Five Thoughts From The Nets' 131-121 Loss to The Bucks, Including Eric Bledsoe on If His Matchup With D'Angelo Russell is Personal (Video)Read Now
Here are five thoughts from the Nets' loss to the Bucks on Monday night at the Barclays Center.
1. Playoff like atmosphere in the 3rd and most of the 4th
The Nets dug themselves an early hole, falling behind 35-20 at the end of the first quarter. The Bucks blitzed them from the start. Brooklyn shot 7-25 (28%) from the field in the first, while Milwaukee was 13-23 (56%). Some of that was Milwaukee's defense, but the Nets also missed shots, and defensively they were not sound and allowed Eric Bledsoe and Sterling Brown to get downhill on them and force the action.
Brooklyn found their footing defensively and started making shots in the second quarter. When the buzzer sounded to head into halftime, Milwaukee's lead was cut to five.
In the third quarter was when both teams really engaged in what a playoff game would look like. Mini runs and answers. Counters on defense and offense and at the end of the third, Milwaukee's lead had been cut to two. The crowd was into it and both teams exhibited a playoff type of intensity that you can't muster consistently during an 82 game regular season.
Even in the 4th, after the Bucks jumped out to a 10 point lead and it looked like Milwaukee Bucks' all NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was about to take over, the Nets battled back and got within three at one point. This is the type of intensity the Nets will need, and more, if they are going to make the playoffs and win a game or two.
A potential playoff berth would be a new experience for this Nets team. In fact, meaningful basketball this late in the season is a new experience. But this is all part of general manager Sean Marks' and head coach Kenny Atkinson's master plan, to build a championship level program in Brooklyn.
2. Caris LeVert's aggressiveness
LeVert had his best game since coming back from injury. He scored 24 points on 15 shots, handed out 6 assists, and grabbed 4 rebounds. He was aggressive in his drives to the paint, something we mentioned after Saturday's game against Boston. He was confident in his shot, he made 4-8 from three. He got his hands on loose balls defensively and he showed playmaking ability and the return of the two man game with Jarrett Allen.
The Nets are 39-39, they are currently the #7 seed in the playoffs. They are a half game behind the Pistons and a half game ahead of Miami. With four games remaining, (Raptors, Bucks, Pacers and Heat) they will likely need to go 2-2 to feel comfortable in securing that playoff berth. LeVert will have to play like he did Monday night, which was what he looked like early in the season before the injury.
It was always going to take a while for LeVert to regain his rhythm and timing. Maybe Monday night was the breakout and signs of things to come.
Atkinson spoke about LeVert in his postgame media session.
3. Eric Bledsoe vs. D'Angelo Russell
In what appears to be a matchup that both guys take personally, Bledsoe finished with 29 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds and the win to Russell's 28 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and a loss. Russell was named as an all-star replacement in February. A spot Bledsoe believes, he should have deserved more consideration for. Either way, it feels that when these two have matched up this season, there is a bit of extra juice.
During one point in the game Russell scored on Bledsoe and let him know about it, typical hoops type competition. There were a few plays defensively when Bled really got into Russell and on offense really attacked him downhill.
Bledsoe was the far more efficient player Monday night, needing only 19 shots to score his 29 points. Russell needed 27 shots to score 28 and turned the ball over six times.
Russell's efficiency has dropped of late. For the month of March he shot just 41% from the floor and 32% from three. This could be the byproduct of a number of factors, including: defenses keying in on him, fatigue, and lineup fluctuations. Whatever the reason, he will need to elevate his play down the stretch and in the playoffs. Again, this is uncharted territory for Russell and the Nets. Progress isn't always linear.
Following the game Bledsoe talked about going up against Russell, he told Black Sports Online that it isn't personal and he (Bledsoe) has played well all season, not just against Russell and the Nets.
4. Foul hunting on pick and rolls
Late in the fourth quarter with the game still yet to be decided it looked as though the Nets were hunting fouls on pick and rolls. Specifically Russell, coming off screens. No doubt there was contact on many of the plays as there always is in the NBA. Players try to show officials that they are indeed fouled and hope to get favorable whistles. In a tight game, free points without the clock moving are critical.
The Nets as a team have not quite mastered that subtle art as well as some other teams have in the league. Russell is certainly not as skilled in the arts as say, James Harden.
In his postgame media availability, Kenny Atkinson talked about the challenge of getting officials to see contact around screens in the NBA.
5. Mike Budenholzer
At 58-20 the Bucks have the best record in the NBA. They are the #3 team in offensive rating (113.5), #1 in defensive rating (104.5), and #1 in net rating (9.0). They have the presumptive league MVP or runner-up in Giannis Antetokounmpo. All signs this season have suggested the Bucks are an NBA Finals caliber team. That is due in large part to the presence of head coach Mike "Bud" Budenholzer.
Bud was most recently the head coach in Atlanta where he guided the Hawks to the playoffs in four of his five seasons at the helm. When he arrived in Milwaukee the consensus among the basketball media was that he would be able to get more out of this talented Bucks roster than Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty were able to. So far, so good. Bud's 5 out offense has unlocked Giannis into a terror that is dominating the league on both ends, and they appear to have very little weaknesses as a squad.
Of course with only a few games remaining in the season. The real test will begin in the postseason. Being the #1 seed and best team in the regular season doesn't guarantee success in the playoffs. During Bud's second season in Atlanta they won 60 games and were the #1 seed in the conference. They lost in the conference finals.
Still in all, Bud is an excellent coach and has a temperament that suggests he learns from previous disappointments and he has this Bucks team ready for a deep playoff run.
Before the game in his media availability, Bud talked about the balance between playing well heading into the postseason and rest, as well as the injuries the team has suffered the last few weeks.