Welcome back to yet another year of the Brew Hoop Round Table, where we ask that everybody use coasters and please don’t feed the aging pugs from the table, thanks. Today, we preview the upcoming series against the Brooklyn Nets, making our predictions along the way.
After the Milwaukee Bucks swept the Miami Heat 4-0, they now have a much bigger challenge on their hands — the star-studded Brooklyn Nets. Game 1 is Saturday in Brooklyn, and is already considered one of the premier playoff series in the NBA. With that being said, we wanted to gather our staff together for a discussion about this series, which should be a fantastic time. Let’s do it!
What worries you the most about the Nets?
Gabe: For me, it’s Kevin Durant. This will be the Bucks’ first time ever matching up with him in a playoff series. After seeing him dominate the Western Conference playoffs for so many years in his seasons with Oklahoma City and Golden State, he’s now looking to do the same in the East. The ability Durant possesses to singlehandedly take over the game is a special talent. For it not to happen to the Bucks, they will need to throw all the bodies at Durant to make him feel uncomfortable.
Van: Who is checking the other Brooklyn guard? Jrue Holiday is obviously capable of shutting either Kyrie Irving or James Harden down, but as great as he is, cannot guard both at once. Giannis and/or P.J. Tucker will likely be focused on Durant and Brook Lopez may not see minutes against the Nets’ favored closing lineup with KD at the 5. That leaves Khris Middleton and one of Pat Connaughton or Bryn Forbes. Middleton makes the most sense on either of Harden/Irving, but I worry about Pat Connaughton overhelping too far off of Joe Harris and leaving him wide open for a three or—of course—wildly closing out on him in classic Connaughton fashion as Harris pump fakes. While he’s at best Milwaukee’s fourth-best defender, losing Donte DiVincenzo and his general on-ball competence is a shame.
Adam: The ease with which they can manufacture something out of nothing. Few things are more demoralizing than 23 seconds of elite defense foiled by an utterly ridiculous shot. In most series, you chalk up those buckets to the basketball deities smiling, but that level of shotmaking is routine for Durant, Irving and Harden. Milwaukee will have to display an unceasing level of discipline and poise every single defensive possession to curtail the Nets, and not let those bailout jumpers demoralize their execution.
Kyle: Kevin Durant has come back from his Achilles injury and looks just as good as he did before. It’s going to be difficult to force him to have a bad game so it’s mainly hoping that you limit the damage. If the game is close, Milwaukee has to focus on him and that will take a team effort.
Mitchell: Adam already mentioned the star-level shot making, so I’ll go another direction and focus on Joe Harris. Milwaukee is chomping at the bit to go toe-to-toe with Harden, Durant, and Irving, but Brooklyn boasts one of the game’s best safety valves alongside them in the 6’6” Virginia product. Harris is one of the few players who shoots better than Bryn Forbes, and he’s more than capable of holding up defensively without becoming a liability. We know that Brooklyn’s Big Three will get theirs. If Harris gets hot? Look out.
Andrew: If “everything” isn’t an option, I will go with the masses and pick Kevin Durant. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Durant have gone at it when facing each other since Antetokounmpo’s rookie season. KD is such a unique player amd I firmly believe he is the best player in the NBA. Durant is a once in a lifetime type scorer and when you combine it with his length, it makes him impossible to stop. You just have to pray he misses. We all know Durant is going to get his buckets, so it’s going to come down to Jrue Holiday locking up James Harden and perhaps another playoff choke job by none other than Kyrie Irving.
Riley: Blake Griffin injuring a Buck (by accident, of course *winks dramatically*) and thus pushing Milwaukee’s depths to it absolute limits. Not that he’d ever do that, of course. He’s an above-the-board kind of guy.
What worries you the most about the Bucks?
Gabe: The only time the Bucks were vulnerable against Miami was when they failed to put the ball in the hoop. Bad shooting performances have always doomed Milwaukee, and they simply cannot afford to have it happen against a potent offense like Brooklyn. If they have multiple games with poor percentages from deep, it will be an uphill climb for the Bucks.
