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Giannis Antetokounmpo leaves early, but Bucks rout Nets 109-94

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NEW YORK (AP) Giannis Antetokounmpo was planning to come back in, though his coach seemed to have other ideas.

Eric Bledsoe and the Bucks made it a moot point.

Bledsoe scored 28 points, John Henson had season highs with 19 points and 18 rebounds, and Milwaukee easily extended its winning streak over the Brooklyn Nets to 10 games with a 109-94 victory Sunday.

Antetokounmpo twisted his right ankle with about 7 1/2 minutes remaining, not long after the Nets had cut what had been a 28-point deficit to seven. But the Bucks got the next two baskets after his departure to finish an 8-0 run and push the lead back to 15.

“Giannis is a big piece of our team but we got other guys that can step up, especially down the stretch, and took on that role,” Bledsoe said. “We just stayed together and hopefully he’s all right.”

Antetokounmpo, who said he stepped on a Nets player’s foot, was standing along the baseline near the bench after coming out, trying to get loose in case he was called on to return.

“I knew that if the game was close I would definitely be back in,” the All-Star forward said.

Well, maybe not.

“We had talked and we were pretty sure he wasn’t going to be coming back,” coach Joe Prunty said of his discussion with medical staff. “At the end of the day, it was the trainer lets me know and we make a decision from there. But as the lead gets (bigger), yeah, there was no reason to.”

Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton each had 16 points for the Bucks, who improved to 6-1 since firing Jason Kidd and moved a season-best six games over .500 at 29-23.

DeMarre Carroll and Caris LeVert each scored 15 for the Nets, who lost for the sixth time in seven games.

The Bucks scored six straight points in the first 81 seconds to prompt a Nets timeout, pushed the lead into double digits later in the first quarter and led 36-22 at the end of the period.

“Somehow, some reason, not ready. We weren’t ready,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand how that happens. A little upset with our group that we weren’t ready mentally, physically.”

Milwaukee led 62-41 at the break. The Bucks opened the second half with seven straight points as the lead peaked at 69-41 on Antetokounmpo’s dunk.

With their length and athleticism, the Bucks looked like high schoolers playing against middle schoolers. They had seven blocked shots, including one by Antetokounmpo on Jarrett Allen to trigger a fast break in the third quarter, which ended with an alley-oop from Middleton to Henson.

The Nets finished the period with a flurry and trailed only 83-72 heading to the fourth.

TIP-INS

Bucks: Jabari Parker had 11 points in 17 minutes off the bench in his second game since returning from ACL surgery. … Milwaukee opened a four-game road trip and hangs around New York for a couple days before visiting the Knicks on Tuesday. Prunty was an assistant to Kidd in Brooklyn during the 2013-14 season

Nets: Allen, who averaged 16 points on 82.6 percent shooting in first three starts, scored 14 on 7-of-11 shooting. … D'Angelo Russell fouled out with nearly 11 minutes to play and finished with three points off the bench.

ANKLE PAINS

Prunty said backup G Matthew Dellavedova also hurt his ankle and both he and Antetokounmpo would be re-evaluated.

“I’ve twisted it twice in the last five games, but I’ve just got to play through it,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’ve got a great medical staff that’s going to take care of me and Delly and hopefully I can be ready to go on Tuesday against the Knicks.”

SHOWING SUPPORT

Injured Nets guard Jeremy Lin, who played at Harvard, sat on bench wearing a Patriots sweatshirt under his jacket. Injured forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, from Chester, Pennsylvania, had an Eagles hooded sweatshirt under his jacket.

UP NEXT

Bucks: Visit New York on Tuesday.

Nets: Host Houston on Tuesday.

Report: Kings, Hawks could pass on Luka Doncic if Suns don’t take him No. 1

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Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton?

That’s the question many NBA fans are asking themselves, but according to one report it’s not the only thing several teams in the Top 3 of the 2018 NBA Draft are thinking about.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony says that while the Phoenix Suns may still be considering taking Doncic with their No. 1 overall pick, the Sacramento Kings (2) and Atlanta Hawks (3) are not.

The Kings and Hawks are reportedly leaning toward taking an American frontcourt player, which would point us toward guys like Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, and Mo Bamba.

Via ESPN:

The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks are likely to pass on European prodigy in favor of American frontcourt players. The question remains whether a team will trade up into the top three to snag Doncic, or if he will fall to the No. 4 (Memphis) or even the No. 5 pick (Dallas) after being heavily scouted in the Euroleague playoffs against Panathinaikos and mostly struggling.

The information we’re missing is whether the Kings and Hawks are turned off by Doncic specifically. Is it because they haven’t scouted him as much as the other guys? Is it because of perceived team need? Do they think Doncic has peaked already? Are they worried about less information being available from a Euro prospect? All are possible.

With all the hype around Doncic, it would be shocking to see him fall out of the Top 3. It’s happened before, but both Ayton and Doncic are the guys atop this draft that people are licking their chops to get.

Could we see a team trade up to get Doncic from the Hawks or Kings if Phoenix goes elsewhere? Is this just false information funneled to the media as a means of depressing the market for Doncic or for ferreting out a big trade offer?

The conference finals aren’t even over yet and here we are talking about the incessant drama of the NBA offseason. I love this league.

