo is out for Milwaukee, joined by Jordan Nwora (thigh contusion).
Injured players? The Nets have a couple. Sunday’s big news was Kyrie Irving’s right ankle, which suffered a significant sprain necessitating crutches and a walking boot for the Brooklyn guard. This came on top of James Harden’s long-troublesome right hamstring strain, which he reaggravated less than a minute into the series. Yesterday, ESPN relayed that both players would miss today’s contest. Today, however, reports indicate that Harden plans to play tonight as his status has been upgraded twice, first to doubtful and now questionable. Some think this is a desperation move after letting Milwaukee back into the series and suddenly being down another star: not two days ago Nets head coach Steve Nash said he would not rush Harden back in the wake of Irving’s injury, though the bearded one had performed some on-court work. I can’t imagine Harden is 100%, which keeps a heavier burden on Kevin Durant, plus complementary perimeter scorers Joe Harris, Landry Shamet, and Mike James.
Player To Watch
Though Jrue Holiday has experienced significant shooting struggles all postseason, he’s been expected to defend an elite scoring guard all series. His defensive workload appeared to have decreased quite a bit yesterday but it will return if Harden does indeed play, though perhaps to a lesser degree if the Brooklyn star appears hobbled or has his minutes restricted. Common basketball wisdom says that a full plate on defense can hamper a player’s offense, and while the newly-minted first team All-Defense guard is plenty capable of checking The Beard, can he take advantage of Harden’s long-suspect defense on the other end? Though Holiday still had trouble getting the ball through the hoop in Game 4 (14 points on 6/16 from the field), he found teammates more effectively than we’ve seen in weeks (9 assists) as the Bucks decided to actually move the ball, unlike most of this series to that point. Could tonight be the night his shot finally begins to fall? Milwaukee should look to switch Harden (I wager Brooklyn will probably hide him on P.J. Tucker while playing D) onto Holiday and Khris Middleton as much as possible.
Game Five: Against Brooklyn, the Bucks will...
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