By Greg Frank
#2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #3 Milwaukee Bucks
Game 7: Saturday at 8:30 PM ET on TNT
Analysis: As this series has gone on, hasn’t it felt like Brooklyn has attempted to treat it like the regular season? For the entire 72-game regular season, the Nets’ actions have told fans they don’t care about where they’re seeded, they don’t care about how many games their trio of superstars play together or the opponents they play when Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving do share the floor. They’re just confident they’ll get it done when it counts. For most of the Boston series and for the early parts of the Milwaukee series, it appeared as if the Nets had indeed shifted into playoff mode and looked like a well-oiled machine. Even after the Bucks won Game 3 in very unconvincing fashion to get on the board in this Eastern Semifinal, it felt like Brooklyn still controlled the series despite playing without James Harden.
Then Kyrie Irving went down with an ankle injury late in the first half of Game 4, and things changed. The Nets seemingly mailed in the last three quarters of the game, getting outscored 84-70 in those three quarters, and looked content to go back to Barclays Center still holding home court advantage in the series despite Milwaukee pulling even. A superhuman performance from Durant and strong efforts from Griffin and Green got the Nets back in front with a 114-108 victory in Game 5. Both teams looked fully engaged, and Durant put the team on his back and carried them to a victory down the stretch. It was a very entertaining playoff game. However, it is worth noting that it certainly appeared BKN rushed Harden back into action knowing it wouldn’t have Irving in Game 5 and Harden looked like a shell of himself on Tuesday going 1-10 from the field and clearly hampered by the hamstring injury on both ends of the floor. Fast forward to Game 6 where Harden still looked far from 100%, only attempted 9 field goals and the Nets got behind early and looked like a team with no urgency with the ultimate safety net of Game 7 at home.
All of these Brooklyn uncertainties beg the question, can we trust the Nets and their effort to continue to run hot and cold as it has since Game 4? Can Kevin Durant will them to victory like he did in Game 5? Will James Harden look any healthier? There are simply too many question marks for the Nets going into this one for me to feel confident about backing them. Conversely, Milwaukee looks much better than it did early in the series and certainly looked more competitive in its Game 5 loss than Brooklyn did in Games 4 and 6. The Bucks have been the more consistent team of late, and I’ll take a veteran coach in Mike Budenholzer over a first-year coach in Steve Nash in a Game 7. The pick is Buck at plus money for me.
Best Bet: Bucks ML +107