Van: I echo Gabe. Brooklyn is deadly from the outside and has the league’s best three-point shooter in Harris to go along with their big three. Milwaukee can’t wallow far beneath their three-point pace. Surprisingly, the Bucks sunk the exact same percentage of their triples in this year’s Heat series as they did in the bubble debacle. The difference this year came down to defense, personnel, and coaching (side note: Steve Nash is a first-time head coach and no one is really talking about it. Does Milwaukee have a coaching advantage?)
Adam: Can Giannis play at a Superstar offensive level for the duration of this series? If the Nets defensive strategy from the regular season holds up where they simply allow Antetotokounmpo to get his, I foresee him needing to average at least 35 against their sieve-like defense for the Bucks to have a chance. We’ve seen Giannis have great series before, but in series with actual stakes, the only one of sublime offensive quality was his 2019 performance against Boston (28.4 pts, 11.0 reb, 5.2 ast). The Nets don’t have the personnel to build a wall, so he’ll have to be in a more aggressive scoring mood than any Playoffs past, on top of making smart reads when the Nets do happen to throw a little help his way. To that end, his assists in the Miami series were encouraging.
Kyle: What happens if Giannis/Jrue/Khris have an off night or are in foul trouble. We know Milwaukee has the offense to keep up with Brooklyn, but that also requires the three of them to play at the level we expect and need from them. Giannis can get 35 points with ease as long as he doesn’t pick up bad fouls. Jrue can get his buckets but he hopefully isn’t exhausted with the defensive duties and takes control as a lead guard. Khris can get 20-30 points but is he going to show the same aggression he did against the Heat. Pending another Bryn Forbes-esque series from some of the other role players or bench players, these three have to be at the top of their game.
Mitchell: Gabe and Van nailed it when they brought up Milwaukee’s shooting consistency, but Adam hit on what is the most important component of the Bucks’ chances to survive. Giannis Antetokounmpo needs to be, hands down, the best player on the court for all 40+ minutes that he plays. Milwaukee cannot afford for him to take silly fouls, commit charges, or to fall in love too deeply with his jump shot. Brooklyn can’t defend the rim and they can’t defend Giannis, and Milwaukee will need all 39.7 ppg that he averaged in the regular season against the Nets.
(I think he’s up for it; the fact that Giannis is my biggest Bucks worry should tell you something about my level of confidence. Or is that hubris?)
Andrew: Not having Donte DiVincenzo defensively against the Nets is a problem. He is not going to be a game changer, but his ability to switch multiple positions defensively is a dream scenario against these Brooklyn Nets. With him out for the remainder of the postseason they are going to need both Bryn Forbes and Pat Connaughton to step it up BIG TIME. We saw Bryn rise to the occasion against the Heat, but they are going to need big plays defensively from Connaughton (who will also need to knock down his shots). Milwaukee’s big three will get their numbers and then some, but can the supporting cast keep the good mojo going from the Heat sweep?
Riley: That same juice off the bench that helped really overpower the Heat dries up a bit. Not to say that Bobby Portis or Bryn Forbes (or Pat, I guess) aren’t ready for the moment, but the minutes they play to spell the starters a few minutes of rest will be huge. Role players are as hit-or-miss as things get in the league, so of course my concern would rest on whether these guys keep hitting or start missing.
For Milwaukee to beat the Nets, they need to ________.
Gabe: For me, it’s going to come down to solid all-around performance. The light will be shined on Milwaukee’s Antetokounmpo/Middleton/Holiday, but to beat the Nets in a seven game series, the Bucks will need solid efforts from the bench. Pat Connaughton especially will have to step up in Donte DiVincenzo’s absence. Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes will continue to be relied on. If the bench is able to keep up their production, it should go a long way.
Van: Attack Brooklyn’s rim defense so Giannis can post similar scoring numbers to last month’s matchups, make a lot more threes than they did against Miami (32.7%), and hold the Nets’ trio of stars below 75ish combined points. All seem like pretty attainable goals.
