Giannis Antetokounmpo’s heroics not enough for Bucks

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At least the Nets had an excuse — not that they needed one — for an incomplete Big 3.
The Bucks? They looked less like a corresponding Big 3 and more like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Friends, which wasn’t a winning formula Saturday in a 115-107 loss to the Nets in Game 1 and probably isn’t enough to last long in this Eastern Conference semifinal series.

“I tried to make the right plays for myself going downhill or find the right pass to get my teammates going,” Antetokounmpo said. “They’re just doing a good job trying to keep me guessing, but we have to keep being us.”

The Greek Freak played like a two-time NBA MVP, pouring in 34 points to go with 11 rebounds and four assists. He shot an incredibly efficient 16-for-24 in 35 minutes. But where was the help? Certainly not behind the arc, where the Bucks shot 6-for-30 compared to the Nets’ 15-for-40.

“They shot it well from the 3-point line and we didn’t,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “That’s a big part of the game. They outplayed us on both ends of the floor.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo makes a move on Blake Griffin during the Nets' 115-107 Game 1 win over the Bucks.
Giannis Antetokounmpo makes a move on Blake Griffin during the Nets’ 115-107 Game 1 win over the Bucks.
Corey Sipkin

Entering the series, it was a stretch to say that Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton could offset the Nets’ production from Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. But once Harden went out in the first minute of the game with a hamstring injury, the Bucks had a chance for the better of the offensive firepower.

“A lot of shots that we usually make weren’t falling,” Holiday said. “They were short, long.”

Middleton, who made the game-winning buzzer-beater in Game 1 of the first-round sweep of the Heat, shot 6-for-23. Durant gets the lion’s share of the defensive credit, but Middleton didn’t even take advantage of size advantages on switches against the smaller Bruce Brown and Mike James.

Holiday had an impressive stat line — 17 points, nine rebounds and six assists — until accounting for his 7-for-19 shooting and the Bucks being minus-13 points when he was on the floor. He noted some “questionable [foul] calls” on moving screens.

“It was basically the same as Game [2] against Miami,” Antetokounmpo said. “We didn’t play for a week. Everybody had adrenaline going, the jitters. We weren’t able to calm down as a team and take a breath and find our shots. But we were able to win that game, and now we’re playing a team that’s way better offensively.”

Antetokounmpo (35), Holiday (37) and Middleton (36) also played fewer minutes than Durant (40) and Irving (45) as the Bucks tried to show off depth. That’s a strategy that might have to change moving forward in a star-driven series.

The Bucks are without Donte DiVincenzo and need more out of defense-minded P.J. Tucker, a trade-deadline acquisition who was Harden’s teammate with the Rockets at the start of the season and was reported to be a Nets target as recently as March. He had just seven points on five shot attempts in 27 minutes.

“They all want to play 48 minutes,” Budenholzer said. “But we just got to keep them competing, keep them where they can execute. Giannis never wants to come out. Khris, Jrue [too]. But we’ve got a deep team, we have to take advantage of it. Keep them ready, keep them fresh.”

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