Not even an injury to James Harden has stopped the Brooklyn Nets at this point.
Brooklyn defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 125-86 in Monday's Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals at Barclays Center. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving led the way in Harden's absence for the victors, who are now up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series and two wins away from their first trip to the East finals since 2003.
A double-double from Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn't enough for the Bucks, who now must win four of five against a daunting opponent to advance.
Notable Player Stats
- Kevin Durant, F, BKN: 32 PTS, 6 AST, 4 REB, 12-of-18 FG, 4-of-6 3PT
- Kyrie Irving, G, BKN: 22 PTS, 6 AST, 5 REB
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, MIL: 18 PTS, 11 REB, 4 AST, 0-of-3 3PT, 2-of-7 FT
- Khris Middleton, F, MIL: 17 PTS, 5 REB
Durant Puts on a Show As Nets Cruise Without Harden
It is a testament to the firepower in Brooklyn that the Nets can lose a player of Harden's caliber to a hamstring injury and still have two of the best players in the league to lead the way.
Lead they did right out of the gates, as Durant poured in 21 points in the first half alone with a combination of three-point shots, lightning-quick releases from midrange and attacks on the basket. Irving couldn't match his teammate's scoring, but he did the facilitating as the primary ball-handler without Harden on the floor.
Still, Brooklyn's commanding 24-point halftime lead and unquestioned control of the game wasn't just the result of two players.
The supporting cast shone through as well, with Blake Griffin turning back the clock with multiple dunks, one of which came over Antetokounmpo, and Joe Harris hitting from deep. Bruce Brown also did a little bit of everything in a starting role and had double-digit points by halftime, and even Landry Shamet contributed with his shooting.
Still, it all came down to KD putting on a show.
The 11-time All-Star went right at every defender the Bucks threw his way, including Antetokounmpo. He was ruthlessly efficient as a scorer and had a sense of the moment to take over whenever the visitors had even a sniff of momentum.
If he remains this dialed-in throughout the playoffs, it is difficult to see the Nets falling short of a championship.
Giannis Struggles in Blowout Loss
The only way the Bucks are going to beat the Nets in this series is their stars at least somewhat keeping pace with all the notable names on the other side.
And that was far from the case Monday.
Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton combined to shoot 6-of-19 (31.6 percent) in the first half, as Brooklyn collapsed the paint to cut off the former's driving lanes and swarmed to the latter's outside shot.
Still, the Nets finished a lowly 22nd in the league in defensive rating during the regular season, per NBA.com. A two-time MVP like Antetokounmpo should frankly find ways to dominate for extended stretches against that unit.
To Middleton's credit, he rediscovered his scoring touch for a time after missing his first eight shots from the field to keep Milwaukee from falling entirely out of striking distance early in the second half. Jrue Holiday also did what he could in a secondary role while working his way into space, but it was an uphill battle throughout the game.
Even with that, the Bucks were entirely outmatched with Antetokounmpo struggling from beyond the arc and on the free-throw line. The offense was far too stagnant when the game was still hanging in the balance largely because he was not his typically unstoppable self.
Antetokounmpo has to play like an MVP for the Bucks to win, and he fell far short in Game 2.
The series shifts to Milwaukee for Thursday's Game 3.