Kyrie Irving missed his seventh consecutive game Monday, but the Brooklyn Nets were able to handle the Milwaukee Bucks, 125-123, in what could very well be a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals matchup this postseason.
The Nets used a 37-point third quarter to create a little separation from the Bucks after entering the break with a one-point advantage at 57-56. After scoring just 11 points each in the first half, James Harden and Kevin Durant each scored in double digits in the third frame alone to propel the Nets to the win.
A last-minute three from Durant helped stop a Bucks comeback and seal the victory to improve the Nets to 9-6.
For the 9-5 Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 34 points in the loss.
- James Harden, SG, Nets: 34 PTS (13-25 FG, 3-10 3PT, 5-6 FT), 12 AST
- Kevin Durant, PF, Nets: 30 PTS (10-21 FG, 2-4 3PT, 8-9 FT), 9 REB, 6 AST
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF, Bucks: 34 PTS (13-26 FG, 2-6 3PT, 6-8 FT), 12 REB, 7 AST
- Jrue Holiday, PG, Bucks: 22 PTS (8-16 FG, 2-4 3PT, 4-4 FT), 6 AST, 4 REB
Nets' Depth Prevents Slow Start
With Irving in the midst of a seven-game absence for personal reasons, opponents of the Brooklyn Nets have had to counter just one superstar in Durant. That all changed Saturday when Harden made his Nets debut, dropping 32 points with 14 assists and 12 rebounds alongside Durant's 42 points.
The Bucks didn't have to handle Irving on Monday, but they got a taste of the new-look Nets just the same.
In the first half, they managed to limit Durant to just four-of-12 shooting from the field and kept both stars to just 11 points, but Joe Harris and Jeff Green also tallied 11 points each to prevent Brooklyn from falling behind.
The Nets didn't have to depend on their secondary scoring for much longer. In the third quarter alone, Durant posted 11 points and Harden added 10 to give the Nets a five-point lead after three.
Green and Harris slowed a bit in the second half, with their point production limited after the break, but their early contributions were crucial to keeping the Nets competitive early. The pair were unstoppable beyond the arc, combining to hit nine of 12 three-point attempts on the night.
Even DeAndre Jordan got in on the fun after a four-point first half. He notched his first double-double of the season by scoring 12 points and adding 12 rebounds.
Bucks Suffer on Shot Selection, Lack of Support
The Bucks entered Monday riding a four-game winning streak, but just one of those wins was definite leading into the final buzzer. Of the four wins, three of them were by 10 points or less. The face of the franchise, MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, is also quietly struggling, hitting a career-worst 58.6 percent at the line while he's averaging 27.2 points per game.
His struggles were evident Friday against the Dallas Mavericks, when the Bucks eeked out a three-point win but Antetokounmpo missed nine of 10 free throws while racking up 31 points.
He was much more consistent Monday, as he compiled 16 points, five rebounds and four assists in the first half to lead all scorers.
Antetokounmpo had a supporting act in Jrue Holiday, who tallied 22 points with six assists, while Khris Middleton collected 25 points with four steals, four rebounds and four assists. But even combined with 15 points from center Brook Lopez, the Bucks couldn't keep up compared to the Nets.
In Brooklyn, all five starters scored in double digits, and DeAndre Jordan's 12 points was a low from the starting five, while Donte DiVincenzo rounded out the Bucks' rotation with just eight points.
But while the Bucks had high scoring from a select few and forced 17 turnovers on the Nets, they shot just 43.8 percent from the field and were no match for Brooklyn's depth and ability to perform at the last minute.
There's no doubt that Holiday has been one of the most productive members of the Bucks this season, but the Bucks dealt away a significant portion of their power in order to land him, shipping Eric Bledsoe (14.9 points per game in 2019-20) to New Orleans and George Hill (9.4 points per game in 2019-20) to Oklahoma City in the four-team blockbuster.
While Holiday provides an instant boost to the lineup, it's worth considering if keeping the pair of Bledsoe and Hill around would have provided enough power at the top while ensuring consistency on the bench in order to allow the Bucks to break through against a team of superstars like the Nets.
The Nets hit the road for a back-to-back with the Cleveland Cavaliers—they'll play Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET and then again Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The Bucks are headed home to host the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET.