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Nets look for 2-0 series lead vs. Bucks

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NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Haters in danger (danger). The Brooklyn Nets opened up their second round series against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night at Barclays Center, and they put on a hell of a show. They won by a not as close as it appeared eight points and are up 1-0 in the best of seven series.

Read about the game from Milwaukee’s perspective here.

Where to follow the game

TNT on TV. WFAN on radio. YES Network on TV postgame and us in the postgame Clubhouse. Tip off after 7:30.

Injuries

James Harden left Saturday’s game after 43 seconds due to a right hamstring injury. If you remember, that was the hamstring injury that gave him trouble throughout the season. He’s out, but Steve Nash is hopeful he’ll be back soon. Spencer Dinwiddie is out. Jeff Green isn’t back yet, but he is making progress.

Donte DiVincenzo is out.

The game

So how do you replace an MVP? You don’t, but it sure as hell helps to have your role players step up. With Harden out, Mike James stepped in off the bench and played an incredibly effective 30 minutes and provided the Nets with another capable ballhandler and shot creator. It’s going to be incredibly difficult trying to make up for Harden’s loss, but Steve Nash has some reliable backups that might be able to surprise people.

Of course, Nash has the ultimate weapon in Kevin Durant to turn to when all else fails. KD played 40 minutes and was a super effective 12-25 from the field as his array of midrange jumpers kept the Bucks off balance all game long. Milwaukee tried putting old Durant nemesis PJ Tucker on him, but Durant was able to rise over him and get clean looks at the rim. A few times, Nash had KD running the pick and roll and he was able to get easy looks as Brook Lopez was dropping back in coverage. Durant loves mid range jumpers so how Milwaukee adjusts their defense to him will be crucial. And if we assume Harden is out, KD will get more than 25 shots if this game is close.

Game ball goes to the big guy. Yes Blake Griffin had 18 points and 14 rebounds (a playoff career high!), but the energy and passion he played with stood out the most. He was diving for loose balls, playing with force on the inside, and provided some spark and toughness to fire up an already excited Barclays Center crowd. For all the talk of the Nets being a glamour team thanks to the Big Three, guys like Griffin and Bruce Brown are scrappy as hell and give the team some grit and tenacity on the court.

This has been a criticism of Mike Budenholzer for as long as I can remember, but seriously, you need to ride your ace when it’s winning time. I can’t think of any sensical reason as to why Giannis Antetokuonmpo only played 35 minutes on Saturday night. Outside of his free throws (nice touch by the Nets to put the timer on his attempts), he had a pretty good game with 34 points and 11 rebounds. He was most effective rumbling towards the rim as 13 of his 16 field goal makes came from inside the free throw line. The Nets did contest his threes, but they’re more than willing to let him have those if he wants them. Rather that then seeing him drive downhill every time.

The Bucks did a ton of damage on the inside, so it’s interesting that they went away from what appeared to be working. Lopez was giving the Nets trouble at the rim, but he only got 11 shot attempts. Milwaukee won the rebound battle by 11 and took 10 more free throws than Brooklyn, but they were a ghastly 6-30 from deep.

When the Nets move the ball on a string, game over. There were so many instances on Saturday where the ball movement led to wide open three pointers, which were usually cashed in by Joe Harris. Harris went 5-9 from three, and could’ve been even better if he cashed in on two wide open ones he missed. Brooklyn applies SO much pressure on opponents and it’s only a matter of time before they break somewhere. Having to be 100 percent sharp on every possession is a gigantic ask against an offense like this.

For a lot of Harris’ threes, the Nets caught Khris Middleton napping. The All Star wing had a dreadful night all around as his defense was subpar as he wasn’t able to keep up with Harris from deep and went a surprisingly bad 6-23 from the field and missed all five of his three point attempts. For the Bucks to win this series, Middleton has to be the secondary scorer that gets you 22+ points a night. Anything less is unacceptable.

Player to watch: Jrue Holiday

The engine of Milwaukee’s big three had a pretty weak showing in Game 1. I’ll pass the mic to Andrew Goodman of Brew Hoop, who wrote:

I was shocked at how many times Jrue was caught napping defensively, especially when the Nets were moving the ball around the perimeter. He missed assignments multiple times that either led to an open three-pointer or an easy deuce. Furthermore, Holiday never got into a rhythm offensively...forcing the issue by either trying to squeeze in a pass where there were no openings or taking a heavily contested step-back. Don’t get more wrong, there were some shots that he typically makes, but it was a discouraging performance to say the least since he was coming off a strong Bucks playoff debut against the Heat. In all, he tallied 17/9/6 which might look fine on paper, but he needed 19 shots to score 17 points.

Like Middleton, that ain’t gonna cut it when the level of competition is this high. The Bucks need Holiday to play a complete game in order for them to win and even the series. We’ve seen him do it before so he should be up for the challenge.

The other half of 7/11 held it down for the hometown faithful. Kyrie Irving scored 25 points and although the 11-26 shooting line isn’t the sexiest line you’ve ever read, a bunch of his shots in the second half rimmed out. He was 9-16 in the first half as he helped keep the team afloat following the Harden injury. He played a (non-overtime) season high 44 minutes on Saturday and was a steadying force for Steve Nash and friends. When one star goes out, the other one has to step up and Irving was able to do that. The Nets get yelled at a bunch for isolations, with Irving catching the brunt of that (and many other) criticisms. He was able to keep the offense humming along and another good game tonight will dramatically alter the shape of this series.

From the Vault

There was royalty in the house on Saturday night, so let’s take it back to the opening of Barclays Center with Jay-Z and Beyonce!

More reading: Brew Hoop