After a gruelling seven-game battle, the third-seeded Milwaukee Bucks have emerged victorious over the second-seeded Brooklyn Nets. Milwaukee withstood an all-time performance from Kevin Durant to take the tightly contested series while getting a pretty darn good one from their superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, in response.
Free Picks: Brooklyn Nets vs. Milwaukee Bucks, 2021 Eastern Conference Playoffs Round 2
Series Results: Bucks wins series 4-3
The Brooklyn Nets have been eliminated from the 2021 postseason a lot earlier than they and most other people were expecting considering the star power and talent their roster was boasting. But alas, Brooklyn’s big three of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving could not stay on the court all at once for long enough stretches to continue on their playoff journey this season.
Durant put up an historic performance as the only one of the three to remain healthy throughout this shorter-than-expected playoff run, averaging 35.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 5.4 assists on 51 percent shooting from the floor during their seven-game dance with the Bucks.
Harden aggravated his hamstring strain not 30 seconds into this series and was a mere shell of himself when he came back for the final three games, and Irving had not been at his best even before he suffered an ugly ankle sprain in Game 4 that kept him out the three contests that Harden played in.
Despite the fact that the Nets were not trotting out their top team at all during this series due to those injuries, this is not a hollow victory for the Bucks—winning the way they did showed a lot of heart and character. They withstood Durant’s onslaught and came out in overtime with the urgency and energy they needed to escape the Barclays Center with a win.
The holes in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s game remain as evident as ever, but make no mistake about it, the Greek Freak dominated this series and was the catalyst for his team’s triumph despite the fact that it was Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday’s timely shooting down the stretch of Game 7 that most will remember.
The two-time NBA MVP averaged 31.9 points and 12.9 rebounds in the series as he led his team to a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals, where the Bucks will be a great NBA pick no matter who comes out of the other series. The Hawks would surely be the preferred option for Milwaukee because the Bucks would get home court advantage in that case, but they won’t be fearing the hobbled 76ers either after what they just accomplished against Brooklyn.
June 5, 07:30 p.m., Barclay Center
Ever since the Brooklyn Nets completed their blockbuster trade to acquire superstar James Harden, they have been the favorites to take home the NBA’s big prize this season. After taking the shorthanded Boston Celtics down in five games in the first round, the Nets now face the first major test of their title run.
The squad in question is the Milwaukee Bucks, who seemingly made the perfect additions to put their team over the top during this past offseason. Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis, PJ Tucker. Not only are all three extremely skilled basketball players, but they are also some dogs. Ruff. These guys don’t shy away on either side of the floor, and they are especially tough on the defensive end.
That bodes well for Wisconsin’s chances in this Eastern Conference semi, because the only shot any team really has against these Nets is if they slow down the Brooklyn offense. Holiday, Portis, and Tucker are a trio of players that are built for that exact job. Not only that, but all three can hit their shots from beyond the arc with efficiency as well. That’s what makes the 2021 Bucks a lot scarier than previous iterations.
But is that really enough to give the Bucks the edge against the star-studded Nets? I think not, and my NBA pick will follow that line of thinking. The Nets have simply assembled a group of players that is too good offensively for any team to really believe they can stop them. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Boston’s head coach Brad Stevens, and many others have already said that it’s a question of slowing not stopping.
And what does slow look like for James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving? Not to mention the side dressing that includes Joe Harris and Blake Griffin alongside that trio in the starting five, sharpshooters like Tyler Johnson and Landry Shamet, and energy guys like Bruce Brown and Nicolas Claxton.
You wouldn’t call the Nets the deepest team left in the postseason, but all things equal and everyone healthy like they are right here for this series with the Bucks, it’s tough to consider betting against the Nets, though I’m sure that doesn’t stop many from frustratingly and unsuccessfully cheering against them.
I’m telling you, if you want to enjoy the rest of these NBA playoffs, just make your peace with Durantula, Beardo, and Uncle Drew, because they are not going anywhere anytime soon.
Holiday and Khris Middleton are the furthest thing from pushovers, on the contrary, they are two of the best two-way players in the association today.. but the problem is this: they are not world class. Brooklyn’s three top dogs are all world-class, elite scorers, and between the three, they can do anything and everything on the offensive end.
