NBA Playoffs Odds, Preview, Prediction for Nets vs. Bucks Game 6: Is Milwaukee’s Season All But Over? (June 17)
Elsa/Getty Images. Pictured: Kevin Durant
- The Nets-Bucks series returns to Milwaukee for one final time on Thursday night with Brooklyn looking to close the deal.
- Brooklyn needed a superhuman performance from Kevin Durant in Game 5, but is he capable of an encore with as the only healthy member of the Big 3?
- Brandon Anderson breaks down why he doesn't believe Thursday is a funeral for the Bucks, below.
|Time||8:30 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Thursday morning and via BetMGM.|
Tuesday night, we were treated to an all-time playoff masterpiece.
The Kevin Durant Game.
It was beautiful. It was perfect. Durant racked up 49 points, 17 rebounds, and 10 assists. He added three steals and two blocks, made 12-of-14 twos, took 16 free throws, and scored those 49 points on just 23 field goal attempts.
Using Basketball Reference’s Game Score metric, it was a top five individual playoff performance in modern NBA history. It was almost certainly the greatest Kevin Durant game we’ve ever seen. The closest comparison that comes to mind was KD’s 43/13/7 in Game 3 of the 2018 Finals on the road in Cleveland when he hit the pull-up 3 dagger to put the series away. But Durant had Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green on his side in that game. This game was better.
What’s wild is that this series sure looked like a wrap about halfway through the second quarter. And in the third quarter, it was still 76-60 and the Bucks looked in complete control. Durant had 19 points and Jeff Green’s 3s had kept the Nets vaguely in contention, but James Harden had yet to score and Milwaukee was coasting.
Then Durant detonated. Over the final 18 minutes of the game, Durant scored 30 points and assisted on four of the other eight Nets makes. He played every single second of the game — Kevin Durant, the guy coming off a career-altering Achilles tear played all 48 minutes of the most important game of the season — and painted his masterpiece, including that dagger 3 in the final minute.
Now Milwaukee returns home for what sure looks like a funeral for the Budenholzer-era Bucks. Milwaukee is up against it now. One more loss and they get to stay home for the offseason.
Do the Bucks have a response?
Can Durant Keep Saving the Nets?
Much has been made of the tepid Bucks offense this series — oh, we’ll get to that — but the Nets offense has fallen far short of expectations too.
Remember, Brooklyn set the all-time NBA record with a 118.6 Offensive Rating this season, highest in league history despite all the time missed by Durant, Harden, and Kyrie Irving. Remember, this team just ran the Celtics off the court one round ago with a 130.1 Offensive Rating. That team — these Nets — have just a 107.9 Offensive Rating so far this series.
Durant was obviously magnificent in Game 5 but he fell well short of the mark in the two previous games in Milwaukee. Joe Harris has gone completely missing. Mike James and Bruce Brown are faltering in their roles. And like it or not, James Harden was mostly pretty terrible in his return, heroic as those 46 minutes were. The Nets are seriously starting to run out of bodies.
Despite Durant’s Game 5 heroics, it feels much more like the Bucks are losing this series right now than the Nets winning it.
It’s wild that James Harden has scored five points total through five games this series and the Nets are winning the series. Harden really labored in Game 5 though, and now he’ll try to go again after playing almost all 48 on a hamstring that is clearly nowhere near 100%. Harden was not getting to the rim at all, and he was a clear blow-by target time and again on defense as the Bucks targeted him. The shots weren’t falling for Harden either. He went 0-for-8 on 3s and barely got to the line and had an abysmal 26% turnover percentage.
This was a BAD James Harden game, injury or not. It was the sort of game the media would be eviscerating Harden for if the Nets had lost by 15, like they were all game until Durant saved them late.
Can Durant keep saving the Nets? Was that just a rusty, bad Harden game and he’ll look more his usual self in Game 6 and going forward? Can the Nets continue to cobble just enough randomness together from Jeff Green, Blake Griffin, et al to keep surviving while they wait for the superstars to get healthy again?
