Game 7 Preview: Nets/Bucks

Is it possible that the most anticipated game of this playoff season will be played in the Second Round?  It’s not a foregone conclusion but there is a good chance that tonight’s Bucks/Nets Game 7 will be the NBA champ.  This Game 7 will be, perhaps, the most consequential game of the playoffs.  At the moment, the Nets are pegged as very slight favorites by the odds makers.   Let’s run through this game FAQ style to see if we agree…

Has this actually been a good series so far?

Well, it has in the sense that we are watching two really good teams knock each other around.  On a per-game basis, however, we have had only two watchable games out of six.   Of course, Kevin Durant’s legendary Game 5 will be remembered but much of the series has been less exciting.

Would the Nets have won this series easily with a healthy Kyrie Irving and/or James Harden?

Probably but we are where we are.

What’s with the Nets and free throws?

KD has gotten to the line a ton (43 attempts) but the rest of the team, not so much.  Even before he got hurt, Kyrie wasn’t getting to the line (two attempts in four games) and Joe Harris has zero in six games (though he had only two in five games versus Boston).  The Nets desperately need a second scorer to open up the office so they don’t have to rely on Durant being otherworldly to win.  Jeff Green has been a real boost at time and should help add some offense and make it difficult for the Bucks to play the slower Brook Lopez.

Maybe Harden will help?

Harden’s bad hamstring is obviously key to the series.  He was put in a tough situation in Game 5 when he was essentially playing injury rehab minutes during the most important game of the season.  He had no leg strength and could not make any shots at all (1-10 from the field).  In Game 6, Harden looked fairly effective (16 points on 5-9 shooting and he got to the line and had four steals).   Hamstrings pulls are notoriously hard to recover from but the trend line looks pretty good and if Harden is 75% of his usual self that would indicate a Nets win is coming.

Will this series define Giannis’ legacy?

It’s fairly amazing how much crap Giannis Antetokounmpo is taking for a guy averaging 30.5 ppg and 12.8 rpg.  But the criticism isn’t totally crazy.  Giannis is a big man without a great jumper or low post moves on offense.  Nor is he a great candidate to guard Durant on the perimeter.  These facts shouldn’t be viewed as personal failings by Giannis.  He’s an incredible player but you can’t ask him to do things he can’t really do. 

Actually, Jrue has had it rougher…

Of Milwaukee’s Big Three, Jrue Holiday is the player that has struggled the most.  He has shot really poorly (.465 TS%) and has not been the defensive force they had hoped.  It didn’t matter in Game 6 because Khris Middleton was on fire but Holiday has been Milwaukee’s weak link.  The Holiday-Harden match up will be huge in Game 7.

There’s no place like home…

The home team has won every game and mostly dominated those wins (with a few exceptions).  This trend is fully consistent with the regular season where both teams were much better at home. Brooklyn was 28-8 at home and Milwaukee was 26-10.  The Nets have a marked advantage in Game 7 for that reason.  It’s sort of ironic that the Nets consciously punted on fighting for home court to get healthy and they ended up unhealthy but with home court advantage over the Bucks anyway. 

The general history of Game 7s also clearly favors the home team.  In the last decade, most of the Game 7 wins on the road involve ridiculous performances from transcendent stars (mostly LeBron James) or poorly timed injuries (the Rockets with Chris Paul in 2018, the Clippers with Blake Griffin in 2017).  The last team to win on the road without benefitting from a key injury or having a superstar do superstar things was the Nets beating the Raptors in 2014 when Paul Pierce blocked Kyle Lowry’s late jumper.

For the Bucks to win…

Man do they need another great Middleton game and/or some help from the designated shooters.   Middleton has carried the outside shooting for the Bucks.  Middleton is 17-45 from three (.378%) while the rest of the team is an abysmal 39-155 (.252%). 

For the Nets to win…

If they get the usual Kevin Durant game, they should be able to win this game.  If KD or Harden go off, they may win comfortably.  Their concerns are more about health than Durant or Harden having an off game.  That injury risk, however, is not insignificant. 

Prediction: Nets win 118-111.  The Bucks certainly have a chance but the most likely outcome is to favor the home team with Durant.