When the Bucks watch the film from this game, there will be things to correct: They didn’t attack mismatches consistently, defensively they were thrown off by the cuts and player movement of the Nets, and Mike Budenholzer made some, um, interesting rotational decisions.
But mostly it comes down to this: Milwaukee shot 6-of-30 on 3-pointers.
Or, look at it this way: the Bucks shot 57% in the paint and scored 72 points there, but they shot 23.7% outside the paint and had 35 points total on those shots. All night long the Bucks settled for too many jumpers, then just missed them. Many of them clean looks.
Game 1 felt like this would be an opportunity for the Bucks to steal one on the road after James Harden left with a strained hamstring in the first minute. However, the Nets kept right on scoring — not as efficiently as usual, but Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving still combined for 54 points. And made plays like this.
Kyrie dimes KD for the SLAM 💥 pic.twitter.com/KRzcvFGO9x
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) June 6, 2021
Behind two-thirds of their big three — and a surprisingly strong night from Blake Griffin — Brooklyn pulled away in the fourth quarter, led by as many as 19 in the frame, and won comfortably, 115-107. The Nets take a 1-0 series lead into Game 2 on Monday night.
The biggest question out of this game is the status of Harden, who re-injured the hamstring that cost him 20 games in the second half of the season. There were no updates on his status (an MRI will come in the next 24 hours), but the tone of quotes from the Nets players and coaches would not make one optimistic for a quick return.
James Harden is heading to the locker room with an apparent hamstring injury pic.twitter.com/r8hmUGHF05
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 5, 2021
“I’m heartbroken for him….” Nets’ coach Steve Nash said after the game. “You never want to see that when someone gives everything they have.”
The concern for Brooklyn was that with Harden out the Nets would resort to too much isolation basketball from Durant and Irving, with everyone else in a Brooklyn uniform standing around and watching. That didn’t happen. Brooklyn kept moving, and in particular their cuts off the weakside kept Milwaukee’s defense moving and making some mistakes.
The biggest beneficiary of all that was Blake Griffin, who finished with 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Mike James came off the bench for the Nets and scored 13 on 5-of-12 shooting.
This was not an elite offensive night for the Nets: 46.9% shooting overall, 37.5% from three, a 111.7 offensive rating that was nearly eight points off their season average.
It was just enough because the Bucks couldn’t buy a basket for stretches of the night.
Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 34 points on 16-of-24 shooting and was 2-of-5 on 3-pointers. Brook Lopez had 19 points shooting 8-of-11 in the paint, taking advantage of the size mismatches he saw all game.
But Khris Middleton scored 13 points and took 23 shots, while Jrue Holiday needed 19 shots to get to his 17 points. The entire Bucks bench combined for 17 points. Milwaukee finished the night with a dreadful 101.9 offensive rating.
Once again, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer faced questions about minutes played for his stars: Holiday played 36:39, Antetokounmpo 35:15, while both Durant and Irving played more than 40 for their team.
“They all want to play 48 minutes, but we just gotta keep them competing, keep them where they can execute,” Budenholzer said. “Giannis never wants to come out, Khris, Jrue. But we got a deep team, we gotta take advantage of it. Keep ‘em ready, keep ‘em fresh.”
Will that freshness pay off down the line in this series because Irving and Durant will have to take on more of a load with Harden out? Time will tell.
But it didn’t help in Game 1, and Durant and Irving will gladly take being a little tired and having a 1-0 series lead.