Basketball fans have been anticipating this matchup.
The small market Milwaukee Bucks versus the big city Brooklyn Nets. One of the league’s most loyal stars against a who’s who of free agents. A team that built its reputation on defense facing basketball’s best offense – maybe ever.
The Bucks and the Nets will open their second-round playoff series Saturday. Brooklyn finished the regular season two games ahead of Milwaukee, so the series will start at the Barclays Center. When it returns to Fiserv Forum, there’ll be 16,500 fans in attendance – the most since the start of the pandemic. And they’re likely to be in for a treat.
The Bucks were the only team to sweep their opponent in the first round of the playoffs, and they posted the best defensive rating in the process. Meanwhile, the Nets had the most efficient offense in the first round.
Brooklyn is led by the superstar trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. They’ve played fewer seasons for the Nets combined than either Giannis Antetokounmpo or Khris Middleton has for the Bucks.
The teams played back-to-back games last month with the Bucks winning both, though the Nets were without Harden. And one of the victories required 49 points from Antetokounmpo, the NBA’s reigning MVP. Their upcoming playoff series is certain to be high scoring and likely to go six or seven games. In fact, pundits are calling it a Finals-quality matchup.
The Bucks are generally considered the underdogs — a new perspective after finishing the previous two regular seasons with the best record in the league. They retooled their defense this year and made a change at point guard, trading away Eric Bledsoe and adding Jrue Holiday.
Sign up for daily news!
Stay informed with WPR's email newsletter.
Holiday has been invaluable to Milwaukee’s success this season. In fact, the team lost five in a row when he was out with COVID-19 earlier this year. Holiday averaged 15 points and seven rebounds per game against the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.
And Milwaukee’s other stars shined too. Antetokounmpo expertly guarded Jimmy Butler, who proved too much for the Bucks in last year’s postseason. Middleton hit shots from all over the court, sinking a game-winner in overtime to put Milwaukee up 1-0 in the series. And after struggling during the regular season, Brook Lopez made a huge impact in the paint, outscoring everyone in Game 4.
The Bucks also got plenty of help off the bench. In his first playoff series with Milwaukee, Bryn Forbes averaged 15 points and 20 minutes per game. And Bobby Portis added toughness, averaging five rebounds.
Milwaukee has had a week off since making quick work of the Heat. Having time to rest, see family and practice are all pros of the layoff, Portis said, though he noted Brooklyn might be entering the series with more rhythm having played more recently.
"But I think that we’re rolling, and we’re ready to go, whoever we play," he said.
The winner of the series will face either the Philadelphia 76ers or Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference finals.