Drive to the cup, post-up, dribble-drive, spot-up shooting, creating your own shot, creating shots for others, drive-and-kicks, drawing double-teams. You name it, KD, Harden, and Kyrie can get it done. I expect the Bucks to win at least a couple of games in this series, but they’re going to be playing from behind for most if not all of this matchup.
I’m not sure who is supposed to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo, but that may be Brooklyn’s whole gameplan: let the Greek Freak get his, and stop the others from giving him the support that Milwaukee so desperately needs to have success. These seem like the best Bucks of the Giannis era, but they are still no match for the Nets, who we like as one of our top picks on Saturday.
The Nets won’t sweep or dominate this series by any means, but it will never be in question who is in control here in this seven-game dance. We like Brooklyn to jump out to an early series lead and cover a -3.5 NBA point spread at solid -111 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.
Game 2 (Nets leads series 1-0)
June 7, 07:30 p.m., Barclays Center
(Playoff Betting Record: 26-19, +5.92)
The Brooklyn Nets will head into Game 2 on Monday night at the House That Jay-Z Built with the knowledge before the game starts: James Harden will not play in Game 2 with what the team is calling right hamstring tightness. At least they will be able to prepare for Beardo’s absence ahead of tip this time around, but they did pretty well on the fly in Game 1, can they improve on that effort in Game 2?
The second seed in the Eastern Conference will also be without forward Jeff Green again, and his absence is no small thing: though Green is just 6’8” and 235 pounds, he’s one of the team’s better interior defenders. Without him in there in Game 1, the Bucks dominated in the paint to the tune of 72 points. Nicolas Claxton and Blake Griffin are bigger and they were energetic on Saturday, but Green’s got a little more savvy down there.
Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash will have used the past two days to do two things: figure out how they’re going to replace Harden, and how they are going to manage Milwaukee’s size down low. There’s really no way to know if he’ll have answers to these questions, but like it or not, that will have a huge effect on whether our NBA pick works out for Game 2.
The Nets took advantage of a Bucks team clearly lacking in energy in Game 1, as evidenced by their 11-for-21 mark when they were ‘very wide open’ (no defender within 6 feet) on Saturday. However, they shot just 41 percent from the field in ‘tight’ (2-4 feet) coverage, including a 2-for-10 mark from beyond the arc in those situations.
Brooklyn is one of the most talented teams in the league and perhaps in NBA history on the offensive end, which is why it was no surprise that they had the third-best shooting percentage in tight coverage in the regular season (53.1), including the seventh-best from deep (33.7). That is to say, these guys take and make tough shots on a regular basis, and they weren’t even doing that in Game 1.
It’s surprising if you watched the second half and saw how the Nets dominated, but they shot 47 percent from the field and 38 from deep on the night, which is solid but not overly impressive from this group considering they shot 49.4 percent from the field and 39.2 from beyond the arc during the regular season. This is what they do, because they’ve been doing it all year.
Evidence of how talent will shine through in the end was on full display on Sunday afternoon as the Los Angeles Clippers, who led the league in three-point percentage in the regular season, finally got out of their shooting rut to beat the heliocentric Mavericks in Game 7, with Dallas squandering a 45-point performance from Luka Doncic.
Having a second and third premier scorer to whom you can differ at times can be crucial in the playoffs, and while the Nets still boast that even without the Beard in there, the Bucks really don’t have someone like that behind Giannis Antetokunmpo. Khris Middleton should be that guy, but he has a tendency to disappear at times, such as during Game 1, when he went 6-for-23 for 13 points.
Middleton and Jrue Holiday (7-for-19) aren’t likely to shoot that poorly again, but the Nets also weren’t close to playing their best game either. The seven-point win was not indicative of how they were beating the Bucks down, but to be honest they kind of stole that first game when you consider how the big three was playing for them.
Harden was straight up not in the game, so he was contributing nothing, but Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, while contributing 54 big points, shot just 23-for-51 from the field, with Durant adding three turnovers. Joe Harris, Blake Griffin, and Mike James stepped up big for the squad, and that should hearten the rest of the ‘other guys’ on the Nets who will be called on to make contributions throughout the rest of this playoff run.
