Back again, and following a rough Game 1 blowout, the Milwaukee Bucks entered Monday night’s Game 2 match-up with the Brooklyn Nets having assumed the opening game was a worst-case scenario. The Bucks were wrong. In Game 2, the Nets came out swinging, literally and figuratively bullying the Bucks for the game’s duration. Brooklyn took a commanding 2-0 advantage in the series thanks to a dominating 39-point win over Milwaukee.
Once again, the Bucks were not only unable to hit open looks from beyond the arc, but Milwaukee’s defense seemed unable to stop, well, anyone. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving putting up buckets is one thing, but the Nets received valuable contributions from Bruce Brown, Mike James, and Nicolas Claxton. For the Bucks, this is unacceptable. The series is heading to Milwaukee for Game 3 tomorrow night. To say it is a must-win game for the Bucks is an understatement.
It wasn’t the easiest of victories, but the Philadelphia 76ers outlasted the Atlanta Hawks to take Game 2 and even the semifinal showdown at 1-1. Joel Embiid again looked wholly recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him during the first round, scoring 40 points with 13 boards. The 76ers were once again undone by a staggering lack of depth, with Atlanta’s reserves outscoring Philadelphia’s 32-to-0 during the first half. However, after halftime, Philadelphia tightened its rotation, and Embiid went to work.
Atlanta was undone by 17 turnovers, the absence of defensive stopper DeAndre Hunter, and collective shooting woes from Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and John Collins. With two days off before Game 3 on Friday night, the Hawks have to be hoping Hunter can return while also savoring the chance to be again ignited by a raucous Atlanta crowd.
On Tuesday evening, Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic was announced as the deserving winner of the NBA MVP Award. On Monday night, Jokic proved unable to lead his team to a win against the Phoenix Suns in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. Jokic was outplayed by emerging big man DeAndre Ayton, who followed up his dazzling series against the Lakers with an equally impressive showing against Jokic. Ayton scored 20 points on 13 shots while playing capable defense against Jokic, who needed 23 shots to score 22 points. Also shining for Phoenix was Mikal Bridges, who led the Suns with 23 points.
Denver’s offense is going to need to re-emerge in this series, starting tonight in Game 2. Jokic not only struggled with his own looks, but he was limited to a mere three assists thanks to an all-around ugly showing from his supporting cast. Leading the way for Denver’s struggles was Monte Morris, who went 1-of-10 from the field while putting up a laughable -28 plus/minus. The defense of the Suns is not going to be intimidated by Jokic’s regular-season MVP. Jokic is going to need to step up to avoid a quick end to this series.
Elsewhere in the West, Donovan Mitchell’s torrid run through the playoffs continued, with the All-Star leading Utah to an impressive Game 1 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night. It wasn’t the best of starts to the game for Utah—including an extended stretch during which the Jazz missed 21 consecutive shots—but Mitchell shouldered the load for the team during the second half. Mitchell scored 32 of his 45 points after halftime, while Bojan Bogdanovic’s perimeter defense was an easy-to-overlook game-changing factor for the Jazz.
As for the Clippers, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George finished with solid box scores, but neither played like a superstar. Plus, after brilliant supporting performances against Dallas, the cast around Leonard and George reverted to pumpkins in Game 1, with only reserve wing Luke Kennard stepping up. Game 2 is tomorrow night, giving the Clippers little chance to rest. Leonard will need to live up to his reputation as a postseason force, while George, long criticized for his struggles in the playoffs, will have to buck a career-long trend of disappearing on basketball’s biggest stage.