Adam: See an all-time offensive series from Giannis Antetokounmpo, watch Jrue Holiday lock up at least one of Brooklyn’s stars by forcing them into inefficient shooting performances and stanch the bleeding when the Nets put Milwaukee’s weaker defensive players on an island.
Kyle: Force Kyrie to be the focal point. Durant is going to get his buckets but Milwaukee will be in a better position if Kyrie throws up 20+ shots instead of Harden taking the shots or someone like Joe Harris having clean looks from three.
Mitchell: Seize the opportunity whenever it is presented. This is not a series where you can simply fall back on “the plan” and trust that you’ll come out the other side of it. This is a series where every game, every possession, is a chance to wrestle control away from the opponent. Brooklyn has three of the best scorers the game has ever seen; Milwaukee must be relentless in their pursuit of advantages everywhere else.
Andrew: Capitalize on Brooklyn turnovers...if the Bucks can score off BKN mistakes it’ll give them another way to perhaps steal a win. It feels lucky whenever the Nets miss a shot, but if you can force them into TO’s and get into the open floor, it is almost a guaranteed basket. I also agree with Kyle’s point above about making Kyrie a “focal point.” The Nets are much worse when he is taking control of the game and if the Bucks can successfully take the ball out of KD and Harden’s hands...it would be a HUGE win.
Riley: Win four out of seven games...
...and probably kick the door in on Brooklyn on the first two road games. Yeah, we’re capable of getting into a shootout if we need to, but the real trick is going to be providing the catalyst that throws the egotism of the Nets big three (& Co.) into chaos. They’re far too confident a bunch to go into any game thinking they’re primed to lose, but if Milwaukee can introduce the conundrum of a three-headed hydra fighting amongst itself for which head gets the honor of taking the most shots, they’ll have a chance.
Who is going to be Milwaukee’s X-Factor in this series?
Gabe: We all saw the splash that Bryn Forbes provided in the series against Miami. I think that same type of performance is going to be mandatory if the Bucks want a chance to survive against the Nets. It’ll be interesting to see if Budenholzer continues to bring him off the bench and leave Connaughton in the starting five. Regardless, he’ll be relied on to provide some timely shots for Milwaukee.
Van: This series is tailor-made for Pops Junior Tucker. Kevin Durant holds him (and Holiday) in very high regard defensively from all those Warriors-Rockets battles from 2017–19. If Tucker still can still handle KD as a primary assignment in addition to the instances he’ll switch onto him (let’s please have some Giannis+PJT lineups this series, Bud), Milwaukee will have a decisive defensive advantage in the series, especially if they’re getting stops in clutch situations. Also, lest we forget that Tucker saw Harden up close for years and is likely licking his chops at the prospect of guarding his old teammate.
Adam: Pat Connaughton. I’m envisioning him likely getting the starting nod, and while he may not average more than 20 minutes, the Bucks margin for error is far thinner with the loss of DiVincenzo. The Nets will allow Connaughton to shoot as many open threes as he’d like, and while his stroke has been more consistent this season, we’ve got a small sample size coming up. If his shot isn’t falling, he’ll need to find other ways to impact the offensive end with timely rebounding, cutting and making smart reads off those cuts, he’s sneaky smart at that, a fortunate byproduct of getting several years of continuity here. On defense, he’s going to be targeted, and he’ll need to fight like hell around picks and maintain contact on rearview contest when defending on-ball or disrupting shooters off-ball.
Kyle: Brook Lopez had a fantastic series against Miami. His ability to score down low made Milwaukee offense flow and now he has an easier matchup of DeAndre Jordan. He even could take a few threes just to keep Brooklyn on their toes and defensively, his rim protection can make things harder for Kyrie or Harden when they drive to the hoop but this is a series that the zone drop scheme can expose him and bring questions on how much he can play and help out.
