No. 2 Brooklyn Nets vs. No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks — 7:30 pm ET (TNT)
In the half of the Eastern Conference bracket Sixers fans were thrilled to avoid, the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks will square off tonight in Game 1 of their seven-game series. Both teams handled their business rather easily in the first round, with the Bucks sweeping Miami and the Nets being a little more gentlemanly in their 4-1 series win over Boston. However, both teams did suffer a significant blow to their rotation in round one. Milwaukee’s Donte DiVincenzo suffered a tendon injury in his left foot and is done for the playoffs. Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s Jeff Green hasn’t played since May 25 with a left plantar fascia strain; he is out tonight, but the prognosis does look good for him to return at some point in this series.
These two teams met up twice in Milwaukee early last month, with the Bucks winning both contests by close margins. Those games had real playoff atmosphere with the two teams jockeying for crucial playoff positioning towards the end of the regular season. While Milwaukee should feel good about winning those games, Brooklyn can lean on the fact that James Harden wasn’t available. The Beard just averaged 27.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 10.6 assists in the first round against Boston, and while stopping two future Hall-of-Famers is certainly a difficult task, the assignment of stopping all three is hard to contemplate.
Still, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and a deep supporting cast, the Bucks have as much of the necessary athleticism and length to combat the Nets’ stars as any team in the league. Perhaps the more intriguing question is whether Brooklyn can muster up enough defense to defeat a high-caliber opponent like Milwaukee. The Nets finished just 22nd in defensive rating during the regular season, and sit just 10th in the postseason, after the Celtics twice put up at least 125 points in that series. How good does an offense have to be to overcome a lackluster defense and still succeed? Brooklyn is testing those limits.
Some people (foolishly) assume the winner of this series will represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. We know that in our hearts to be wrong, but this should still be an incredibly competitive and entertaining series. Tune in and follow along in the comments.