Nets show playoff blueprint in big win over Bucks

Ben Simmons, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nets-Bucks
Dec 23, 2022; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) looks to drive past Brooklyn Nets guard Ben Simmons (10) in the third quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has been said about the Brooklyn Nets‘ lack of size.

But on Friday night, they put the league on notice that they could win against the big and long teams after routing the Milwaukee Bucks, 118-100, at Barclays Center.

The Bucks’ twin towers, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez, combined for 54 points, but the Nets offset that with a great shooting night and balanced scoring attack. But most importantly, they matched the Bucks’ 45 rebounds.

It was precisely how Nets games broadcast analyst Richard Jefferson laid it out on a Wednesday conference call with media arranged by ESPN.

I think [Nets’ lack of size] is a concern, especially when you’re talking about having to play teams that have Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and Brook Lopez. You’re gonna have to shoot the ball extremely well to overcome that.

It definitely helps that they’ve got a seven-foot-two guard [in Kevin Durant]. But if they were in the market, they could definitely use some physicality. They can use some size. But they do have more shooting than most teams can even imagine. So I think the only thing they get to overcome their lack of size is they have the shooting to do it.”

Richard Jefferson told Empire Sports Media on ESPN Conference Call last Wednesday

The Nets did exactly like that, shooting 49.5 percent from the floor and sinking 14 of 32 three-pointers.

Jefferson’s colleague at ESPN and now Brooklyn resident, JJ Redick, also agreed that the Nets’ lack of size is a concern, but he added that overcoming that will depend on two of the Nets’ key players.

“The size is a concern. They’re second to last in the league in defensive rebounding rate. That’s hurt them at times.

JJ Redick told Empire Sports Media on ESPN Conference Call last Wednesday

But not Friday night.

The Nets won the defensive rebounding battle against the bigger Bucks, 33-32.

“I do think, though, with Kevin Durant playing tier-one-level defense — he’s been phenomenal on that end of the floor this season — and the best version of Ben Simmons, they can offset some of the size issues in terms of width and whatnot.”

JJ Redick told Empire Sports Media on ESPN Conference Call last Wednesday

Durant was again engaged defensively against the Bucks, collecting one block, one steal and hustling for two deflections while contesting five Bucks shots.

Simmons also played his best game since his return from a calf injury. The 6-foot-10 Simmons came two assists shy of a triple-double (12 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists) and three steals. He registered the second-best defensive rating (83.9) of the night next to Royce O’Neal (81.8).

“We respect Milwaukee and understand how dominant they’ve been this season. So we wanted to come out. And we understand everybody’s watching this game, everybody came to this game, looked at it just as a big regular-season game, so I think we tried to approach it that way, and those guys play extremely hard every night, play physical every night, and we just tried to match that.

They play playoff-style basketball every game, so it was on us to come out and match it and play our brand as well. We’ve been trying to stay at that level as much as we can. It’s tough to do in the regular season with injuries, it’s an ebb and flow of the season, but we try to stay locked in as much as we can.”

Kevin Durant postgame via NBA.com

Their bench play also played a massive role in their rout of the erstwhile Eastern Conference leader.

T.J. Warren scored 12 of the Nets bench’s 28 points, edging out their Bucks counterparts, who had 25.

The Bucks cut the Nets’ lead to four with an 8-0 run to open the second quarter. Warren and Seth Curry responded with a triple each to quell the Bucks’ uprising.

“We kind of let that second group play a little bit, play through them making a run on us. I think that’s important for our team, to have confidence in that group. I really believe that in the start of the second quarter, that group can really do some damage for us going forward. But overall, our guys really responded to their run and the best part is that we never panicked at all. I think we were pretty even-keeled throughout the course of the night, great communication throughout the timeouts and a lot of good from [Friday night].”

Jacque Vaughn postgam via NBA.com

Now the Nets have proven themselves capable of beating the big guns. The blueprint was already laid out Friday night. It’s just a matter of building consistency toward the playoffs.

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