National Basketball Association

Giannis Antetokounmpo highlights Brooklyn Nets' flaws ahead of playoffs

May 5

The Brooklyn Nets are in unfamiliar territory.

In the midst of a three-game losing streak ⁠— something the Nets have experienced just once this season, back in February ⁠— a troubling trend for Brooklyn has started to emerge: Brooklyn cannot stop Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Brooklyn went 1-2 in its regular-season series against the Bucks, with the lone win coming in a January nail-biter.

Kevin Durant secured that 125-123 win with a late 3-pointer, but the Bucks had two cracks at swiping the win, as Khris Middleton missed a pair of 3s in the game's final 29 seconds.

Brooklyn's more immediate results against the Bucks haven't been quite as favorable.

The Nets played two games in Milwaukee over the span of three days, losing 117-114 on Sunday and 124-118 on Tuesday.

At the center of Milwaukee's back-to-back triumphs was the reigning back-to-back league MVP, known as "The Greek Freak."

The 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo dominated the Nets in both wins, averaging 42.5 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in the two matchups.

If you include the January matchup, which Brooklyn won, those numbers settle at 39.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game for Giannis against the Nets.

As Kevin Wildes of "First Things First" put it, those are Wilt Chamberlain-like averages for Antetokounmpo.

It should be noted, the Nets were missing a key contributor in their losses to the Bucks.

James Harden is still on the mend with an ailing hamstring, leaving Brooklyn's "Big Three" down to the duo of Durant and Kyrie Irving.

In three matchups vs. Milwaukee, Durant is averaging an impressive 34.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists.

Irving, meanwhile, has two games against the Bucks under his belt this season, averaging 29.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists.

But offense isn't the issue for the Nets, and Nick Wright doesn't see Harden's return as a missing ingredient to stopping Giannis.

Wright pointed to seven consecutive fourth-quarter baskets for the Bucks, which Wright deemed layups. 

"James Harden ain't riding in on his white horse to fix this shot chart," he said. "[Giannis] can't hit a 3 in the fourth quarter? Who cares because look at all those green dots at the basket. ... That's a problem, and I don't know why anyone would think that will be different when these teams play in the second round of the playoffs a month from now."

For Brandon Marshall, Brooklyn's shortcomings against Milwaukee came down to effort.

"I want to see them attack games like this like it's a playoff [game]. I want to see them show the same energy and effort that the Bucks showed last night and the last two games. They didn't do that."

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For their efforts, the Nets have essentially squandered their chance to wrest the No. 1 seed in the East away from the Philadelphia 76ers.

If the current standings hold, the Sixers will be the top seed, with Brooklyn at No. 2 and Milwaukee at No. 3.

Assuming the Nets and Bucks avoid any upsets in their respective first-round matchups, they'd meet in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. 

That's a fate Brooklyn could have avoided with these past two games, as Wright pointed out.

"Now you've gotta play this team in round two [of the playoffs] for two weeks," he said. "Like, they signed up for that by not having a sense of urgency."

Will Harden be the difference if and when these teams meet in the playoffs?

Nets fans sure hope so.

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