That’s the bet you’re making if you take the Nets.
Well… or, if you’re being really honest with yourself, this isn’t really about the Nets at all. You’re just ready to bet against these Bucks.
Will Shots Start Falling for the Bucks?
Remember the bad Nets offensive numbers above?
Milwaukee’s numbers make Brooklyn look like the Sistene Chapel.
The Bucks averaged over 120 PPG in the regular season. They’ve scored 108 or fewer in all five games this series, averaging just 98.8 PPG. Against the Nets! Against this terrible Nets defense everyone made fun of all season!! The Bucks have an even 100.0 Offensive Rating for the series, and they’re not playing anywhere near their usual pace and still not getting consistently good looks up, and they’re certainly not making them.
Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are both still below 48% True Shooting for the series. Milwaukee has made only 9.8 3s per game against the Nets, nearly a 50% drop from the 14.4 they averaged in the regular season. The Bucks shot 38.9% on 3s in season, ranking top five in the NBA in both number of makes and percentage. They’re shooting an ugly 29.3% so far this series. Milwaukee isn’t moving the ball either; the Bucks are averaging 18.4 assists per game, down from 25.5 per game in the regular season, where they were already below average.
It’s bad. It’s ghastly. The Bucks can’t hit their shots, even when they’re getting good looks. How many times has a good looking Middleton pull-up been half down but rimmed out? How many layups have circled down the drain and back out from Jrue Holiday?
Still, the Bucks are starting to find some answers, at least occasionally. The Giannis Antetokounmpo at center thing is working. P.J. Tucker has had at least moderate success defending Durant, especially with the kinder whistle at home in Milwaukee. Pat Connaughton appears to be the choice off the bench, and Bud has tightened the rotation to essentially six guys, finally giving Giannis, Jrue, and Khris all the minutes we’ve been asking for.
And still, the Bucks completely melted down in Game 5. They were up 16 midway through the third with the title favorite on the ropes, with one star sidelined and the other one actively harming the team on the court at times, and they blew it. Milwaukee couldn’t do a darn thing to slow Durant down late, and the Bucks scored only 17 points in the final 10.5 minutes and gave the game away.
Everyone is focusing on the defense right now. How do you stop Durant? But we’ve never had an answer for that. I’m not sure Antetokounmpo is the Durant stopper any more than any other human on the planet. When a 7-footer is pulling up anywhere he feels like and hitting jumpers over you, you tip your cap.
The Bucks defense has been good enough this series. Every Bucks coach and fan would’ve been ecstatic to hold the vaunted Nets to under 107 PPG for the series.
The question is whether Milwaukee can find enough offense. And the numbers say the Bucks can’t possibly be this bad on offense, that the shots should fall at some point, that this weird playoff math can’t possibly go against Milwaukee forever.
The only problem is that we’ve heard that argument for three years running with these Bucks, and somehow the math never works out. So do we go with the math? Or do we go with the narrative?
Nets vs. Bucks Pick
It’s easy to get caught up in the narrative, see what happened in Game 4, and label Durant as the best player in the world and the Bucks as chokers yet again.
But are we sure that’s what happened? Are we sure the Nets have totally put this thing to bed, despite the Harden and Kyrie injuries, and that Durant’s perfect game was the series turning point and the crowning of KD as basketball king once again?
Narratives can be spun both ways, and as bad as this was for the Bucks, it’s often darkest just before the dawn. What if Milwaukee isn’t returning home for a funeral but a rebirth? What if that wasn’t Durant’s crowning moment, but rather a last stand for an exhausted team running on fumes with two of its best three players seriously injured?
Think of it another way.
The Nets have one star healthy right now, until Harden looks healthy enough to prove otherwise. And look what had to happen for Brooklyn to take Game 5. The Nets needed Jeff Green’s best game ever along with an all-time great playoff performance by one of the most talented roundball players in human history. They also needed a complete Bucks meltdown by players and coaches alike, and they needed Milwaukee to uncharacteristically rack up turnovers (12) and fouls (24).
