Giannis Antetokounmpo Out-Dueled Kevin Durant In A Bucks-Nets Instant Classic

The Bucks and Nets met on Sunday in the first of two consecutive games between the East titans this week in Milwaukee, and with the billing of a potential conference finals or semifinals preview, the two teams put on a show worthy of the hype.

While James Harden remains out with a hamstring injury, which is an obviously massive absence, it was otherwise a showdown of two teams with their full complement of stars, and Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo had a sensational duel. Durant finished the game with 42 points and 10 rebounds, hitting seven threes and shooting just under 50 percent from the field, as he tried to lead the Nets to a needed win on the road to keep hold on the 1-seed in the East.

Early on, the Nets led by as many as 14, but Milwaukee went on a massive run in the second quarter to take a lead at halftime. From there, the two teams went back-and-forth trading runs, but it was the Bucks who were able to put just enough distance between them and the Nets late to hold off one last Brooklyn rally. Durant’s last three-point attempt went begging at the buzzer, as he created space from PJ Tucker to get a good look at the top of the key to tie the game on Brooklyn’s final possession but couldn’t put home the turnaround shot.

The reason Brooklyn needed that shot to fall was the unbelievable play of Giannis Antetokounmpo, as the reigning two-time MVP went off for 49 points, along with eight rebounds, four assists, and three blocks. Antetokounmpo had it all working, giving DeAndre Jordan and the Nets absolute fits in the post, as well as shooting the lights out from the midrange and from deep, going 4-for-8 from three.

Down the stretch, Brooklyn went small and Giannis briefly had some hiccups, falling in love with the pull-up jumper and picking up a charge backing down Blake Griffin, but he learned from that and showed patience for what proved to be a critical late bucket that was the difference for Milwaukee with a slick up and under in the lane.

Helping Giannis was Khris Middleton, who had 26 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists to supplement Giannis’ massive night and Jrue Holiday who chipped in 18 points. For the Nets, Kyrie Irving had 20 points and Landry Shamet had 17 off the bench as he continues to be excellent, but Brooklyn just could not find enough answers for Giannis and the Bucks offense to allow them to completely close the gap late. Getting Harden back — and Nic Claxton — for a possible playoff series would be obviously huge for the Nets, and if Sunday was any indication of what a series between these two would look like, we all should be rooting for them to meet at some point.