While Brooklyn is just 7-6 this season when Kyrie and KD play without Harden (not including Saturday’s result), we’re into the meat of the playoffs now, so I’d expect them to buckle down and do their jobs on Monday: maintain home court advantage by taking both games in Brooklyn before heading out to Wisconsin. The spread is nice and small as well, so Brooklyn will be one of our top picks to start off this new week.
We’re going to go with the NBA title favorites this year—the Nets, if that wasn’t clear—to keep their foot on the gas here and put their opponents in a 2-0 hole heading back to the latter’s building. With such a tiny number, we simply couldn’t resist the Nets at a -2.5 NBA point spread offering delicious +103 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today. Uncle Drew has been off for a few games as well, and it won’t be long before he explodes for a big one.
Game 3 (Nets leads series 2-0)
June 10, 07:30 p.m., Fiserv Forum
(Playoff Betting Record: 29-20, +7.92)
The Brooklyn Nets really put a beating on the Milwaukee Bucks in a Game 2 matchup that ended as a 125-86 rout for the Nets. It was such a bad loss that after watching it you had to sit there thinking, “Can this team win even one game against Brooklyn?” As you will see through our NBA pick for Game 3, my answer to that question was not positive for the Wisconsin boys.
The Nets won each of the four quarters on Monday night and they did this all without the services of arguably their best player and most important playmaker, James Harden. The January trade acquisition played under a minute in Game 1 before a hamstring strain knocked him out of the contest and kept him out of Game 2 as well. With the way that his comrades are playing in his stead, they might just keep Beardo rested until the Conference Finals at this rate.
Brooklyn jumped out to a 36-19 lead after the first quarter and they really never looked back. Jrue Holiday played decently with a 6-for-10 shooting night and some solid defense slowing down Kyrie Irving, but apart from him, there wasn’t much to write home about after that display from the Bucks.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 18 points and 11 rebounds, but he missed all three of his three-point attempts and went just 2-for-7 from the charity stripe on the night. Even when he switched onto Kevin Durant to slow him down defensively, the Durantula responded with an and-1 jumper right in the Greek Freak’s face. His three turnovers weren’t helping his team’s cause either.
But you really can’t talk about how awful Milwaukee was on Monday without taking a look at the Greek Freak’s supposed sidekick, Khris Middleton. For the second straight game, Middleton was invisible. Well, no, he wasn’t actually invisible, the way he is shrinking in the spotlight during this series is actually quite noticeable.
After a rocky start in Game 1, Middleton got even worse in Game 2, going 7-for-20 from the field while committing five turnovers, some of which were completely unforced boneheaded moves. The guy is dribbling the ball off of his foot, like, that kind of stuff doesn’t happen unless your head is not in the game. The moment may just be too big for the 29-year-old.
I don’t see Middleton becoming a major factor in this series, which is another reason we think Brooklyn is a top pick on Thursday. Another factor playing into my opinion that this Bucks team is looking at a four-game sweep here is the fact that they are not a well-coached team. Mike Budenholzer won a Coach of the Year award because of a dominant regular season from Antetokounmpo, but when it comes to adjustments and rotations, he’s far from elite.
Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash has such an embarrassment of riches that he doesn’t really have to do much as a coach, and yet, he is still out-coaching Budenholzer perhaps on the insertion of Mike James into the lineup for Beardo alone. And somehow they’ve got Brooklyn coming into Game 3 as underdogs? Cha-ching!
It seems unlikely that Beardo and Jeff Green will participate in this series on the court, which is a luxury for me when compared to a couple of these other Conference semifinals where stars are regularly listed as questionable. Without those two, other guys have stepped up to fill the void. Durant and Irving will continue to do what they do, but the play of that supporting cast is what’s making this series such a one-sided affair.
James didn’t shoot the ball very well in Game 2, but he had zero turnovers and did a great job of setting the table and lifting some of the playmaking off of the shoulders of the team’s two healthy superstars. While Blake Griffin had just seven points, his energy out there on the floor is plain to see and if he can keep that level of aggressiveness and hustle up, it spells trouble for Milwaukee.
