With 2 minutes and 15 seconds left in the third quarter on Saturday night, the Milwaukee Bucks were behind the Brooklyn Nets 86-80, and Giannis Antetokounmpo was heading to the line for two free throws and a chance to cut the deficit to four. When the quarter ended soon after, the Nets were leading 98-84 and the Bucks never recovered.
Now that the Nets have secured a 115-107 win and a 1-0 lead in the series, let’s take a closer look at the two-minute streak that sealed the Bucks’ fate and what that means for the rest of the series.
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2:15: Nets 86, Bucks 80 – Giannis misses two free throws
As good as Giannis is, he has struggled on the free throw line in recent seasons. He went 0 for 3 in that game and is now shooting 58.3% from the playoff line. It wasn’t a good time in the game for that to happen, but Giannis missing from free throws is part of the deal.
2:07: Nets 89, Bucks 80 – Kyrie Irving hits a 3 in transition
After Giannis missed the second free throw, the Nets provide the rebound. Mike James throws the ball past Landry Shamet, who finds Kyrie Irving in the corner for a 3. A missed free throw is one thing, but it can’t happen. Nets are quite difficult to stop without offering them baskets because you got caught sleeping.
1:51: Nets 89, Bucks 80 – Giannis drives, flips the ball
Going down the field, the Bucks put the ball in Giannis’ hands and let him do a pick-and-roll with Jrue Holiday as the examiner. Giannis tries to attack the open space and loses control of the ball. Not really much to say here. Time and score make things even more expensive, but sometimes you’re just going to flip the ball.
1:46: Nets 91, Bucks 80 – Shamet dunks in transition
The Nets pounce on the loose ball and run the other way. Irving throws a nifty rebounding pass to Shamet, who throws it to push the double-digit lead. Live turnovers are absolutely brutal against the Nets.
1:36: Nets 91, Bucks 82 – Lopez hits two free throws
Wisely, the Bucks tried to calm things down a bit and went to Brook Lopez in the mail. He’s got a lag each time against that slim Nets frontcourt and quickly fouled Kevin Durant. The Bucks have shown good balance here and would have done well to remember that possession.
1:23: Nets 93, Bucks 82 – Durant drives and hits a little runner
Coming out of a screen, Durant caught the ball on the wing and went to work against Giannis. The Greek Freak got off balance slightly as he tried to close, giving Durant the split second he needed to get past the drive. Even so, he had to do the float while surrounded by three defenders. Overall it wasn’t even a terrible defense, just a tough bucket of Durant.
1:04: Nets 93, Bucks 82 – Giannis misses a 3 points
Once again, the Bucks put the ball in Giannis’ hands and made him perform a pick-and-roll. This time, instead of trying to attack space, he settles for a 3 point that doesn’t go down. The Bucks contested a rebound foul and won, resulting in a jump ball. But while they’ve been bailed out with that, it’s more a matter of process than outcome. It’s not a good offense at any point, but especially not while the Nets are on the run.
51.8: Nets 93, Bucks 82 – Giannis travel
The Bucks won the jump ball of the successful challenge, and again they went on a pick-and-roll with Giannis. This time, however, he was the roll. Unfortunately, that didn’t work either, as he grabbed the Holiday pass and traveled. Pretty good defense here from Nic Claxton to show off the ball and get Giannis back.
40.4: Nets 95, Bucks 82 – Durant makes two free throws
At the other end, Durant settled in the middle of the post and got Giannis with the rip motion. Just a game advised by one of the best scorers in the world.
28.4: Nets 95, Bucks 82 – Holiday misses a layup
Looking for some sort of answer, the Bucks are going pick-and-roll again with Holiday as the ball handler. This turns into an iso at the top of the key and he makes his way to the edge before missing a layup. That summed up the holiday night well. He got just 17 of 7 of 19 points from the field, something the Bucks absolutely can’t afford given their depth issues.
5.1: Nets 98, Bucks 82 – Durant Drains 3 Down
As time passed, the Nets put the ball in Durant’s hands and let him cook. He measured Giannis, busted the crossover and emptied a 3 step back in the face. Again, there’s really nothing you can do about it. Giannis was there to challenge, and it didn’t matter.
0.0: Nets 98, Bucks 84 – Lopez hits the buzzer a little harder
The Bucks threw the ball to the ground and Holiday found Lopez in the paint. He took Durant’s contact and threw a little leaner on the buzzer. Too little, too late, however. The damage to the Nets’ run at the end of the quarter was done.
Take away food
So what can we learn from this stretch? Here are some takeaways:
Dollars can’t make mistakes worse
Defensive breakdowns, missed free throws, turnovers and the like are part of the game, and no one will ever be perfect. One key for the Bucks, however, is to avoid making these mistakes worse, because this is where things can really get out of hand against the Nets.
A missed free throw results in a defensive breakdown, which results in a turn-over and then a bad shot as you insist on recovering the points as quickly as possible. All of a sudden the Nets snatched eight points and you don’t know what happened.
It’s a lot easier said than done, but when the Bucks feel things are slipping a bit, they need to slow down and work the ball inside towards Lopez or Giannis. The only successful half-court possession they had in this entire stretch was when they got a post touchdown at Lopez. Brooklyn really has no answer for either inside.
Durant is just unstoppable
It’s not really a last minute news, but Durant is amazing and there is no answer for him in isolation. He’s too smart, too clever, and too tall. In the playoffs, he has the third-highest number of isolation possessions per game (7.7) and was the fifth-most effective goalscorer in those situations (1.239 points per possession) by Synergy Sports.
Even when the Bucks put Giannis on him, it didn’t matter. Giannis was a lopsided step during a fence and Durant passed him for a float. Giannis cluttered him in the post and Durant managed to make a foul. Antetokounmpo played perfect defense on the perimeter and Durant still reversed a 3-recoil in his face.
Giannis attacking from the top of the sideline is not the answer
Giannis is an incredible player, and he had an incredible game, finishing with 34 points and 11 rebounds. It was a difficult stretch for him, however, and it was no surprise that two of the worst possessions in the pack came when he attempted to attack from the top of the wrench.
Antetokounmpo is talented and athletic enough to be successful at times, especially against lags. But without a rider to hold defenders accountable, these possessions simply become too predictable. Especially in the playoffs, opponents are going to be locked in and ready to force him to make some hard knocks and bad decisions.
That’s not to say he should never have the ball in his hands, but he’s had so much more success in this game when he touches the post or catches the ball in motion.