Even if James Harden returns to the Nets lineup in Game 5 on Tuesday, the Bucks look as dominant as they did in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Series.
By the end of the first half, all three Milwaukee players had scored in double digits. Giannis Antetokounmpo is only three rebounds short of a double-double. Milwaukee led Brooklyn 59-43, and Bucks fans salivated over the possibility of eliminating the Nets in Game 6 on Thursday.
But this is a two-part story. Even though Harden’s apparent faltering effort had an impact, Kevin Durant left, the Nets scored 71 points in the second half and the Bucks collapsed. Now, they are going back to the Fiserv forum in Milwaukee, and they need a victory to avoid an embarrassing elimination.
In the first half, Antetokounmpo scored 17 points, Chris Middleton and Jrue Holiday scored 14 and 10 points respectively. The team shot 53.7 percent from the field and 7 of 7 free throws. On the other side of the court, the defense is doing its part. Durant scored 18 points, but the Bucks had no problem leaving Harden without a point and forced the Nets to shoot 35% overall.
So, what went wrong in the second half? Durant couldn’t stop it. He scored 49 points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks in the 48 minutes of the game. Perhaps the best example of Durant’s heroic deeds in Game 5: With 52 seconds left in the game, a fierce three-pointer gave the Nets a 4 point lead.
Stopping Durant is no easy task. He is a future Hall of Fame member for a reason. But the struggle of the Bucks is not just a testament to KD’s historical performance.
They also failed to keep up on the offensive end. Antetokounmpo scored 17 points again in the second half, but in addition to his scoring, he tried to exert his usual influence. He had as many rebounds (two) in the fourth quarter as he had turnovers. He dropped Middleton’s pass, which could result in a point blank layup, tying the score to 109 in less than 20 seconds.
Then there was a free throw. The Nets ensure that the two-time MVP will not be easily touched by the paint. In the last minute and a half of the game, Antetokounmpo was fouled twice. He made only two of his four-pointers, allowing the Nets to effectively take a basket away in a close game. (He made 4 of 7 shots in total.)
But the responsibility lies not only with Antetokounmpo. The crisp pass that helped him and the others open didn’t exist in the second half. Holiday had 3 assists in the fourth quarter, but the rest of the team only sent 2 assists. The Bucks were fined nine fouls in the fourth quarter. The Nets were blew four games.
All in all, at the end of the second half, the Bucks led 71-49. The Nets shot 64.9% from the field and the Bucks shot 45.2%. The Nets had 16 assists in the second half, while Milwaukee had only 8 assists.
However, there are still reasons for hope. The Bucks did not lose at home in this playoff game, and the Nets did not go all out. But even if the Bucks successfully scored Game 6, they still have to beat the Nets again in Brooklyn to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
After the performance in the second half, we would like to know whether Milwaukee can end a game with the series going live.