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Nets get blitzed by defending champion Bucks, 121-109

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Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Yet again, the Nets fell short against a fellow contender on Friday and by a healthy margin. It was the Nets' fifth straight loss at home and fourth loss in their last five games. Overall, they are 24-13 on the season but only 10-10 in Brooklyn.

“There’s room for growth,” said head coach Steve Nash after the loss. “There’s room for us to look in the mirror and make some the tough calls about all of us individually and collectively and recognize the room for growth and opportunity.”

The Nets have fallen into second place in the East, now two and a half games behind the Bulls and only percentage points ahead of the Bucks.

“We’re not on the same page, I think,” said Kevin Durant after the loss. “Offensively, defensively, in order for us to be a great team, we got to be in sync. So we will figure it out, I think.”

This one was lost at the 3-point line. Not only did the Nets shoot just 25 percent from deep to the Bucks’ 39 percent, but they also took half the number of attempts (20-to-40) before the start of garbage time.

With the victory, the Bucks won their third straight game against the Nets dating back to last season’s Game 7 in Brooklyn. Milwaukee also improved its win-loss record to 8-4 since the start of the 2020-21 season, which includes both the playoffs and the regular season.

Brooklyn wasted yet another incredible Kevin Durant performance, who poured in 29 points on just 17 shots, along with nine rebounds and seven rebounds. Rookie Cam Thomas was also a nice spark off the bench, dropping 14 points on 50 percent shooting in 28 minutes.

Now for the bad stuff: James Harden was quite subpar. On a night when his Nets needed him most, Harden put together just 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting along with five turnovers, including three huge giveaways in the second half. It was yet another disappointing showing against a contender for The Beard.

“I feel like I tried to get to the rim, missed a couple layups,” said Harden about his performance. “The usual as far as trying to be aggressive and get to the basket and take the available shot. A couple of them didn’t fall and it is what it is.”

Giannis led the way for the Bucks with 31 points on 11-of-17 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 9 assists. His 10 points in the first quarter gave the Bucks the spark they needed to put the Nets deep in a hole.

Otherwise, Bobby Portis had himself a fantastic outing with a 15-point, 12-rebound double-double for Milwaukee, and Khris Middleton pitched in 20 points of his own. All 5 starters for the Bucks scored in double figures.

“You got to give them credit as a championship organization,” said Kevin Durant about Milwaukee. “They know how to weather the storm.”

Milwaukee took an early 13-9 before the first timeout with the Bucks outrebounding the Nets 10-5 early. That lead grew six extra points after Kevin Durant picked up his second foul in just eight minutes. Brooklyn struggled to score as the Bucks doubled and hedged Brooklyn’s pick-and-rolls involving Harden, forcing James Johnson, Nicolas Claxton, and LaMarcus Aldridge to make decisions. Yet, the Nets ended the quarter on a nice 5-0 run as Kevin Durant was fouled on a 3-point shot to bring the score to 29-21, Milwaukee.

The second quarter was the Cam Thomas show as the rookie dropped in two huge floaters over the two-time MVP, Antetokounmpo, for nine points on four shots in 14 minutes. But for every Nets punch, the Bucks had a counter, with Portis leading the way with 20 points through 15 minutes of play. Then, who else but KD carried the Nets back with nine straight points to end the half and bring the score to 60-49.

Milwaukee continued to pour it in during the third quarter, bringing their total to 98 points to the Nets 80. Khris Middleton led the way for Milwaukee with 12 points in the third, while Harden delivered nine points of his own. It began to feel like that kind of night for Brooklyn when Giannis drilled a transition three-pointer to put the Bucks up 17.

In the fourth, the Nets showed some life. Durant led the way with a pair of two-point buckets, while Claxton broke loose for a layup out of the pick-and-roll and a big putback on a Cam Thomas missed three.

Then, this happened...

Claxton got his revenge on Giannis with a thunderous slam, and the energy in the Barclays Center suddenly shifted as the Bucks’ lead was whittled down to 14 points.

...But as was the trend on Friday, the Bucks had an answer. A jump ball between Claxton and Giannis led to a Rodney Hood wing three, and the next play, Antetokounmpo hurled an absolute laser to Bobby Portis in the corner to seal the game.

What a dime.

How bad vs. top teams?

John Schuhmann of (founder of NetsDaily) laid it out in two tweets...

