By Arnie Leshin
First of all, don’t blame the Nets for what comes over the scoreboard. They can’t reach it and have nothing to do with it.
This is in regard to the National Basketball Association bringing up the foul shooting timer that appears on Brooklyn’s Barclays Center huge scoreboard
whenever Milwaukee Bucks star Gianni Antetokounnmpo steps to the foul line for a freebie.
It is operated and controlled by the building. Now the NBA rule before the player releases the ball in 10 seconds and Antetokounmpo has been over the limit numerous times, so the scoreboard shows it and it incites the home crowd. And so the NBA has informed the Nets to unplug this, although they as a team, have nothing to do with it.
Well, for game two of the Eastern Conference semifinals in Brooklyn, they did pull the plug, but a group that calls itself the Brooklyn Brigade are now doing the timing from the stands, counting each time as clock ticks down.
Antetokounmpo hasn’t said a word about it, but in game one he converted only two of eight foul shots. With the plug pulled in game two, he missed his first two and finished with four of seven. No one to blame here but him, but the league should be concerned about a rule it doesn’t bother with.
Now to get to the chase regarding the Nets whopping the Bucks in back-to-back games of the best-of-seven series. This has been done without one of their superstar trio, James Harden, who would be the starter on maybe 25 of the 30 teams. Unquestionably, he is one of the best players on the globe.
He has again been sidelined by a right leg hamstring that occurred 43 seconds into game one. He limped off, headed for the locker room and never returned while the Nets got behind Kevin Duran and Kylie Irving and huge minutes from 4-5 others in the lineup, mainly guards Joe Harris and Bruce Brown and Blake Griffin, a gift pickup for the franchise.
But there was Harden sitting with the other players and taking in game two. He looked like he was having a ball, smiling, applauding the Nets, and even got up once to go behind the backboard and shout some good stuff to Durant after he drilled back-to-back 3s.
Well, if he looked just fine, the word is that he remain sidelined for game three in Milwaukee Thursday night. Maybe he will return for game four, but as good as he is, Brooklyn now has its two superstars on the court and operating without a pause. Harris makes the 3s, Brown plays tight defense and gets open floaters inside, and Griffin has been super in all phases of the game.
The word was that he didn’t have that awesome leaping ability anymore, but he tossed sand on that by taking passes inside and stuffing them. He has taken down rebounds, handed out assists, played experienced defense, and has fit right in and is happy, he said, to be there.
So the Nets would like to have Harden back, that’s for sure, but they remain confident after dominating a broken-down Milwaukee teams two-straight times. Now this is a Bucks team that arrived as the 3rd-seed right behind the 2nd-seeded Nets. They began the playoffs by sweeping a good Miami Heat team, but have been shellacked by the guys from Brooklyn.
The Nets are +115 favorites to win the NBA championship for the first time, and two titles back in their ABA days don’t count. Now these odds would seem preposterous for any team during the second round of the playoffs. But the Nets are playing like no one is going to beat them. And when Harden returns, well, that makes them even better for he, Durant and Irving are three of the finest players in the league, a versatile, do-it-all trio with a reliable cast.
A good team all season, the Bucks lost by eight in game one, but it wasn’t that close, and trailed by 39 in game two, which wasn’t close either. In game one, Brooklyn was favored by four, and in game two for some reason, was a 1-point underdog. Now Milwaukee is favored by four in game three. Even if it wins game three on it home court, there’s no way it is going to win four of five to take the series.
Right now, the Nets are the best team in the NBA, and that is with or without Harden. Once he’s back, they will be practically unbeatable, and kudos to first-year, former All-Pro player Steve Nash in his new role of head coach. He’s a players coach, knows the game, is patient, and just learns most each game.
As for the Bucks, they are too good, too deep and too experienced to look this bad and disjointed. Their problem is that they didn’t lose wire to wire, for in game two they fell behind by 49, yes 49 points. Milwaukee can’t play with that extra weight, it’s unproductive and a losing proposition.
At the same time, Durant and Irving dazzle and the Bucks unravel, trying to be something they’re not. Plus, they didn’t expect to see the rest of the Nets making such big contributions, and that includes Griffin. So now it’s on to Milwaukee to see what awaits its fans, and the Nets are confident enough to not be concerned. Just give them the ball and they take it from there, and even their defense has gotten better.