The Brooklyn Nets have defeated the Boston Celtics in five games, setting up what should be the best second-round series the NBA Playoffs has to offer.
The Milwaukee Bucks have been patiently awaiting an opponent after sweeping the Miami Heat in four games, setting the table for a battle between two powerhouses in the Eastern Conference.
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- Game 1 - Saturday, June 5, 1:00 p.m. ET
- Game 2 - Monday, June 7, 7:30 p.m. ET
- Game 3 - Thursday, June 10, TBD
- Game 4 - Sunday, June 13, 3:00 p.m. ET
- Game 5 (if necessary) - TBD
- Game 6 (if necessary) - TBD
- Game 7 (if necessary) - TBD
Result: Bucks won 2-1
Best game: May 2, 2021 - Bucks 117, Nets 114
Best performance: Giannis Antetokounmpo (May 2, 2021) - 49 points (21-36 FG, 4-8 3PT), 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, 1 steal
The Bucks may have taken the season series two games to one, but they have yet to see the Nets' Big 3 at full strength.
Brooklyn's lone victory against Milwaukee came back in January, where All-Star guard James Harden went off for 34 points, 12 assists and six rebounds in only his second game as a Net, leading his team to a tight two-point win. Giannis Antetokounmpo (34 points), Khris Middleton (25 points) and Jrue Holiday (22 points) all did their part in trying to give the Bucks a victory, but they couldn't overcome an additional 30 points from Kevin Durant and a balanced scoring attack from the Nets' supporting cast.
These two teams would then go four months without facing off, dominating the rest of the NBA in the mean-time. When they went head-to-head late in the season, on May 2, with playoff seeding on the line, it did not disappoint.
Antetokounmpo and Durant would give us one of the best battles of the 2020-21 regular season, going for 49 and 42 points, respectively.
Giannis, KD went at it in today's Eastern Conference showdown. 🔥🍿@Giannis_An34: 49 PTS, 3 BLK, W@KDTrey5: 42 PTS, 10 REB, 7 3PM pic.twitter.com/2ffwr3er7J- NBA (@NBA) May 2, 2021
It was a slugfest as Antetokounmpo attempted 36 shots to Durant's 33 in a contest that came all the way down to the final shot - a missed 3-pointer from KD with a chance to send the game into overtime.
The Nets were without Harden in that one, as Kyrie Irving's inefficient 20 points were no match for Middleton's efficient 26 points, 11 boards and six assists.
Two days later, these powerhouses would face off again with playoff seeding at stake. The Bucks would come away with another impressive victory as Antetokounmpo (36 points), Jrue Holiday (23 points) and Khris Middleton (23 points) would combine for 82 points to outlast a combined 70 points from Irving (38) and Durant (32). It was the same story for Brooklyn, which was still without its star playmaker in Harden.
With Brooklyn's Big 3 at full strength, can Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday go toe-to-toe with arguably the greatest scoring trio the NBA has ever seen?
Key Storyline: How will the Bucks defend the Nets' Big 3?
The Bucks saw the Durant-Harden tandem in their first meeting with the Nets and Durant-Irving duo in their second and third matchups.
Without seeing all three of the Nets' Big 3 on the floor at once, it's hard to tell exactly how Milwaukee will match up with the prolific scoring trio.
The matchup data on NBA stats tells us that Holiday was the primary defender on Harden in the game without Irving, and Irving in the two games without Harden. However, he did a much better job on Harden than Irving, which could lead to some hints on who the lockdown perimeter defender might take on in this series.
The fact that Holiday held Harden to just three points and two assists while forcing him to attempt all five of his shots beyond the 3-point line says a lot when you consider he finished that game with 34 points and 12 assists.
Under the assumption that Harden draws Holiday as a defender, you would then presume that means Middleton would take on Irving, but Middleton served as the primary defender on Durant more than any other player - including Antetokounmpo - over three matchups.
That matchup data tells you one thing right away: PJ Tucker on Durant did not work. But it also shows that if Antetokounmpo, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is up to the challenge of taking on Durant, that just might work.
So if the regular season matchup data is at all reflective of how head coach Mike Budenholzer may try and slow down the Nets' three stars, expect Holiday on Harden, Middleton on Irving and Antetokounmpo on Durant.
How the matchups actually play out will certainly define the series.
Three Players to Watch
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
Middleton is a key player to watch because of how much will be asked of him in this series.
Middleton averaged 21.5 points and 4.3 assists while shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from 3 in the first round against the Heat, and the Bucks will need him to maintain that offensive production to keep up with the Nets. But on top of that, he will also need to put forth the best defensive efforts of his career, assuming he'll be responsible of one of Brooklyn's Big 3.
Middleton's play will be one of the biggest X-factors in this series.
Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee Bucks
Holiday already proved to be worthy of his hefty trade return in the Bucks' first-round sweep of the team that bounced them from the playoffs last year, but he'll have to be even better in the Conference Semifinals.
The two-time All-Defensive Team selection will have his hands full in trying to slow down both Harden and Irving, as Holiday will likely be attached to those two players by the hip whenever he's sharing the court with either of them.
On top of that, it is imperative that his offensive production stays the same, even with taking on a tougher defensive assignment. Holiday averaged 15.3 points and 9.8 assists per game in the first round, but shooting 20.0 percent from 3 against the Nets might not cut it.
Blake Griffin, Brooklyn Nets
Of course, all eyes will be on Durant, Harden and Irving, but veteran star Griffin will have a huge hand in how this series goes for Brooklyn.
In the final two games against the Bucks, Griffin took on a major responsibility in defending Antetokounmpo, holding the two-time MVP to 22 points on 8-for-22 shooting from the field, 3-for-9 from 3-point range and four turnovers in 29.4 partial possessions, according to NBA stats.
While DeAndre Jordan was another option head coach Steve Nash went to in trying to stop The Greek Freak during the regular season, he did not log a single minute in the first-round series against the Boston Celtics.
If Jordan stays tied to the bench, expect Griffin to take on the brunt of the load in guarding the Bucks' best player.
Picks and Predictions
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Nets in 6
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Bucks in 6
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Nets in 7
Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): Nets in 7
Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): Bucks in 7
Stats to know
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