MILWAUKEE — No second-round matchup had more advance billing than the Brooklyn Nets-Milwaukee Bucks series that featured the NBA’s two highest-scoring offenses.
So far, it’s been no contest.
Brooklyn has been every bit as potent as advertised in building a 2-0 lead. But the struggling Bucks posted their lowest point total of the season in a 125-86 Game 2 loss.
The Bucks’ chances of making this a competitive series depend on whether they can return home and regain the form they showed before these last couple of games.
“I think they have a great track record and history of playing well and responding,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said Wednesday. “We talked about how your character is tested.”
These Bucks certainly have a great track record in the regular season. They posted the league’s best regular-season record in 2018-19 and 2019-20 before finishing third in the Eastern Conference this season.
But they’re staring at the likelihood of a second straight second-round playoff exit unless they turn things around quickly, beginning with Game 3 on Thursday night.
“This is going to be a really tough game,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We’ll see the best Milwaukee has in Game 3. We’ve got to be prepared for that and be ready to come out of the gates really strong.”
Brooklyn entered the playoffs with a reputation as an offensive juggernaut and with question marks on its defense. But the Nets have spent the first two games of this series shutting down Milwaukee’s high-powered offense.
The Bucks were the first team since the 1984-85 Denver Nuggets to finish a regular season averaging at least 120 points per game, but their offense has looked like a shell of itself so far in this series. Brooklyn’s constant switching on defense has thrown the Bucks out of sync.
“They’ve had great intensity the first two games,” Bucks forward P.J. Tucker said of the Nets. “I think they’ve kind of been all over the place, all over the floor, on offense and defense. I think they just had a little more of an edge than we’ve had.”
The Nets are coming off their most lopsided playoff victory in franchise history and have a chance to take a commanding 3-0 lead. Kevin Durant has outplayed Giannis Antetokounmpo thus far in the matchup of former MVPs, but the most notable difference in this series is 3-point shooting. The Nets are 36 of 81 (44.4%) on 3-point attempts. The Bucks are 14 of 57 (24.6%).
Another key for the Bucks is getting more production from forward Khris Middleton. The two-time All-Star has shot 13 of 43 overall and 3 of 13 from 3-point range this series. Although Middleton scored 17 points in Game 2, he missed his first eight shots and much of his production came after the game was already out of reach. Middleton scored at least 23 points in each of the Bucks’ three regular-season matchups with Brooklyn.
“I’ve just got to find a better rhythm, a better shot selection I think,” Middleton said after Game 2.
Nets forward Blake Griffin is averaging a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) this series and has done a nice job of defending Antetokounmpo, who averaged 39.7 points against Brooklyn in the regular season but had just 18 points in Game 2.
Nash said Brooklyn’s James Harden and Jeff Green won’t play in Game 3. Harden left Game 1 in the opening minute with right hamstring tightness and hasn’t played since. Green hasn’t played at all in this series due to a plantar fascia strain.
Battle of NBA stars: 5 things to know about Milwaukee Bucks' second-round matchup with Brooklyn Nets
SHORT-HANDED SEASON SERIES
Brooklyn never had its three stars together against Milwaukee. Irving missed the Nets' 125-123 home victory on Jan. 18 in their second game after acquiring Harden from Houston. Durant and Harden (above), who have combined for two MVP awards and seven scoring titles, put up 64 points that night.
THE SHOW GOES ON
The Bucks have already lost starting guard Donte DiVincenzo (above) for the playoffs after he tore a ligament in his left ankle during Game 3. But Nash said versatile forward Jeff Green is improving from a left foot injury that sidelined him the final three games of the first round.
"We've said it since the injury happened, we've got to move forward, we've got to step up," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said Friday. "Everybody's just got to continue to be themselves; execute, defend and compete, which is a lot of things Donte does well."
BROOK IN BROOKLYN
Bucks center Brook Lopez (above) will be back in Barclays Center, having played for the Nets in Brooklyn and New Jersey. He scored the most points in franchise history.
“I think I’m excited to go back and play in Brooklyn, play on that court again in Barclays, but obviously we’re going to be pretty focused once tipoff comes,” he said.
FORBES FOR 3
Bryn Forbes (above) averaged 18.3 points and shot 16 of 30 from 3-point range during the final three games of the Bucks’ first-round sweep of Miami. He was a combined 7 of 12 from beyond the arc in the Bucks' two-game sweep of the Nets in May.
BUCKS ON THE BOARDS
Milwaukee had a double-digit rebounding edge in each game against Miami and dominated the glass by a margin of 16.8 boards per game. The Bucks' size advantage may make Nash consider reinserting former starting center DeAndre Jordan (above) into the rotation.