Mitchell: Bobby Portis hasn’t been mentioned, so I’ll pull the lever with this take and see how it goes. The Nets have no front court depth to speak of; Nic Claxton has some potential, but DeAndre Jordan is done (and he knows it) and Blake Griffin is done (but he doesn’t know it yet). Portis could be hellfire incarnate during his minutes off the bench, streaking down the floor and bludgeoning his way into post position whenever he has the chance. Toss in the fact that he’s a near-50% three point shooter, and you have the recipe for some impressive runs while the stars take a back seat.
Andrew: P.J. Tucker for me...I doubt he will see a mountain of minutes, but this is a series they got him for. Would love to see him get in both Durant and Kyrie’s head to fluster them a bit. Tucker has had success defending KD in the past and him playing alongside Harden in Houston could give the Bucks a unique advantage when scheming against him defensively. Pat Connaughton and Bobby Portis MUST hit their open threes, because if they aren’t hitting shots, it’s going to most likely be a quick series.
Riley: Can I say Jrue Holiday? He’s been as good as advertised on both ends of the floor, and will be the fulcrum around which a switch-heavy defense will revolve. His ability to be something like a five-position defender will be pushed to its limit as he’ll be Milwaukee’s firefighter when Kyrie or Harden or Durant start going off. If he can answer the call, it’ll go a long way to anchoring the Bucks to run the point total up on the other end of the floor.
What is your series prediction?
Gabe: I really like how all of the pressure is on Brooklyn in this series. I really think people are overlooking the Bucks. It will be tough, but I think Milwaukee is able to get the job done in six games.
Van: If there’s any team in the East, and maybe even the entire NBA who can beat the Nets, it’s the Bucks. With apologies to Boston, this will be Brooklyn’s (and their trio of stars’) first true test. More than any other contender, Milwaukee has the personnel to hold them honest. Meanwhile, the Nets’ best defenders are... KD and benchwarmer DeAndre Jordan? Though they defended the Celtics well—much better than their regular-season defensive numbers would suggest—as much as we discuss how Milwaukee can stop Brooklyn’s offense, what we really should address is if Brooklyn can stop Milwaukee’s offense. Fun fact: the only time the Bucks have ever won a series in 6 games was in the 1984 playoffs over the New Jersey Nets. But I really do think they can win this, so what the hell. Bucks in 6.
Adam: I echo the optimism of my fellow Brew Hoopers, and the Bucks first round series did wonders for my confidence in their defensive execution. I think they pose the greatest threat to Brooklyn in the East, maybe in the NBA, and they somehow found another gear against Miami with a level of offensive synergy that felt sustainable and unpredictable. All that being said, I still have a few lingering concerns with their ability to keep up with this Nets team, even with Brooklyn’s clear defensive issues. As always, my heart says Bucks in six, but my head’s going with Nets in seven.
Kyle: All of Milwaukee’s moves, and changes are going to be put to the ultimate test. When you get down to the playoffs, it’s a matter of can your best players outplay the other teams. This is where Brooklyn has the edge and with a player like Durant, who is the most dangerous player in this series, that might be enough for them. But Milwaukee has shown the capability on defense to give them the edge and this will be toughest team they face and you know what, I’m going with what I want and not what I think will happen. Bucks in seven.
Mitchell: I said it yesterday on Twitter, I’ll say it again here: Bucks in six.
I'll even go further and predict that Milwaukee wins games 1, 3, 4, and 6, punching their ticket to the ECF at home.— Mitchell Maurer (@Mitchell_NBA) June 3, 2021
Of course I'm terrified of the Nets' scorers. 3 all-timers! But Milwaukee has the defenders to make them work for it, and Brooklyn doesn't. May be that simple.
Andrew: Give me Bucks in six. This is not the same Bucks team and they have completely revamped their roster and attitudes. I believe Milwaukee has an advantage because they are being overlooked, whereas the last two seasons they were considered the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference. Less pressure on the Bucks = better performance!
Riley: Nets in six, probably. Until we see Giannis come out and dominate a series end to end, I’ll always have a slight skeptical dread occupying the back of my mind. If he struggles out of the gate, can he adjust and make his impact felt in other ways than scoring a la the Heat series?