That the Brooklyn Nets are up 2-0 in their Eastern Conference semifinal series over the Milwaukee Bucks isn't a surprise. That the Nets won those two by a combined 47 points with James Harden playing less than a minute total is a shocker. Harden is out for Thursday's Game 3, as is Nets veteran Jeff Green, as the series shifts to Milwaukee. The Bucks are 3.5-point favorites on the William Hill Sportsbook NBA odds. Khris Middleton is given an Over/Under of 22.5 points, and if he doesn't get going this will be a sweep.
It's still not clear when Harden will return, if he will at all this series. He probably wouldn't have played regardless in Game 3 but having a 2-0 series lead surely helped make it easier to rule him out. There is an extra day off coming up with Game 4 Sunday. It's also not clear when Green might return from his foot injury suffered in Round 1.
Milwaukee actually closed as a very slight favorite for Game 2 once Harden was officially ruled out yet never led in the 125-86 embarrassment, the second-worst playoff loss in franchise history. Brooklyn won every quarter by at least six points.
Five of Brooklyn's six wins in the playoffs have been by double digits, tying the most double-digit wins the Nets have posted in any previous playoff run in franchise history. They have an offensive rating of 120.6 in this series (points per 100 possessions), which would shatter the Nets' regular-season NBA record of 117.3. The Bucks' offensive rating is 97.0. Brooklyn has been up 3-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinals once previously: swept the Celtics 4-0 in 2003.
The Nets are doing what the Miami Heat did in last year's bubble (and the Toronto Raptors did in the 2019 East Finals) in beating the Bucks: Clogging the lane and throwing double-teams when possible at Giannis Antetokounmpo.
While the Freak was pretty good in Game 1, which was a respectable eight-point loss, his first shot at the rim in Game 2 didn't come until almost midway through the second quarter. He is settling for mid-range shots and three-pointers and not making free throws. Giannis had 18 points in Game 2, going 0-for-3 from deep and 2-for-7 from the charity stripe.
Giannis is set at Over/Under 32.5 points for Game 3. Presuming he gets his, Middleton is the key for the Bucks. He had a great regular season, averaging 20.4 points on 47.6 percent shooting and 41.4 percent from deep. Among the 43 players in the NBA that averaged 20 points per game this season, Middleton's three-point field goal percentage was No. 5 in the league.
In Round 1 vs. Miami, Middleton averaged 21.5 points on 54.8 percent shooting and 50.0 percent from three-point range. In this series, he's averaging 15.0 ppg on 30.6 percent shooting overall and 18.8 percent from deep. He didn't net his first basket in Game 2 until 2:35 remained in the first half with his team already trailing by 25.
The good news for Bucks backers: At home in the regular season Middleton shot 50.6 percent overall compared to 45.0 on the road and 46.8 percent from deep compared to 36.6. This writer likes the Bucks to bounce back.
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