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Nets, buried by Giannis Antetokounmpo and poor shooting, fall to Bucks, 110-99

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Brooklyn Nets v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

At first, it looked like there wasn’t going to be any offense, all night. From either side. With 4:45 left in the first quarter, Kevin Durant slid under Bobby Portis on a jumper, and was called for a flagrant foul. The score at that point was 9-9.

But after a dreadful first seven minutes, things picked up. Renowned Nets-killer Bobby Portis starting hitting threes, and the Nets found an unlikely spark in Edmund Sumner, who pushed the pace in transition, a space where Brooklyn’s offense hummed much more smoothly than in the half-court.

To end the first half, we saw our first extended glimpse of Ben Simmons playing the 5 - or at the very least, surrounded by four shooters. That fourth shooter, and perhaps the center, nominally, was another surprised spark in Yuta Watanabe. A lineup of Simmons-Watanabe-Durant-Irving-O’Neale ended the quarter on a 16-7 run, to take a 55-43 lead into half-time. The machine was humming.

And then, a return to the first quarter. Unfortunately, only the Nets offense hopped in the time machine. In the second half, they shot 1-15 on threes, after going 5-6 from range in that second quarter. And by and large, they were clean looks - many of them came off of Durant in the post finding guys like Royce O’Neale, Joe Harris, and Patty Mills off screens. The process was all there; the results were not.

On the other end, it was a typical experience guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo: hellish. He shot 13-15 in the second half and lived at the free throw lining, turning a middling first half into a night that ended with a monster 43-14-5 line. It’s not as if Brooklyn laid down the whole game, either. Here’s a second half possession where Nic Claxton took him to school, frankly:

Or this, a great possession showing both help and recovery, ultimately ending in a shot-clock violation:

Unfortunately, brute force, frustration, and a hesitance in outright doubling Giannis allowed him to get going, and it clearly took a toll on Brooklyn’s defense. This sort of switch just won’t work against a player that strong, granting him a head-start towards the rim:

I included three clips of Brooklyn’s defense on Giannis because that was the key to their disastrous second half. It wasn’t that they didn’t battle - they did. The Nets just couldn’t contain him enough to make up for an outright dreadful shooting performance. And there’s no need to watch clips of open, missed shots. Sure, there were sloppy, aimless possessions and a lot of hero-ball from Irving and Durant. But there’s always going to be some of that.

In the end, Milwaukee did what Milwaukee does: they prevented shots at the rim, and allowed a bunch of non-corner threes. I wrote in the game preview they have had, far and away, the most stark shot profile of any defense in the league in the Mike Budenholzer era. Nights like tonight are why it often works out. Brook Lopez dominated the defensive paint, and the Nets couldn’t get it going from the outside.

Yes, some possessions featured defensive lapses, or an unwillingness to step in front of Giannis and take a charge. The offensive process did not grant enough looks at the rim, even against a team notorious for taking them away. But, in a game that ultimately ended 110-99 in favor of the Bucks, the final score belies much of the story for a team still finding their way. You could have said the same about the loss to Memphis, though. Moral victories can’t become a pattern. Every fan, coach, and player knows: These have to start turning into wins.


There were a lot of technical fouls, including Steve Nash’s first career ejection as a coach (he had two as a player). According to Nash, he felt he was merely “standing up for his guys.” Much of the night’s angst came from, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, a continued frustration with the whistle on Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Aside from the technical foul party, there were a few other worrisome, if not puzzling notes.

  • Ben Simmons, for the second straight night, appeared to grab his back and wince after a play. He certainly was not as aggressive heading to the paint in the second half, and we can only hope those two things are not related.
  • After encouraging first halves from each of Watanabe and Sumner, they were glued to the pine in the second half. It certainly seemed Watanabe was a natural fit as a reliable switch-defender and decent if unspectacular floor spacer next to Simmons, so his second half disappearance in particular was puzzling. Single game plus/minus is nearly worthless without film, but the eye test certainly matched Watanabe’s team-high +12 in eight minutes.
  • 39 minutes on the first half of a cross-timezone back-to-back for Irving and Durant. This feels familiar.
  • Brooklyn forced a season-high 22 turnovers, but the offensive pace was still largely in the mud. Many of those turnovers were not live-ball turnovers, like balls out of bounds and offensive fouls. It is shocking, but probably not surprising, how much cleaner everything runs when they are running themselves.
  • If you think the noise around Ben Simmons’ lack of aggression is too much, too soon, Kyrie Irving can certainly relate:

Seth Curry to Long Island

Before the game, Steve Nash said Seth Curry, in the last stages of his return from left ankle surgery, went home early and will practice with the Long Island Nets Friday during the day. He’s out against Dallas Friday night.

Kevin Durant continues his high scoring ways vs. Bucks

Kevin Durant tallied 25+ points in all seven regular season games he’s played against Milwaukee as a Net. That’s the longest active streak of 25-point games by a player against the Bucks.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

The Nets conclude the season’s first back-to-back at home vs. Dallas on Thursday. The game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m ET on YES Network. How Brooklyn reacts to a back-to-back, fatigue-wise, should be something to look for. Other questions include:

  • Does the bench expand tomorrow, considering the lack of rest? It’s been a while since we’ve seen Cam Thomas, for example.
  • Has Yuta Watanabe earned more run next to Ben Simmons as the 5?
  • Does Simmons play on a back-to-back, and if so, how well does he guard Luka Doncic? Simmons has had a tremendous amount of success, relatively speaking, when guarding him in his career.

For further reading on tomorrow’s game, head to our sister site, Mavs Moneyball. For further recap on Wednesday night’s loss in Milwaukee, head to Brew Hoop.