The NBA playoffs are just about two weeks in, with the Nets and Bucks being the first two teams to move on to the second round. Milwaukee was the first to punch their ticket into the second round with a convincing sweep of the Miami Heat. What’s next? A fiery Bucks vs Nets series that’s bound to leave you craving for more!
The Nets cruised to a five-game series win over the Boston Celtics that should have been a sweep had it not been for Jayson Tatum and his 50 point playoff career-high that won them game three.
Brooklyn is a popular pick in this series for obvious reasons (KD, Kyrie, Harden) but here is why the Bucks may have something to say about that come Saturday night.
Reason #1 Jrue Holiday
Jrue Holiday has been the main reason for the Bucks’ resurgence in 2021. Milwaukee acquired Holiday in a four-team trade in November while in turn dealing away Eric Bledsoe and George Hill.
Holiday has proven to be a drastic improvement for Milwaukee and look no further than their first-round series. Holiday averaged 15.8 points and nearly 10 assists while Bledsoe only put up 11.8 points and five assists in last season’s series. Jrue’s playing making has come up big for the Bucks that desperately needed someone to create other than Middleton and Antetokounmpo.
The Los Angeles, CA native is also a two-time NBA All-Defensive team (2018, 2019) player that has proven time and time again his ability to lock down the premiere guards in the league. His toughest task is yet to come against world champion and former number one overall pick Kyrie Irving.
This is the first time these two will go head to head in the playoffs after 14 career regular-season meetings with Holiday being 10-4 in those matchups.
In the first matchup this season, Holiday held Kyrie to 20 points shooting just 8/21 but followed it up with a 38 point performance just a few days later.
The Bucks’ success in this series will be predicated on how well Holiday is able to produce while trying to contain one of the league’s most electrifying guards in Kyrie Irving.
Reason #2 Khris Middleton
Khris Middleton has been a rising star in Milwaukee and put his talents on full display to start the 2021 playoffs with a fade-away jumper to beat the Heat in the closing seconds of Game 1. Middleton’s ability to create space for himself and shooting prowess is essential to keep the lane open for Giannis.
Middleton’s offensive numbers in the playoffs have improved dramatically since last season due in part to Holiday’s ability to create and draw the defense. His 49.2% field goal percentage is the best of his career since shooting almost 60% from the floor against Boston in 2018.
The Texas A&M standout has provided substantial aid on the defensive side of the ball as well. Miami’s guards struggled often when trying to find their own shot going one on one against him. Middletons 6’7” frame and adequate foot speed allow him to stay in front of guards and defend longer wing players.
He will most likely find himself matched up against a three-time scoring champ in James Harden which is no easy task. Harden only played in one of the three matchups this season but recorded 34 points on 13/25 shooting in the Nets’ lone win.
Khris Middleton had strong offensive numbers to start this year’s playoff run for the Bucks and will need to continue that along with a strong defensive effort against the highest-scoring team in the league. From the looks of things, Bucks vs Nets clash seems perfectly poised!
Reason #3 The Nets Defense
The Nets have proven to be not only among the best offenses in the NBA this season but arguably the best offense in basketball history. That’s not the issue for Brooklyn as much as it is on the other side of the ball.
Brooklyn earned a 113.8 defensive rating which ranks among the worst in the NBA while giving up the fifth most offensive rebounds this season.
This is where the Bucks can attack. The Nets have employed mostly small lineups with DeAndre Jordan not playing at all and Blake Griffin proving to be a major liability defensively.
The injury to Jeff Green is another plus for Milwaukee as he was able to guard bigs at 6’8” but gave the Nets the ability to go small. It looks like his injury will linger a few games into this next series.
Giannis seemed to do whatever he wanted in the three games against Brooklyn this season averaging nearly 40 points including a 49 point performance and a game-saving block on Kevin Durant back in early May.
Despite a depleted roster, Jayson Tatum was able to score 90 points in the final two games while being double-teamed constantly. Milwaukee will trot out a much better starting five and bench that will not only allow the Nets to focus solely on one player.
The Nets will provide the Bucks with many 2nd and 3rd chances to score off of offensive rebounds based on their lack of size which should allow Milwaukee to wear them down and control the pace.
My Pick: Bucks in 7
Milwaukee is 2-1 against the Nets this season with both wins fueled by gigantic performances from Giannis Antetkounmpo on both sides of the ball. The Bucks’ addition of Jrue Holiday gives them an added scorer who can create off the bounce which will put even more pressure on the Nets defensively.
This will be the first time at any point this season where Brooklyn will face true adversity. Brooklyn is still trying to figure out who they are after a regular season in which their big three rarely played together.
The Bucks on the other hand know exactly who they are and got past the mental block of Miami from last season. Khris Middleton seems to be proving he can be a solid number two to Giannis and come up big down the stretch.
The two teams will trade blows with almost every game seeing both teams put up around 120 points but I think that the more in sync team comes up big in game seven. Brooklyn’s inexperience together and their one on one style of play falters late, giving Giannis and Milwaukee a signature series win.
The series opens up for Game 1 on Saturday night at 7:30 in Brooklyn.