I would expect to see Bobby Portis in there a lot more for the Bucks moving forward considering Brook Lopez’s lack of mobility, but even that small adjustment seems like it may be coming too little too late. I mean, Joe Harris was just 5-for-12 in Game 2 and Irving contributed only 22. Even Durant only took 18 shots.
All of that tells me that this Brooklyn team has not yet been pushed to anywhere near its limits and this Bucks group may not be in a position to challenge a super team this year. For some reason, the Bucks are the favorites in Game 3, so we’re going to take full advantage with +140 NBA odds on our Nets moneyline pick, which is definitely one of our best bets for today.
Game 4 (Nets leads series 2-1)
June 13, 03:00 p.m., Fiserv Forum
(Playoff Betting Record: 32-22, +9.03)
The Milwaukee Bucks were able to escape with the win in Game 3 in front of their home crowd, but only by the skin on their chinny-chin-chin. The result in that clash also goes to show just how important each and every game in a series can be: since they won, the Bucks now have a chance to tie it up at two games apiece, but had they lost, they’d be down 0-3 and the series would be all but over.
The Bucks came out very strong and energetic, running some great pick-and-roll action between their two best players, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Nets seemingly had no answer for it as Milwaukee jumped out to a 30-9 lead and entered the first break up 30-11. In the second quarter they abandoned what had worked so well for them and became stagnant on offense, which allowed the Nets to work their way back into the game.
By halftime, the Bucks were up just three and it seemed like they might be running out of steam, but they hung tough and battled with a Brooklyn team that couldn’t hit the ocean with a basketball if they were floating right in the middle of it. The Nets shot just 36 percent from the field and 25 percent from deep as the team’s two superstars struggled to a 40 percent shooting night between them.
Kyrie Irving straight up disappeared in the fourth quarter, and Kevin Durant had struggled mightily through the first half before catching fire near the end of the game. He nailed an insane three-ball in the final minute to give his team a three-point lead, but for some reason, the Durantula never got another shot up until a prayer at the buzzer as the Bucks went on a 6-0 run to finish the game.
The key play was a transition layup by Jrue Holiday—who struggled again, going 4-for-14—that put the Bucks up one point with just over 10 seconds remaining. The ensuing inbounds play was a disaster for the Nets as the ball was fumbled around and Bruce Brown for some reason decided to try and make this his one shining moment. Brown failed, the Bucks got the rebound, and Middleton drained a pair of free throws to set up Durant’s heave.
It was an ugly night for both sides, to be frank. The Bucks, for their part, shot just 37 percent from the field and 19 from deep as Middleton and the Greek Freak combined for 68 of their 86 points. Middleton came out with 35 points as he proved that he is indeed still a lethal scorer despite his numbers slumping in the playoffs over the past two seasons.
I’d expect Middleton and Giannis to lead the way again in Game 4, but I doubt the supporting cast will give them enough to make it two straight triumphs. It was an impressive feat for the Bucks to hold on and take a game there, but I believe that is all they will take out of this series, as we’re going with the Nets on our NBA pick for Game 4.
Durant probably won’t have another half as bad as he did in the first 24 minutes on Thursday again during this postseason, and you can bet that he’ll be seething after losing a game during which he struggled and he got into a scuffle with PJ Tucker. Landry Shamet and Mike James were also unusually ineffective off the bench, combining to shoot 2-for-9 from the field.
The real shocker was the 1-for-11 shooting nightmare that Joe Harris went through in Game 3. Harris was building a royal compound with all of the bricks he was laying out there, including three wide open misses in the final minute that could have helped his team seal the game and the series by going up 3-0.
Harris was second in the league with a 48 percent shooting mark from downtown during the regular season, but he was definitely prone to very rough shooting nights from time to time. His response in the following contest is nearly always very positive, as he averages nearly 16 points on excellent efficiency in games following a shooting performance of under 40 percent.
Harris’ big bounce back is another one of the factors in our top pick for Game 4, and the possible return of Jeff Green to the mix for Steve Nash’s squad is a big plus as well. The Bucks have been living in the paint during this series, so the presence of one of their more talented and experienced bigs will be a huge boost for the team.
