Nets’ playoffs begin in earnest with brutal Bucks challenge

Congratulations to the Brooklyn Nets for eliminating the Boston Celtics in five. Now the playoffs begin. You know, the true playoffs. The portion that may decide Brooklyn’s legacy, nothing roughly.

Beating the storied Celtics used to imply much more than it did in this first-round sequence, which actually felt extra like a fistful of one-sided pickup video games on the Y, give or take a thrown water bottle. On the topic of the Nets, Brad Stevens was proper earlier than the sequence when he mentioned if he have been the typical NBA fan, “I have a hard time seeing them lose.”

Turns out Stevens’ gamers had a tough time seeing the Nets lose too.

But the opposite factor Stevens had mentioned, the half about Brooklyn being “probably the most talented team that’s been assembled since I’ve been in the NBA”? That doesn’t begin to get decided till Saturday’s Game 1 towards the Milwaukee Bucks. The second the Nets did not land the No. 1 seed in the East was additionally the second it turned clear their championship worthiness wouldn’t be actually examined till they confronted the Bucks in Round 2 and, if fortunate, the Sixers in Round 3.

First, the Bucks. Kevin Durant/James Harden/Kyrie Irving vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo/Khris Middleton/Jrue Holiday ought to make for a hell of a sequence. The Nets received the primary regular-season matchup at residence with out Irving. The Bucks received the final two conferences in Milwaukee, over three days, whereas Brooklyn performed with out Harden.

Kevin Durant chats with Giannis Antetokounmpo after a game earlier this month.
Kevin Durant chats with Giannis Antetokounmpo after a recreation earlier this month.
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Of course, there’s no level speaking any longer concerning the Big 3’s lack of shared court docket time (solely 13 video games, together with the postseason), as a result of the three stars have performed a mixed 35 NBA seasons and have already found out find out how to win a playoff sequence collectively.

At day’s finish, the Nets are, in Irving’s phrases, “three of the best scorers to ever play the game, on one team.” In Game 5, the clincher, Harden delivered a triple-double line of 34 factors, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds, whereas Irving and Durant mixed for 49 factors. In Game 4, the Nets beat the Celtics with Durant and Irving combining for 81 factors, and with Harden dishing for 18 assists. Brooklyn can beat you in so many alternative methods, although by no means extra superbly than by means of the move.

To beat Milwaukee, the Nets might want to transfer the ball as if the rattling factor is on hearth. Oh, and so they’ll want to point out much more fortitude than the Celtics required of them. Asked Tuesday night time to establish the one factor wanted to overhaul the Bucks, Steve Nash cited psychological toughness. Naturally, Harden was then requested to evaluate Brooklyn’s psychological toughness. “I guess we’ll see,” he mentioned. “But he’s right. It’s not going to come down to X’s and O’s and plays and schemes.”

For the Nets, it would come right down to containing the hard-to-believe Antetokounmpo bundle of dimension, energy, explosiveness, and ballhandling ability. Nash talked about his breathless versatility on each ends of the ground. Durant described him as an enhancing offensive drive — which is saying a mouthful a few two-time MVP — with extra to his recreation away from the basket.

“We got our work cut out for us,” Durant mentioned. “May the best team win.”

The Bucks are a a lot better staff than the Celtics — it’s like evaluating a type of high-powered highschool basketball factories to a junior varsity staff at a small suburban college. And if we’re allowed to make one final level about chemistry, it must be talked about that Antetokounmpo and Middleton have performed collectively since 2013.

The Bucks are additionally going to be absolutely rested, having completed their spectacular sweep of the Miami Heat on Saturday. “This ain’t the bubble,” the Bucks tweeted after Game 4, a parting shot on the similar Heat who had surprised them final 12 months in the Orlando bubble. Milwaukee performed prefer it must win the convention this 12 months as a lot as Brooklyn does. More than Brooklyn does.

Not that the Nets must be pondering they’re in the primary stage of some wide-open window of alternative. They already gave away final 12 months, and hey, no person’s getting any youthful. The Big 3 may by no means once more be as wholesome as they’re proper now. So even though Brooklyn, in Nash’s phrases, “is so far from being fully formed,” the coach emphasised the urgency of the second. “We don’t want to give our players any outs or excuses,” he mentioned.

They didn’t want any Tuesday night time, when the Nets put Boston out of its distress whereas barely breaking a sweat. Their reward was a date with the Milwaukee Bucks, and a brutally troublesome sequence that received’t really feel like a lot of a reward in any respect.

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