Offense likely will be plentiful on Saturday when Brooklyn hosts Milwaukee in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in a series many figure will be a slugfest.
Led by Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, the Nets are in the semifinals for the first time since 2014 when an aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce along with Joe Johnson and Deron Williams helped them escape a grueling seven-game series with the Toronto Raptors. That team, however, bowed out in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
The Bucks are in the second round for the third straight season after not advancing past the first round since 2001. Last season, they were the top seed in the NBA bubble but bowed out in five games against Miami.
It is the fourth postseason meeting for the teams and first since the Nets won a first-round series in six games on their way to the 2003 Finals. This time, both are viewed as contenders to emerge from the East after featuring high-powered offenses through the regular season and in the postseason.
Milwaukee, which led the league by averaging 120.1 points, is playing its first game since completing a four-game sweep of Miami last Saturday. The Bucks opened the series with a two-point victory in overtime and then won the next three games by an average of 26.7 points.
“We’ve got a long ways to go,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “… I think there’s got to be humility, a humbleness, an attitude or a mindset to get better. We’ve advanced in the first round. … We’ve got to have the similar focus, a similar edge, willingness to play with each other, play together, all the things that we just did. Means nothing if we don’t keep doing it going forward.”
Brooklyn, which averaged 118.6 points during the regular season, needed five games to get past the Boston Celtics in its first extended minutes for Durant, Harden and Irving. Due to injuries and rest, the trio played eight games together during the regular season, and against the Celtics, they played 130 minutes together.
Against Boston, each star thrived. Durant averaged 32.6 points on 54.6 percent shooting, Harden averaged 27.8 and 10.6 assists on 55.6 percent shooting and Irving averaged 24.8 on 49.4 percent. The Nets averaged 123.4 points, shot 49.6 percent from the floor and hit 42.6 percent from 3-point range.
“We just don’t want to take any of this time for granted,” Irving said. “This doesn’t happen too often, kind of in our culture, in our history, where three of the best scorers to ever play the game are on one team.”
Milwaukee’s quartet of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, former Net Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday was just as productive against Miami.
Antetokounmpo averaged 23.5 points, 15 rebounds and 7.8 assists, Middleton averaged 21.5 points, Lopez averaged 15.8 points and Holiday averaged 15.3 points. Unlike Brooklyn’s stars, only Lopez shot better than 50 percent in the series and each struggled from 3-point range as Milwaukee hit 32.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Antetokounmpo averaged 39.7 points and 10.7 rebounds on 48.9 percent shooting as Milwaukee took two of three regular-season meetings. The home team won each meeting, and the three games were decided by six points or fewer although one member of Brooklyn’s star trio sat out in those games.
–Field Level Media