James Harden remains out for Brooklyn, but I would expect big bounce back performances from Kyrie, KD, and Harris to buoy the Nets in a Game 4 win on Sunday afternoon. We like Brooklyn to cover a -2.5 NBA point spread at lovely +103 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.
Game 5 (series tied 2-2)
June 15, 07:30 p.m., Barclays Center
(Playoff Betting Record: 33-24, +8.01)
The Brooklyn Nets came into the 2020-21 campaign with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving both returning from serious injuries, finally taking the court together after they both signed to play at the Barclays Center in 2019. They looked solid in the first month or so of the season, but they weren’t head and shoulders above their competition. That’s when they went all in and made a blockbuster trade to acquire another former NBA MVP in James Harden.
Harden and Durant were reunited after having come into the league together with the Oklahoma City Thunder over a decade ago. Beardo came into the team and instantly took on the role of playmaker, leaving the bulk of the scoring to Irving and Durant. The three only played a handful of games together in the regular season due to various injuries, however.
The postseason was supposed to be their showcase, their coming-out party, and after a solid five-game first round series win over the short-handed Boston Celtics, the real challenge was coming up against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round. Unfortunately, the trio remained intact for less than a minute after tipoff of the highly anticipated showdown.
Harden is arguably the most important one of the three because of how easily he can create quality looks for the other two stars, but more importantly for how he can get the supporting cast involved. So, of course it was Beardo who went down in the first minute of Game 1 against the Bucks, having aggravated the hamstring strain that had kept him out for an extended period at the end of the regular season.
Beardo has not played since, and has been ruled out for Game 5 as well. The Nets managed without their floor general at home in Brooklyn, going up 2-0 with a pair of solid wins, including one that they took by 39 points. They faltered in the final minute in Game 3, however, and the unthinkable happened in Game 4: another of the Big Three went down.
This time it was Irving, who was the most relatively healthy of the three throughout the season. The crafty point guard landed on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s foot and rolled his ankle pretty severely, which resulted in a sprain. Uncle Drew has been ruled out for Game 5 alongside Beardo, so it’s all up to the Durantula to hold it down for his comrades. While most aren’t buying it, we like the best scorer in basketball to get the job done in Game 5 for our NBA pick.
It’s been a while since Durant had to carry a team, but he has done it before, and after struggling with his shot over the past two games, not only does his team need a big game from him, but the perennial All-Star is due for one as well. Bookmakers are also well aware of this point, but if you’re of the same mind as us, putting a unit or a half-unit down on Durant to go over 39.5 points at big-time +250 NBA odds could be one of the top picks of the day.
Durant has shot just 20-for-53 from the field with nine total turnovers over the past two games, so the man many view as the best basketball player on the planet when healthy is on track to bounce back big time and prove people right on Tuesday night. It will be tougher for him to get his shot off without Beardo or Irving in there, but he’s still got some real deadeye shooters flanking him.
If Joe Harris can get his head out of the sand and Blake Griffin can take on a more aggressive offensive mindset, this team can definitely still score with the Bucks, it’s more a question of whether they will be able to get enough stops on the other end. Griffin has been the team’s best Giannis stopper, so keeping him out of foul trouble will be crucial.
The return of Jeff Green supplements Griffin on that end as well, and the former also brings a level of veteran savvy and calmness to the squad. Green can finish at the rim, he can shoot from outside, and he’s mobile and long enough to defend multiple positions, whether in the post or on the perimeter.
Khris Middleton has stepped his game up on both ends of the floor after the two shockers he put up in Games 1 and 2 of this series, and we would expect that to continue in Game 5. This should be a tight one as Durant carries his team to the finish line and in the end shoots them over the top in the final minutes.
If the league’s best three-point shooter (Harris) and a former All-NBA talent (Griffin) can put up their best performances of the season next to a 40-piece from Durant, the value on the Nets’ moneyline should make it worth the risk. We’re going to ride with Durantula and the Nets and take them to win straight up at +150 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.
Game 6 (Nets leads series 3-2)
June17, 08:30 p.m., Fiserv Forum
(Playoff Betting Record: 35-25, +9.49)
We witnessed the coming together of pure grit, determination, and otherworldly talent during Kevin Durant’s all-time performance for the Brooklyn Nets in a much-needed win in Game 5 on Tuesday night. Durant played every second of the 48 minutes of that game, and he didn’t even seem tired by the end of that display of basketball greatness.
