The Milwaukee Bucks have had their feet up since May 29, when they finished their stunning four-game demolition of the Miami Heat, the team that eliminated them from the NBA playoffs last season.
This season, the Bucks survived an overtime thriller in Game 1 before beating the Heat three times in a row in the first-round series, though they lost Donte DiVincenzo for the remainder of the playoffs with a foot injury, which it will make your hopes of moving forward a bit more difficult.
The Brooklyn Nets, on the other hand, ruled out the Boston Celtics in five relatively easy games, with just a 50-point showing by Jayson Tatum in Game 3 preventing the series from also being a sweep. All three Nets stars, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden, look healthy and are playing great, and they had a few days to prepare for their showdown with the Bucks.
How those three take on Milwaukee’s star trio, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, will be the focus of this Eastern Conference semifinal series, and specifically how each team chooses to defend the other. But the other potentially deciding factor will be how Brooklyn handles Milwaukee’s size advantage on the inside.
Celtics big man Tristan Thompson was successful on the boards in the first round, but it’s nothing compared to the size and strength Milwaukee will bring in Brooklyn with Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez, especially with the latter focusing more on attacking. painting offensively in recent weeks.
What’s at stake in this series for both sides is obvious: with the Western Conference in disarray with the injuries of several major stars, and with Joel Embiid now potentially limping for the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, the winner of this series. series will feel like he can beat anyone left on the field.
With all the star power on both sides, this has all the makings of an all-time classic battle. Here’s what we’ll see when these two monsters enter the court for Game 1 on Saturday.
– Tim Bontemps
Points, points, points
The Bucks and Nets combined to score 238.7 points per game during the regular season. That ties the highest combined average among teams in a playoff series in the past 50 years, joining the 1984 first-round meeting between the Denver Nuggets and the Utah Jazz.
Expect this showdown to be a similar high-scoring series. All three Bucks-Nets games this season were over / under 240. The highest / under postseason in the past 30 seasons is 237 by the LA Clippers and Dallas Mavericks last year. What’s more impressive: The Nets’ Big 3 didn’t play together in a single game against Milwaukee this season.
One of the biggest stories in this series is how the Nets can stop two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. During the regular season, he averaged 39.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists in three games against Brooklyn.
According to Elias Sports Bureau research, his 39.7 PPP average against the Nets is the second-most by a player against an opponent he later faced in the playoffs since the NBA-ABA merger (minimum of three regular season games ). Kobe Bryant averaged 42.5 points in 2005-06 against the Suns.
But the Nets held Giannis to a field goal percentage of “just” 49%. How? Giving him as much room as possible on 3s, keep your fingers crossed and take chances.
According to Second Spectrum data, Giannis had an average 10.0-foot gap between himself and the closest defender on 3s in games against the Nets this season. That’s the largest average gap for any player against a specific team in a season since player tracking began in 2013-14 (minimum of 20 3-point attempts).
In his game on Jan. 18, Giannis had an average separation of 15.0 feet between himself and the closest defender on his 3s. That’s the largest average 3-point gap for a player in a game since 2013-14 (a minimum of six 3-point attempts).
If their regular season meetings are any indication, Antetokounmpo’s main defender is likely to be Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan.
Jordan hasn’t played a minute so far in the postseason, but both he and Griffin have plenty of experience defending Antetokounmpo this season. Including Griffin’s time with the Detroit Pistons before joining Brooklyn, the two rank first and second in total defensive midfield matchups against Giannis this season.
Watch out for the Big 3
Speaking of Durant, along with his teammates Irving and Harden have clearly demonstrated the firepower they possess when all three click. In Game 4 against the Celtics, they combined to score 104 points, tied for the most by a trio in a playoff game in NBA history.
Throughout the entire first-round series, the Nets’ big three combined to average 85.2 points, the most by any trio in any playoff series in league history.
When it comes to these three players, expect a lot of isolation. The Nets are averaging 37.0 isolations this postseason, by far the most of any team. Of the 185 total isolations that have run in the playoffs, 169 have been led by Harden, Durant and Irving.
They also run all those isolates for good reason. According to Second Spectrum data, 39 players have made 250 isolations this season (including the playoffs). Harden, Durant and Irving are in the top four in terms of efficiency among this group. Holiday is fifth, Middleton is ninth and Giannis is 17th.
Milwaukee also has a Big 3
Don’t ignore the Bucks trio of Giannis, Holiday and Middleton.
This season, Holiday is one of three players to have met on defense at least 1,000 times against the 2021 All-Stars, including the playoffs, a list that also includes Dillon Brooks of the Memphis Grizzlies and Royce O’Neale of the Utah. Jazz.
Holiday was a key playmaker in the Bucks’ sweep of the Heat, creating 64 assist opportunities with Milwaukee shooting 61% of those passes.
Middleton averaged nearly 25 points on 51% shooting against Brooklyn this season. And Middleton is one of only five players to averaging at least 20 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds and 40% 3-point shooting this season, joining the Golden State Warriors ‘Stephen Curry, New York Knicks’ Julius Randle, Paul George of the Clippers, and Durant.
Two different defenses
While both teams have tremendous offenses, they are quite different on the other end. During the regular season, the Nets ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency, while the Bucks ranked ninth.
The Bucks defense has undergone some changes since last season, but one constant has been protection in the paint. According to Second Spectrum data, Milwaukee leads the NBA in paint field goal percentage allowed and ranks in the top five in paint competition rate.
However, Milwaukee has modified its defense with the ball. According to Second Spectrum data, the Bucks traded by just 4.2 pick plays per game last season. This season, that number has risen to 13.9 year-round and 18.4 since the All-Star break (including the playoffs).
As for the Nets, they switched nearly 40% of screens on the ball this season, the highest rate in the NBA, including the playoffs.
Brooklyn’s defense has been successful in transition. According to Second Spectrum, the Nets rank sixth in points per possession allowed in transition, including the playoffs.
That will be tested against Giannis, who led the NBA in transition field goals and transition field goal percentage during the regular season.
– Matt Williams, ESPN Stats and Information