If this is an Eastern Conference Finals preview, I am all in.
In a back-and-forth game with 20 lead changes, the last one came when James Harden got the rebound off of his own miss, kicked it out to Kevin Durant, and the guy playing like his MVP self to start the season drained the three to put Brooklyn ahead for good.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) January 19, 2021
This turned into an early contender for game of the year.
It was entertaining, and neither team could stop the other for much of the night — Milwaukee lost despite a 117.1 offensive rating (Brooklyn was at 120.2, stats via Cleaning the Glass). While it may be tempting to say there was no defense in this game, it was more about amazing shot making most of the night.
Late in the game, Brooklyn had no answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo setting a pick for Khris Middleton. Meanwhile, the ball movement from Brooklyn has made a massive leap in the two games with Harden (it will be interesting to see if things stay that way when Irving returns, and as the season wears on).
Harden had 34 points and 12 assists in just his second game for the Nets after the blockbuster trade, while Durant finished the game with 30 points and nine rebounds. DeAndre Jordan, thrust into a bigger role after Jarrett Allen was sent out in the Harden trade, had a strong game with 12 points and 12 boards.
Antetokounmpo had 34 points and 12 rebounds, and Khris Middleton had 25 and took over late, but he was also 0-of-5 from three, including a late game-winner. That final play, which started with 3.8 seconds remaining, was an odd one because Antetokounmpo started it on the other side of half court but ended up running down the lane uncontested as Middleton’s corner three rimmed out.
Jrue Holiday had 22 for the Bucks and proved to be critical in a big game — they needed his defense on the court to slow the Bucks. When Pat Connaughton and Dante DiVincenzo were out on the court earlier in the fourth, the Nets mercilessly hunted them and pushed their lead up to eight.
The chess match of this game, with both teams searching for bench combinations that worked, would be part of what made this a must-watch Eastern Conference Finals.
We’re a long, long way from that outcome, but if this is what it looks like we’re all in.