Top Takeaways from Giannis, Bucks vs. Kevin Durant, Nets

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 1, 2022

Top Takeaways from Giannis, Bucks vs. Kevin Durant, Nets

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    If Thursday night was any indication, the NBA's Eastern Conference playoffs could be incredible.

    The second-seeded Milwaukee Bucks and eighth-seeded Brooklyn Nets thrilled in a back-and-forth affair that needed more than 48 minutes to crown a winner. The Bucks, who forced the extra session by closing the fourth quarter on an 11-2 run, ultimately escaped Barclays Center with a 120-119 triumph.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo, who forced overtime with a three-point shot that also pushed him past Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most points in Bucks history, paced all scorers with 44 points. Jrue Holiday added 19 points, eight rebounds and six steals, and Khris Middleton tallied 16 points before being ejected for a flagrant foul midway through the third quarter.

    Kevin Durant led Brooklyn with 26 points, but he misfired on potential game-winners in the fourth quarter and overtime. Kyrie Irving added 25 points, and Bruce Brown contributed 23 points and three blocks.

Giannis Is Giving MVP Voters Plenty to Think About

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    For the second time in three nights, Antetokounmpo went toe-to-toe with an Eastern Conference challenger and refused to let his team lose.

    On Tuesday, he took down Joel Embiid, James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers with 40 points, 14 rebounds and six assists. On Thursday, Durant, Irving and Co. were rendered helpless against Antetokounmpo, as he delivered 44 points with another 14 boards and six dimes. Milwaukee was plus-12 in his 40 minutes, meaning the Bucks lost the 13 minutes he didn't play by 11 points.

    "That's definitely the MVP," Holiday told reporters. "That's definitely Most Improved Player, which I'm not even sure he can get that at this point. He's improved his game a lot, and it's shown—from the free-throw line, to his fadeaway, to his three-point shot. From last year to this year, it's so much better."

    At this point, most observers would grant Antetokounmpo bronze-medal status in the MVP race often billed as a two-man tussle between Embiid and Nikola Jokic. But every game seems to bring Antetokounmpo a big step closer to cracking that conversation. Over his last nine outings, he has averaged a ridiculous 35.3 points on 61 percent shooting.

The Nets Could Be a Playoff Nightmare—If They Get In

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    The list of teams with a higher ceiling than Brooklyn isn't long.

    The Nets have one of the planet's best players in Durant, one of history's top one-on-one shot-creators in Irving and no shortage of support scorers, most of whom can heat up in a hurry from three. They could use better defenders and more size on the perimeter—a healthy Ben Simmons would really help—but when their offense is rolling, it can overshadow any of their deficiencies.

    They didn't play their "A" game on Thursday. Durant had six turnovers. Irving shot just 9-of-22. Goran Dragic and Patty Mills went a combined 3-of-9 from the field. They were clobbered on the glass by a 57-41 count.

    And still, they had multiple opportunities to take down the defending champs. That's what star power and elite shot-making can do.

    The Nets' upside should worry any of their possible first-round opponents, although it still isn't certain they'll actually get that far. The Nets, Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks all have identical records as they scramble to fill the eighth, ninth and 10th seeds.

    If Brooklyn finishes ninth or 10th, it will face two win-or-go-home games in the Play-In Tournament. That's a tough, pressure-packed circumstance for any squad, even one as loaded with talent as this.