The Nets needed all that to happen and still needed another miracle Durant shot with under a minute left to steal — yes, steal — this win.
We still look at the Nets and see them as title favorites right now, but this team hasn’t played like title favorites this series, and they don’t look the part right now. They looked a lot more like Damian Lillard and the Blazers, if you ask me. Remember the 55-piece Dame dropped a couple weeks ago? Remember the miraculous shot making while everyone else on his team missed everything? Remember how he needed every one of those shots because his team couldn’t do much defending and his teammates didn’t show up? That feels more like this version of the Nets, with one super duper star, another injured guy that doesn’t have it right now, and an unreliable supporting cast.
We’re giving these Nets too much credit. This is not the historically great offense we imagine the Nets to be. These are the need-a-miracle-please-KD Nets, and by the way, that one was at home in Brooklyn too.
I think we get an exhausted Brooklyn team in Game 6. Durant played every second and handled the ball far more than usual. Harden looked exhausted early but kept playing nearly every minute anyway. The Nets are starting to run out of answers against Antetokounmpo. The positive shooting regression has to break Milwaukee’s way at some point, and role players almost always shoot better at home.
The Bucks are so close to being title favorites right now. Imagine Durant not hitting that one late 3 and the Bucks closing out a gritty, tough road win despite all the KD heroics. Suddenly Milwaukee is up 3-2 heading home as the healthiest team left in the playoffs just in time for the Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard injury news and the Sixers and Jazz- upset losses. The Bucks are one shot away from being title favorites.
I don’t think the chase is over just yet. Milwaukee was +900 on Wednesday to futures“>win the title. Those odds fell back a little with the evening upsets, but you can still play the Bucks at +750 at Unibet and I still think there’s some value there.
There’s an easy Game 6 narrative to weave. The Bucks come out and look good early again, as they have lately. Milwaukee takes an early lead, the crowd gets into it, and P.J. Tucker and Bryn Forbes and the like are hitting their 3s this time. The Nets look tired early. Durant is sluggish and Harden is struggling again. The Bucks roll out to another big lead and this time they don’t let it slip away against an all-time individually great performance, and Steve Nash calls off the dogs in a tired blowout win and decides to save his guys for Game 7.
That’s the game I think we’re getting here in Game 6. I don’t trust the Nets right now. They’re just so thin, Harden looks awful, and Durant can’t play like that every game.
I don’t trust the Bucks either — no sane person would — but the numbers still like Milwaukee. The Bucks are far healthy and starting to find some answers on both ends, and even if they don’t win the series, I love them in this Game 6 spot to push the series to the brink at least.
I’m not super interested in playing just a Bucks cover. There’s not a ton of value there, and I don’t really want my money on a close Milwaukee game late the way things have been playing out. I want the Bucks, but I want to get my money’s worth. That’s why I’m looking at the tasty +195 series price at BetMGM and why I might nibble on the title odds too. If the Bucks survive this series somehow, they are the best team standing.
For tonight, I’m looking to give a few points back and play an alternate Bucks line. The money is pouring in on the Nets. The public has turned its back on Milwaukee, and who can blame them. When has the public ever been wrong before?
I think the Bucks finally hit a few shots and take care of business at home against an exhausted Nets team we’re overrating a little bit right now, but if I’m playing Milwaukee here, I need to get my money’s worth.
I’ll grab the Bucks at -9.5 for +180 at BetMGM with a chance to nearly triple my money if Milwaukee shows up big, and if we’re doing this, I’m probably going to sprinkle at least a little of my bet on -14.5 at +320 over at DraftKings too in case this thing really gets away from the Nets.
I don’t think Bucks fans are headed to a funeral Thursday night. I think we’re heading toward Game 7.
Pick: Bucks -9.5 (+180 at BetMGM) and consider nibbling on an even longer alt line or Bucks series price at +195 (BetMGM)