The Nets, buried by Giannis Antetokounmpo and a bad shot, fall to the Bucks, 110-99

The Nets, buried by Giannis Antetokounmpo and a bad shot, fall to the Bucks, 110-99

At first it looked like there would be no offense, all night. On each side. With 4:45 left in the first quarter, Kevin Durant slipped under Bobby Portis on a jumper and was called for a flagrant foul. The score at that time was 9-9.

But after an abysmal first seven minutes, things accelerated. Infamous Nets killer Bobby Portis started hitting all three, and the Nets found an unlikely spark in Edmund Sumner, who picked up the pace of the transition, a space where Brooklyn’s offense was buzzing much easier 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 surprise spark in Yuta Watanabe. A Simmons-Watanabe-Durant-Irving-O’Neale lineup finished the quarter on a 16-7 streak to take a 55-43 halftime lead. The machine hummed.

And then, a return to the first quarter. Unfortunately, only the Nets offense jumped into the time machine. In the second half, they shot 1-15 from three, having gone 5-6 from range in that second quarter. And overall they were clean – a lot of them came out of Durant in the post finding guys like Royce O’Neale, Joe Harris and Patty Mills off screens. The process was there; the results were not.

On the other side, it was a typical experience guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo: hellish. He shot 13-15 in the second half and lived on the free throw liner, turning a mediocre first half into a night that ended in a monster 43-14-5 line. It’s also not like Brooklyn gave up the whole game. Here’s a second half where Nic Claxton took him to school, frankly:

Or this, an excellent possession showing both assist and recovery, ultimately ending in a timer violation:

Unfortunately, brute force, frustration, and a reluctance to outright double-cross Giannis got him going, and it clearly hurt Brooklyn’s defense. This kind of change just won’t work against such a strong player, giving him a head start towards the rim:

I included three clips of Brooklyn’s defense on Giannis because it was key to their disastrous second half. It’s not that they didn’t fight – they did. The Nets just couldn’t contain him enough to make up for a downright abysmal shooting performance. And there’s no need to watch clips of open and missed shots. Sure, there were sloppy, scoreless possessions and plenty of hero ball from Irving and Durant. But there will always be a bit of that.

In the end, Milwaukee did what Milwaukee does: they stopped shots at the rim and allowed a bunch of threes with no corners. I wrote in the game preview that they had, by far, the most striking shooting profile of any defense in the league during the Mike Budenholzer era. Nights like this are why it often works. Brook Lopez dominated the defensive paint, and the Nets couldn’t get him started from the outside.

Yes, some possessions had defensive gaps or an unwillingness to stand in front of Giannis and take a charge. The offensive process didn’t grant enough looks to the rim, even against a team known for taking them. But, in a game that ultimately ended 110-99 in favor of the Bucks, the final scoreline belies much of the story for a team still finding its way. You could have said the same about the loss to Memphis. Moral victories cannot become a pattern. Every fan, coach and player knows this: it has to start turning into wins.

Extracurricular activities

There were plenty of technical fouls, including Steve Nash’s first dismissal as a coach (he had two as a player). According to Nash, he felt he was just “defending his guys”. Much of the night’s angst came, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, continued frustration with the whistle over Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Besides the technical foul, there were a few other disturbing, even confusing notes.

  • Ben Simmons, for the second night in a row, appeared to grab his back and wince after a play. He certainly wasn’t as aggressive towards the paint in the second half, and we can only hope those two things aren’t related.
  • After encouraging the first halves of each of Watanabe and Sumner, they were glued to the pine in the second half. It certainly seemed like Watanabe was a natural choice as a reliable switch defender and a decent but unspectacular floor spacer next to Simmons, so his second-half demise in particular was puzzling. A single game over/under is almost worthless without a movie, but the eye test certainly tied Watanabe’s team record +12 in eight minutes.
  • 39 minutes in the first half of a back-to-back cross-timezone for Irving and Durant. Sounds 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, such as out-of-bounds balls and offensive fouls. It’s shocking, but probably unsurprising, how much cleaner everything works when they’re working on their own.
  • If you think the noise around Ben Simmons’ lack of aggression is too much, too soon, Kyrie Irving can certainly relate:

Seth Curry on Long Island

Ahead of the game, Steve Nash said that Seth Curry, in the final stages of his return from left ankle surgery, returned home early and would train with the Long Island Nets on Friday morning. He came out against Dallas on Friday night.

Kevin Durant continues to score against the Bucks

Kevin Durant had over 25 points in the seven regular season games he played against Milwaukee as a Net. It is the longest active streak of 25-point games by a player against the Bucks.

As SpongeBob would say…

And after

The Nets wrap up the first straight game of the season at home against Dallas on Thursday. The game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on YES Network. How Brooklyn reacts to a back-to-back, in terms of fatigue, should be something to look for. Other questions include:

  • Does the bench grow bigger tomorrow, given the lack of rest? It’s been a while since we’ve seen Cam Thomas, for example.
  • Did Yuta Watanabe win more races next to Ben Simmons as 5?
  • Is Simmons playing consecutively, and if so, how well is he guarding Luka Doncic? Simmons had huge success, relatively speaking, keeping him in his career.

For more on tomorrow’s game, head to our sister site, Mavs Moneyball. For full details on Wednesday night’s loss to Milwaukee, head to Brew Hoop.


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