Larry Brown once told Trevor Ariza to never shoot

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Larry Brown is a legendary basketball coach, but he’s also been known to ascribe to a certain style. Brown’s regimen has sometimes rubbed players the wrong way, and likewise Brown has been overly attached to players which he likes.

For Houston Rockets wing Trevor Ariza, Brown’s staunch attitude almost ruined his career.

Ariza was a second-year player with the New York Knicks during the lone season Brown coached in the Big Apple in 2005-06. The UCLA product didn’t shoot well from the 3-point line in college or during his rookie season, so when Brown came to town he told Ariza to stop shooting from beyond the arc entirely.

Seriously.

Via Dan Woike and the LA Times:

More than a decade ago when Ariza was a second-year player, his coach with the New York Knicks, Hall of Famer Larry Brown, thought Ariza shouldn’t shoot from the perimeter. Like ever.

“He told me not to even look at the basket or shoot the ball,” said Ariza, 32. “I was definitely afraid to shoot. I just wouldn’t. I would not shoot.”

Woike’s story is pretty incredible, and goes on to detail how Ariza’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers reignited his career and his confidence to shoot the ball. That’s obviously crucial for the Houston Rockets who need Ariza docked in the corner as Chris Paul and James Harden run pick-and-rolls and isolate.

Stories like this always sound wild, if only because they’re contextually being compared to completely different eras. Ariza was drafted in 2004, and has seen three different eras of NBA basketball (Iverson era, point guard PNR era, 3-point era) pass by during his time.

Larry Brown’s in the Hall of Fame but he whiffed on this one.

Stephen Curry goes berserk, Warriors beat Rockets by 41 in Game 3

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Stephen Curry had yet another big third quarter. Who could have seen that coming?

On the heels of the Houston Rockets’ 22-point win in Game 2, the Golden State Warriors decided to turn up the intensity as they returned home to Oakland on Sunday. The Warriors leapt out of the gate, scoring 31 points in the first quarter and playing monumental defense at the rim. Houston suffered from blown attempts in the paint for the entire first half, but it was their 3-point defense that stabilized their offense. The Rockets shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.

Then, perhaps expectedly, came the third quarter. The realm of 2-time NBA MVP Curry.

Golden State’s golden point guard failed to miss a single field goal in the quarter, helping the Warriors rally to start the half as well as fend off a Houston charge midway through the period. Curry completely took over with around six minutes left, dropping five of the Warriors’ next six made baskets.

It was enchanting, and everything we’ve come to expect from Curry when he’s at his best. After a made bucket, there was a shimmy. After a follow-up layup, a defiant stance on the baseline as he yelled to the crowd about Oracle Arena being his house.

Indeed, it was.

Curry and the Warriors did not let off the gas in the fourth quarter, finally burying the Rockets that both sides called a truce with 5:11 left, subbing out their big stars.

Houston was led by James Harden, who scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds, although he turned the ball over four times. Chris Paul had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon helped with 11 points off the bench. The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times, allowing 28 points off turnovers to the Warriors.

For Golden State it was Curry’s 35 points and six rebounds as the big story. Kevin Durant added 25 points, six rebounds, and six assists. The Warriors shot 41 percent from 3-point range as every starter scored in double-digits. Golden State was also able to limit its turnovers to just eight.

Game 3 exemplified the stratification between the two teams. Houston was arguably the best team of the regular season, with the caveat being that Curry was out for huge swaths of time due to injury. With Curry back on the floor and playing at full tilt, Golden State again looks unbeatable.

Steve Kerr was able to counter the Game 2 strategy from Mike D’Antoni, who ran everything during Houston’s win directly at Curry on defense to tire out the recently-returned star. Kerr’s tweaks resulted in a complete eruption from Curry, one Houston was powerless to stop. Coupled with the continuous pounding from Durant and the incessant, extra pass 3-pointers, the Rockets didn’t have a counterstrike option.

Game 4 is in Oakland on Tuesday at 6:00 PM PST. We’ll see if D’Antoni can work his magic and come up with another new strategy to try and slow the Warriors.

Marcus Morris: II did a s–t job defensively against LeBron’

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The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead. Not yet, at least.

LeBron James helped lead his team to a victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 116-86, to set the series at 2-1 with the Cavaliers trailing.

James was efficient, scoring 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. As a team Cleveland shot an impressive 50 percent from 3-point range, dwarfing their marks from Games 1 and 2 in the series.

Meanwhile, the team-first strategy implemented by the Celtics finally got its first big test of the Eastern Conference Finals. A top defensive team, Boston was embarrassed by how it played in Game 3 and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Four of its five starters were double-digit minuses in the box score, including Marcus Morris, who many were touting as a LeBron stopper (or LeBron slower).

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Morris gave his honest opinion of how he played vs. LeBron. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said he was embarrassed.

Via Twitter:

Sounds about right.

Because you play the same team over and over again, by the time you get to the conference finals it’s all about finding counters to your opponent’s counters. The game-by-game strategy changes so much, and out of necessity.

The Cavaliers finally found their sweet spot, not only from beyond the 3-point line but in limiting the offensive contributions of both Morris and guys like Al Horford.

How Brad Stevens counters Ty Lue’s Game 3 strategy should be fun to watch, and reciprocal changes in the coming games will be the story of the series. Boston still has the edge, but the Cavaliers aren’t letting someone take The King’s crown without a fight.