Durant knew that it was all on him for the Nets in Game 5 with Kyrie Irving likely done for the series with an ankle sprain and James Harden playing the role of decoy more often than not. He was taking the ball up the court for nearly every possession in the fourth quarter, and more often than not, he was finishing those possessions off with a bucket.
The man they call Slim Reaper went for 49 points on 16-for-23 shooting from the field to go with 17 rebounds, 10 dimes, three steals, and a pair of blocks in 48 minutes. Somebody better find his jersey or his shoes or the ball they used or something, because that performance needs to be enshrined forever in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Durant scored or assisted on 23 of the teams 33 points in the final frame as he almost single-handedly overcame the eight-point deficit the Nets faced in the first minute of the fourth quarter. But while Durantula was darn close to single-handedly taking this game for his team, he did get an assist in his efforts from a few of his Nets teammates on Tuesday night.
Harden returned after missing the first four games of this series with a hamstring strain and it was clear that he was nowhere near 100 percent. But Beardo didn’t push himself and knew exactly what his limitations were, which resulted in eight dimes on the night.
The most important part of his performance was what he did as a decoy, however, which was crucial to allow Durant to go to work on the offensive end without being constantly doubled like he was in Game 4. Beardo showed some clear signs of rust with some silly turnovers and an ugly 1-for-10 night shooting the ball, but if he plays in Game 6, I would expect him to knock some of that rust off on the offensive end.
Because of his hamstring issue, Harden was a bit of a liability on the defensive end, but he still managed to put the clamps on rival Giannis Antetokounmpo on two possession in the final quarter, including one where he waved away help defense and contested well on an ill-advised Giannis fadeaway. That lack of basketball IQ and poor decision-making from Milwaukee’s best player is a big factor in the decision on our NBA pick for Game 6.
It’s not just the Greek Freak’s lack of recognition, but that of head coach Mike Budenholzer as well. They went a full 48 minutes without ever really attacking the hobbled Harden with any consistency while once again chucking up way too many long distance shots when they have clearly had immense success driving into the paint and finishing at the rim on this smaller Brooklyn team.
And don’t even get me started on the calamitous defense played by Milwaukee down the stretch as Durant began to really cook. Not once did they bring someone over to help as Khris Middleton and PJ Tucker took turns taking buckets from the Durantula with exasperated looks on their faces.
Not only did they refuse to double the guy while he was on his way to 49 points on 70 percent shooting, but last year’s Defensive Player of the Year and member of this year’s All-Defensive First Team, Antetokounmpo, never once took the challenge of trying to stop Durant as he carried the Nets past the Bucks on Tuesday night.
Giannis also paced his team with four turnovers—including a shambolic fumble in the paint on one of the game’s most crucial possessions—though he did shoot the ball pretty well for his standards, going 2-for-4 from deep and 4-for-7 from the charity stripe. But if anything, that three-point success was a good thing for the Nets moving forward: when you do something stupid and it works, you just keep doing it.
Giannis and Bud seem content to stick to their trash game plan and not make the proper adjustments that, if made, would give Milwaukee an enormous advantage in this matchup, so we like the Nets to finish this series off in Game 6 on Thursday night as one of our top picks.
Some may point to Jeff Green’s 24 points on 7-for-8 shooting from downtown in Game 5 as something that won’t be duplicated in Game 6, but Harden and Joe Harris also combined to go 3-for-21 in Game 5, so I think that will balance itself out on Thursday night. And if you think Durant is incapable of doing what he just did again in Game 6, think again. We’re taking the Brooklyn moneyline at huge +190 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.
Game 7 (series tied 3-3)
June 19, 08:30 p.m., Barclays Center
(Playoff Betting Record: 35-27, +7.49)
The Brooklyn Nets started this series off with two convincing home wins against the Milwaukee Bucks, but they have since lost three of the past four games of this matchup. Kevin Durant went postal in Game 5 to give the team back the series lead that they had lost, but upon return to Wisconsin for Game 6, the group did not have enough to finish the job.
