The Brooklyn Nets have drawn first blood in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Milwaukee Bucks. Despite seeing one member of their three-headed monster go down with an injury early on in the contest, the Nets were able to buckle down on both ends of the floor and defend their home court, picking up a 115-107 win that was nowhere near as close as the final score indicated.
The first major occurrence in this series took less than a minute, and for the Nets, it seemed like the sort of thing that could cause the wheels to come off completely. James Harden, who has been perhaps the team’s best player when he’s been able to take the floor, appeared to aggravate the hamstring injury for kept him sidelined for essentially all of April and much of May. Harden stepped awkwardly after trying to pick a pass to Joe Harris, which led to him leaving the floor and, eventually, the stadium so he could get imaging done on the injury.
James Harden is heading to the locker room with an apparent hamstring injury pic.twitter.com/r8hmUGHF05
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 5, 2021
But losing Harden did not mean a death knell for Brooklyn’s chances of picking up a win. The Nets, so frequently revered for their ability to score, put the clamps on Milwaukee defensively. Add in that the Bucks generally failed to take advantage of the good looks they got and you have the recipe for a blowout.
The Nets forced 14 turnovers, blocked six shots, and made life difficult for Milwaukee’s offense. As a team, the Bucks shot 45-for-101 (44.6 percent) from the field, 6-for-30 (20 percent) from three, and a paltry 11-for-19 (57.9 percent) from the free throw line.
And of course, Brooklyn was flat-out good at putting the ball through the rim. With Harden out, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving led the way — Durant was the team’s top scorer, going for 29 points with nine rebounds, three assists, a pair of blocks, and a steal. Irving, meanwhile, had 25 points and eight assists. The most encouraging thing for Brooklyn with regards to these two, though, might be the fact that they imposed themselves on the game despite poor shooting, as Durant and Irving combined to go 23-for-51 (45 percent) from the field and 4-for-15 (26.7 percent) from three.
KD (29 PTS & 10 REB) & Kyrie (25 PTS & 8 AST) powered the Nets past the Bucks ♨️ pic.twitter.com/6fMW1x1Fq7
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) June 6, 2021
More encouraging than anything was the fact that Brooklyn had players step up and fill Harden’s void. The most prominent example of this was Blake Griffin, who was outstanding on both ends. Offensively, he scored 18 points and hit four triples while keeping the ball moving to get the team better looks, as he’s wont to do. Defensively, Griffin played his heart out, flying around and cutting off anything and everything the Bucks wanted to do in his vicinity. He had a double-double on the evening, as he pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds.
— NBA (@NBA) June 6, 2021
Joe Harris was his usual self, scoring 19 points while making five threes, while Mike James had 12 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
For Milwaukee, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way with 34 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and two blocks, while Brook Lopez’s 19 points and five rebounds deputized him.
PJ Tucker with the steal, Giannis with the SLAM 💥 pic.twitter.com/x5RnnKiyci
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) June 5, 2021
Gets to his spot. Fadeaway. Swish. pic.twitter.com/P148uT5Zs0
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) June 6, 2021
Both Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton struggled from the floor, and while they found other ways to contribute, their woes as scorers were ultimately too much for Milwaukee to overcome. Holiday’s 17 points came on 7-for-19 shooting with a 2-for-7 clip from three, with nine rebounds and six assists. Middleton’s struggles were mightier: 13 points on 6-for-23 shooting with 13 rebounds and four assists. A 41.4 percent three-point shooter during the regular season, Middleton did not hit any of his five attempts from deep.
Game 2 will take place on Monday evening from the Barclays Center. The game is scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m. EST on TNT.