NBA – Brooklyn Nets vs Milwaukee Bucks: Why the duel of the « Big 3 » is the NBA final before its time

Like every year, the NBA Finals kick off in June. Except that this season, it is actually a series of the second round of the playoffs. Brooklyn and Milwaukee meet for the first time on Saturday night, during which time the Eastern champion traditionally challenges the Western champion. But even a month before the real final, postponed after an exercise that began in December, this clash is already almost a duel for the title. Even more after the elimination of the Lakers on Thursday. « This series can become legendary« , promises Steve Nash, the coach of the Nets. »We’ll see what happens but they can challenge anyone and us too. It will all depend on who performs well, who shows hardness and determination and how each team adapts to the other. »

All the ingredients are indeed there for this shock to be the most significant and the most important of these playoffs. Because it is first of all a style opposition between two franchises which do not resemble anything on many levels and which nevertheless aspire to exactly the same dream, with probably real reasons to be able to follow their ambitions to the end. This series is the story of two fantastic and yet completely different trios. Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving on one side. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton on the other.


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After a smart rebuild that began in 2015, the Nets blew up all the carefully juxtaposed stones one by one for four years to sign KD and Irving. A year later, he brought in a disgruntled Harden to Houston to put together one of the most talented – in pure talent – teams of all time on paper. Perhaps even the most talented, again in hypothetical matter. The Brooklyn team has become the quintessential « superteam », pushing the definition and eccentricity of the term to its climax. In other words: there has hardly ever been such a squad in the NBA. Finally Yes. But never built like this. The Celtics and Lakers of the 1980s had even more All-Star players than the Nets, which is often overlooked. Except that these associations were the result of good draft picks or carefully put together transfers. There, the difference is that the power now belongs to the players and no longer to the leaders. They control their destiny and force their way to any pavilion ready to welcome them and make them cohabit. Nevertheless, the « superteams » have always existed.

Brooklyn, the most talented team in history on paper

But perhaps never as powerful as that of New Yorkers in terms of individuality. Because in addition to the two MVPs that are Durant and Harden, there is therefore Irving. Not the most reliable point guard but one of the most electric and gifted in the league. A true third superstar. Like a collection of Marvel or DC Comics super heroes. The irony is that the Bucks, arguably their biggest obstacle to a ring, exist on the other extreme when it comes to all-star threesomes. They managed the coup of the decade by unearthing Giannis Antetokounmpo with the fifteenth pick of the 2013 draft. They bet on a Khris Middleton who was turning 6 points per game when he arrived from the Pistons after his first season at professionals. Finally, they changed an Eric Bledsoe for a much more solid and yet long underestimated Jrue Holiday. Where Brooklyn’s centerpieces suddenly stacked up, the Milwaukee puzzle came together over time. The Nets « Big Three » played only 202 minutes together in the regular season, plus five small playoff games. They rely on their abilities far superior to the norm to crush each opponent. The Bucks, on the other hand, have been developing automatic systems for years before joining Holiday. They are betting on the well-oiled collective to gain the upper hand on both sides of the floor. On the one hand, a fantastic attack that has just stalled 128 points out of 100 possessions to take out the Celtics in five innings, on the other an iron defense that limited the Heat to 95 points scored before sweeping them in four dry matches. . Where three are known for their whims, the other three remain relatively discreet and modest outside the floors.

Kyrie Irving # 11, James Harden # 13 and Kevin Durant # 7 of the Brooklyn Nets walk off the court during the game against the Miami Heat on January 25, 2021

Credit: Getty Images

Presented like that, it can make you want to support Milwaukee. Presented like that, it could suggest that the franchise of Wisconsin leaves with the status of the outsider in front of the ogre of the big apple. And yet, that would be too hasty a judgment. Worth what it’s worth but she won all three meetings between the two teams during the regular season, although each time only two of the three opposing superstars were on the floor. Another point, even more important: the three best players of the Bucks are also their three best defenders. And they are all able to each take care of one of the cadors opposite. Giannis Antetokounmpo, DPOY last year, is the only basketball player who has both the speed and the size to get in the way of Kevin Durant. Jrue Holiday is an elite stopper in his position, with the power to compete with James Harden. Khris Middleton can limit him the damage on Kyrie Irving. It is impossible to completely stop such talented players. But at least they have weapons. While the reverse is not true. Harden and Irving are two weak points for the Nets’ very permeable defense. Gaps which will obviously be exploited throughout the series.

Why Milwaukee Can Win

And above all, who will defend on the « Greek Freak »? DeAndre Jordan, who has only played five minutes in total since the last match between the two teams on May 4? Blake Griffin, little known in the field, who probably has the strength but certainly the size to hold it? KD would be the best option but he will not want and be able to take on this mission throughout the meetings. You have to understand that going to a duel with Antetokounmpo is physically demanding. To defend against him is to accept to suffer. Especially since the coaches understood that it had to be played as a pivot. In the end, two hypotheses remain: Nicolas Claxton, an interesting but inexperienced young player, and… Harden. Yes, Harden. Because he’s a pretty good defender near the circle thanks to his chest. These are the two best solutions for the Nets… and they are two bad solutions.

Giannis Antetokounmpo celebrates Bucks win over Nets in NBA

Credit: Getty Images

Present like that, it may suggest that the Brooklyn team is ultimately limited to its three superstars. Here too, it is a somewhat hasty judgment. Because it is precisely the Joe Harris, the Jeff Green or even the Bruce Brown who can make the series win by taking over the opposing players of duty. Especially since Milwaukee now plays without Donte Di Vicenzo, one of its most important members. The young man was injured and he is unavailable for the rest of the playoffs. On the Bucks side, the X factor could be Brook Lopez, a former Nets player. If New Yorkers decide to play « small » with five very mobile players on the floor – which is to be expected – the interior will have to remember his heyday in New Jersey, where he was still a big dominant near the hoops. . He will have to make pay the « small ball » by scoring near the circle while limiting the breakage on the other side of the field. If he takes the water without punishing, the Bucks will have no choice but to bet on the same configuration as well. They can afford it with in particular a PJ Tucker likely to be aligned with Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Holiday and Pat Connaughton.

But « small ball » involves playing faster and therefore competing for more possessions. This is exactly what the Brooklyn coaches want. They know that no one can compete with them for offensive basketball. Score 120 points, they will put 130. The pace of the matches will therefore be a very important factor. But with a slower tempo, the rarer possessions are worth more. Especially at the end of the game. And at times like these, it’s better to have great players who can make a difference on their own in an action or two. Better to have a Durant. A Harden. An Irving. So, would everything tilt in favor of the Nets? Most analysts imagine BK winning without too much difficulty. It would be… rushed. It is very likely that this Conference semi-final will be played over seven matches. Which, for once, can also turn to the advantage of KD and company. But it is very complicated to get wet and give a prognosis. If not this one: the winner of this series could very well be crowned in July.


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