What’s behind the Nets’ defensive resurgence

Brooklyn’s much-maligned protection going up in opposition to the highest-scoring crew in the NBA was speculated to be a mismatch on that finish of the court docket. And by means of the first two video games of the Eastern Conference semis, it has been.

The Nets’ protection, merely serviceable in opposition to Boston in the first spherical, has mercilessly smothered Milwaukee so far in the second. They’ve held the league’s most prolific offense to 96.5 factors per sport, together with simply 86 in Monday’s Game 2 rout.

“Really, we come out, we play hard, we play physical, give ’em nothing easy,” Bruce Brown stated. “We can win games, so we’re just going to carry that over and get some wins in Milwaukee.”

Brooklyn carries a 2-0 collection lead into Thursday’s Game 3 at Fiserv Forum, and so they have it due to shoring up their Achilles’ heel.

“It’s the level of effort, the attention to detail, our communication, just really being there for one another on the defensive end,” Kyrie Irving stated. “That makes a huge difference when guys are playing against us and instead of seeing one body they’re seeing two or three. Just trying to make our opponent think.”

Bruce Brown tightly defends Jrue Holiday during the Nets' blowout Game 2 win.
Bruce Brown tightly defends Jrue Holiday throughout the Nets’ blowout Game 2 win.
NBAE by way of Getty Images

Though the Bucks have largely ditched the switching schemes they spent a lot of the season putting in to return to final yr’s extra conservative drop protection with Brook Lopez underneath the basket, Brooklyn has doubled down on its switch-happy protection. They’ve harassed the perimeter and held Milwaukee to a sorry 24.6 p.c from 3-point vary, however have nonetheless hustled again inside to gang rebound.

“I like our attention to detail, I like how we didn’t get a lot of plays perfect but we made second and third efforts,” Kevin Durant stated. “They didn’t destroy us on offensive rebounds: That confirmed we had been boxing out. That was an emphasis.

“But for the most part, we just did what we were supposed to do: Win two at home. Now we’ve got to see if this game is going to travel on the road for us, and we’ve got to stay locked-in.”

Blake Griffin (45 partial possessions) and Nic Claxton (a dozen) have shouldered a lot of the burden in holding Giannis Antetokounmpo in test, although Durant and Brown have additionally typically picked him up in switches.

But Brown, Irving and Joe Harris have fully erased Khris Middleton, and Harris has even achieved a stable job in Jrue Holiday (simply 2-for-6 total and 0-for-2 from deep in 14 partial possessions).

After watching Antetokounmpo torch them for a median of 39 factors in the regular-season collection — when DeAndre Jordan spent the lion’s share of the time guarding the Greek Freak and Brooklyn misplaced two of three video games — they’ve no less than slowed him considerably to a manageable 26.0 to date. But the key has been shackling Middleton, the Bucks’ third All-Star to simply 30.2 p.c capturing, together with 23.1 p.c from deep.

“Really just giving him nothing easy, just being there and contesting every shot,” Brown stated of guarding Middleton. “That’s really it. Just contest every shot and be physical.”

Harris echoed these sentiments, including familiarity has helped.

“A lot of it is effort, just a level of continuity, where as the season has gone on we’ve improved on the defensive end,” Harris stated. “That’s simply our capability to play off of each other.

“We’ve always been able to do that offensively because of the level of talent we have. But defense takes time to get familiar with one another and piece it together where you’re playing so in sync that you’re able to cover for each other. That combined with a high level of intensity, a high level of preparation and you have defensive efforts like [these].”

Knicks followers have frequently trolled the Nets, saying they’re not New York City’s crew. And apparently the Nets’ CEO agrees.

“We really want to represent Brooklyn and be authentic to Brooklyn,” Nets CEO John Abbamondi informed Bloomberg News. “We’re not the New York Nets, we’re the Brooklyn Nets and there’s a difference.”

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