Harden and Durant discuss Kyrie Irving’s vaccination status

ESPN’s Nick Friedell, fresh into his tenure as a Nets reporter, asked Kevin Durant and James Harden the question we’ve all been waiting for. “Have you talked to Kyrie Irving about his vaccination status, knowing that his return could greatly alter the Nets’ title chances?”

James Harden retorted with a repeated “he knows that” to the question. Here’s what Kevin Durant had to say about his conversations with his friend:

“I told him how much important he is and how much I want him to play every game, but I’m not about to force somebody to get a vaccine. Like that’s not my thing. So he can play basketball. Nah, I’m not about to do that. I know we’ve had conversations about wanting him to be a part of the team and conversations about him being here full-time, but that’s on his time. Whatever decision he want to make, he gone make. It’s on us to come and be professionals no matter what, handle, and do our jobs all of us from the owner down to the equipment manager. Whenever he ready, he’ll be ready.”

Durant added:

“It’s a weird situation, like who knows?... Most of this stuff has been crazy the last few years, so me? I just tried to stay centered and focus on me. When Kyrie’s ready to make decisions for himself, he will, and I trust that.”

The Film Room

Hey, so, remember when the Nets had a top-5 defense? Yeah, that sure feels like eons ago.

Brooklyn’s defense got absolutely shellacked for the second time this season by the defending championship Bucks. Milwaukee just looked a step ahead the entire night, again. For every Nets punch, there was an equally forceful Milwaukee counter.

Below is a great example. With the clock winding down, Rodney Hood attempts to back down Patty Mills at the middle of the floor. Kevin Durant then (unwisely) doubles, which puts the Nets in rotation when Hood kicks out to former Net Langston Galloway, who then finds Giannis in the corner for a breakaway dunk. Plays like this were a commonality on Friday, with the Bucks playing two steps ahead.

“I think there’s a few common threads,” said Steve Nash about the Nets’ defensive problems. “I don’t think we’re into the ball, we’re not combative enough to start games, we’re not clean enough with our communication at the level of the ball. There’s not enough of a presence. I think we could do better in transition as well, getting organized.”

Here’s a great example of the Nets failing to match up in transition, as the Bucks nail 3 passes in four seconds while Brooklyn watches helplessly. Certainly a good reminder of Milwaukee's championship equity and continuity.

Brooklyn must find itself again defensively, even with Kyrie Irving back. After all, it was the team’s early-season identity. There’s that “room for growth” Steve Nash was talking about.

Milestone Watch

With his fifth point, Kevin Durant moved past Patrick Ewing to move into the 23rd place all-time in points scored. Durant finished with 29 points, putting him at 24,841. Next up is Jerry West with 25,192. He has already moved past West in points per game all-time, 27.3 to 27.12.

CEO Abbamondi delivers beer to Brooklyn Brigade

In the past, it was Sean Marks delivering free beer to the Brooklyn Brigade. But Friday, it was John Abbamondi, CEO of the Nets and BSE Global, filling in.

Also on hand was Joe Tsai and his family sitting courtside.

Bala? More like, “lower my minutes!”

After ranking amongst the league leaders in three-point percentage for most of the season, Patty Mills has been in a bit of a slump. He shot just 1-of-8 against Milwaukee and was shooting 31.3 percent from three in his previous four games. Nets head coach Steve Nash attributed Mills’ struggles to his increased workload with Joe Harris and Kyrie Irving out.

“I think we’ve seen him kind of almost be overused and over-dependent on and I think it’s been difficult for him at times to continue his level of play because we’ve overburdened him,” said Steve Nash. “He’s been terrific on and off the floor. I mean, he’s unbelievable to have in our group. But we have asked him to play a lot of 30s and high 30s (minutes) during these kinda last month or so. And without Joe. without Kyrie, that’s a lot.”

That said, Nash didn’t have a solution to finding Mills pockets of rest when the Nets play at home without Kyrie Irving for the foreseeable future, at least until Joe Harris returns ankle surgery.

“I don’t think we can do that without Joe,” said Nash bluntly.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

Brooklyn looks to improve its 10-10 home record on Sunday for a matinee game against the depleted San Antonio Spurs. Catch the game on YES Network at 12PM EST.

For alternate coverage, head to Pounding The Rock, our Spurs sister site.