That means we’re going to a seventh and deciding game in this back and forth series during which neither team has won on the road. Considering that trend, we like Brooklyn with our NBA pick here since they are the ones playing this win or go home clash in their home arena at Barclays Center.
After an all-time tilt in Game 5 during which Durant carried his Nets back into the game before eventually winning it for them, Brooklyn was unable to gain any lead at all during Game 6 as the Bucks went wire-to-wire to tie the series up at three games apiece thanks to big performances from their two best players, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.
The pair once again combined to take on the lion’s share of the scoring load as the Greek Freak went for 30 points and 17 rebounds while Middleton went off for 38 points and 10 boards. It wasn’t just the fact that they scored so many of their team’s points, though—that’s expected—it was how efficiently they got their buckets at home in Game 6.
Together, the two All-Stars scored 68 points on 23-for-36 shooting from the field. Even more impressive was the performance they put in at the charity stripe, with Giannis giving his team a rare 50+ percent night from the free throw line as he went 6-for-10 on his foul shots. Middleton was predictably better, but almost perfect as he nailed 11 of his 12 free throw attempts on the night.
While he continued to struggle mightily from long range, Jrue Holiday made his first major contribution to Milwaukee’s offensive efforts during this series, putting up 21 points to supplement the two stars while also continuing to play solid defense on James Harden since the latter’s return to the floor in Game 5.
Holiday was just 1-for-10 from deep, and other than Middleton, no other Bucks player hit more than one three-point shot. Giannis—thankfully for the Bucks—didn’t attempt even a single shot from long range during the game. While surely they would love to go more than 7-for-33 from beyond the arc, the Bucks had to start making adjustments based on what this matchup with Brooklyn dictated, and that’s exactly what they did.
While they still chucked up more threes than a Milwaukee fan or bettor would have liked, they got a lot of work done in the paint as well with 46 points. That’s where they needed to do the bulk of their damage if they expected to beat the Nets and force this Game 7, and that’s what they did. The only question is, can the team limit themselves on the three-point line even more in Game 7? That is what it will take for them to win.
I’m not so sure they will be able to fight off their bad urges for two games in a row, and especially when they’re playing in Brooklyn in front of a hostile crowd. That type of situation can oftentimes lead to bad decision-making, which is already a pillar of Antetokounmpo’s game at this point.
Durant was a monster for the Nets again, pouring in another 32 points on 50 percent shooting, but the supporting cast disappointed a little bit. Blake Griffin and Joe Harris weren’t nearly as aggressive as they needed to be, combining for just 21 points on the night, including just two triples between them. We expect those two x-factors to play much bigger in Game 7, which is a big reason we like Brooklyn for our top pick here.
While Jeff Green’s return to earth was predictable, what wasn’t was how Harden and his hamstring were going to respond after his first game back on Tuesday. Thankfully for Steve Nash and his mates, Beardo looked even better in Game 6 than he did in Game 5, hitting five of his nine shots (including a 3-for-6 mark from deep) for 16 points to go with his seven dimes. Harden also contributed four steals to match his four turnovers.
After that performance, it seems as though Harden will only continue to improve with each passing day and game, so we’d expect him to put in an even more impactful effort in this win or go home scenario. With Durant and Harden playing at or near their top level, the absence of Kyrie Irving should be felt a lot less, and the Nets should be able to cover a -2.5 NBA point spread at big-time +111 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.
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The Los Angeles Clippers will renew hostilities with the Dallas Mavericks, who they dispatched in the first round of last season’s playoffs.
The Denver Nuggets and the league’s presumptive NBA MVP will look to get off to a strong start against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1.
The Golden State Warriors will host the Memphis Grizzlies in the final play-in game, which will determine the Western Conference’s eighth seed.
The Washington Wizards will host the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night with the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference on the line.
Alex is an alumnus of Ryerson University's RTA Sport Media program, a contributing NHL, NBA, and MLB writer in the BetPicks.ca team. He has been writing on sports, betting, and fantasy contests for several years, including pitstops as an NFL Editor for theScore and as one of the lead NBA news writers for fantasy sports site FantasyPros. As a lifelong athlete, bettor, and sports fan, Alex is uniquely qualified to help you reach the sports betting success that you've always dreamed of and your wife never believed you could achieve.