In the initial contest of what many are calling the “real” NBA Finals, the Milwaukee Bucks fell flat against the Brooklyn Nets, 115-107. With the victory, Brooklyn takes a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
In a surprise move, head coach Mike Budenholzer (that was previously leaked by Jrue Holiday during media availability) tapped forward PJ Tucker to replace the injured Donte DiVincenzo in the starting lineup. Most (including me) expected Pat Connaughton to get the nod, but Tucker’s defensive intensity and basketball IQ turned out to be a good fit for countering Brooklyn’s star-studded starting lineup. This is, in all seriousness, the series that Milwaukee acquired Tucker for, and he did not disappoint.
The first quarter was played at a frantic pace and ended in a 32-30 lead for Milwaukee, punctuated by a Giannis blow-by past Blake Griffin. The real story of the quarter, though, was that Brooklyn guard James Harden seemed to aggravate his hamstring (an injury that kept him out of the Bucks-Nets mini-series in May) and left the floor.
It looked like James Harden hurt his hamstring on his first drive of the game. He immediately grabbed at his right hamstring, never ran - or even jogged - again, and walked straight back to the locker room.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) June 5, 2021
You can see Harden pullup and hold his hamstring here after the drive: pic.twitter.com/KxTpiY69MB— Half Court Hoops (@HalfCourtHoops) June 5, 2021
Harden was ruled out for the remainder of the game at the start of the second quarter, putting a significant damper on the Nets’ rotation. Perhaps in a misguided sense of gamesmanship, Budenholzer plopped Jeff Teague into the rotation (after barely playing against Miami), which allowed Kyrie Irving to heat up.
No Harden, no problem for Kyrie Irving at the moment.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) June 6, 2021
He has 14 points. 6-of-9 from the field and 2-for-2 from 3. This series might not be for Jeff Teague.
Milwaukee continued to bludgeon their way to the basket for rebounds but struggled mightily from long distance, and perhaps in an attempt to play through the cold streak they committed a number of errors, missing easy shots and needlessly turning the ball over. Brooklyn was unfazed by the (temporary) loss of one of their superstars, and took advantage of Milwaukee’s offensive quagmire by opening up a double-digit lead in the second quarter. The Bucks worked their way back into it, with halftime ending with Brooklyn’s advantage down to only two points, 63-58, thanks to some weird – but correct! – officiating that gave Brook Lopez an and-one to end the period.
Continuation! Who knew?
Brooklyn replaced Harden with Bruce Brown coming out of halftime, and Milwaukee struggled to capitalize on the former MVP’s absence. Wayward threes and errant passes gave the Nets extra chances that Milwaukee’s size advantage struggled to overcome, and Brooklyn ballooned their lead at the end of the third quarter to 98-84. The Bucks earned some foul calls early in the fourth quarter that could have helped them manufacture points down the stretch, but the avalanche of clanged shots and turnovers undermined any comeback effort.
Stat That Stood Out
Milwaukee’s size was a positive highlight early on , as they collected 8 offensive rebounds in the first quarter...but just like in the opening game of the first round series, the Bucks’ poor shooting made life much harder than it had to be. Milwaukee ended the night at 6/30 (20.0%), and managed to hit only 4/19 from three in the first half and missed the four attempts they mustered in the third quarter. Conversely, Brooklyn hit 15/40 threes on the night, many of them coming out of excellent ball movement that stretched Milwaukee’s defense past the breaking point.
Milwaukee had a prime opportunity to steal a game in Brooklyn, which they will have to do at least once to win the series, and they couldn’t get it done. They will have another chance on Monday; hopefully the law of averages benefits them and we see a similar offensive explosion in Game 2 of this series like we saw in Game 2 of the last one.