MILWAUKEE — The Nets having to watch the Bucks get the championship rings they thought should’ve been theirs was a slap in the face. What Milwaukee did to them after that was a punch in the mouth.
Brooklyn got blitzed right out of the gate Tuesday against uber-physical Milwaukee, falling into a huge hole and dropping their nationally televised season opener 127-104 in a raucous Fiserv Forum. The sellout crowd of 17,341 came for the ring ceremony, and stayed to watch the Nets get their collective bells rung.
The Nets had lost all five of their trips to Milwaukee last season — regular season and postseason — and fell at home in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semis. With 10 new faces and one huge missing one in Kyrie Irving — sent home because of his refusal to adhere to New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates — they were going to be a little disjointed. But this was far worse than they could’ve possibly feared.
Kevin Durant had a team-high 32 points and eight rebounds, while James Harden flirted with a triple-double (20 points, eight boards and eight assists). But other than Patty Mills — who had a great debut with 21 points and hit 7 of 7 from deep — there were precious few bright spots for the Nets.
“What we have on paper is cool,” Durant had warned before, “but we’ve still got to get out in between the lines and play.”
They didn’t play Tuesday night, or at least far too little too late. Just over 8 ½ minutes into the game Brooklyn already trailed by 19, and spent much of the rest of the evening chasing.
The Nets still trailed 61-43 before they reeled off a dozen points to crawl within six. Durant hit three straight buckets, including a 3-pointer, and Nic Claxton — in only his second career start — dunked off a Mills feed to make it 61-55.
A Blake Griffin dunk moments later cut the deficit to 64-59 just before the half. But the Nets never got any closer, showing all the various weaknesses and Achilles’ heels they’d warned about. Last season, they hamstrung their overabundance of offensive talent by giving their opponents far too many possessions. They did it again Tuesday.
“Basketball-wise, we want to keep the ball in our hands,” Durant cautioned beforehand. “I think last year — we talked about it last year — a lot of teams had more possessions than us in the game, so I think that’s one of the things we want to emphasize, is keeping the ball in our hands and rebounding.”
The Nets allowed their hosts 11 more attempts in the first quarter alone, and a dozen more points in trailing 37-25. They turned the ball over, letting the Bucks gouge them on the offensive glass, and paid for both.
“Yeah, for sure that’s definitely a theme,” Paul Millsap said. “That’s the recipe for any team that’s trying to win. You’ve got to be able to rebound the ball, secure the ball and save possessions.”
Better play from the frontcourt could’ve helped keep Milwaukee off the offensive glass, and giving some minutes to conspicuously unused Bruce Brown might have helped the physicality and defense. The Nets were poor in every one of those areas.
Claxton went in for what he thought was a dunk, but got blocked at the rim by Giannis Antetokounmpo (32 points, 14 boards, seven assists). It led to a Pat Connaughton 3-pointer at the other end and 21-8 Milwaukee lead.
Brooklyn trailed 31-12 after a Jrue Holiday pull-up 3-pointer with 3:13 left in the first. That left the Bucks 7 of 12 from deep, while the Nets missed their first five until Mills came off the bench and finally broke the drought.
The Nets cut it to five just before the half, and 93-85 on Claxton’s layup with a minute left in the third. But he and the rest of the frontcourt left Brooklyn little chance against the champs.
Griffin got the nod at power forward and mustered a modest six points, while LaMarcus Aldridge had just one off the bench, looking immobile and unable to switch defensively. Millsap was scoreless. They and Claxton offered no rim protection, combining for just two blocks among them. The Bucks had nine as a team.