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2021 NBA Playoffs: Game 7 Preview

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Giannis and the Bucks travel to Brooklyn to face KD and the Nets in a winner-take-all event

NBA: Playoffs-Brooklyn Nets at Milwaukee Bucks Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Bucks at Nets

7:30pm CST

TNT

This is going to be awesome. The two sweetest words in sports, Game Seven.

It has been an absolute roller coaster to get to this point, but nonetheless the banged up Brooklyn Nets host the ever-frustrating Milwaukee Bucks in what will be must-see television.

There’s a lot of layers to this series, but in Game 7 it has to start with your stars.

Nets Stars

I think we know Kevin Durant is going to show up, but to what degree can he impose his will? That’s the question. It’s not really a question of whether or not he’ll get 30, but how efficient can he be against P.J. Tucker? How is Tucker officiated? After playing absurd minute loads in Games 5 & 6, how much does he have left in the tank. If Durant starts to creep up towards an efficient 40+ points, Milwaukee is in big, big trouble. If Tucker is allowed to be physical and force Durant to be less efficient, the Bucks are in business.

The real question for Brooklyn is how much they can get from James Harden. He had his moments in Game 6, namely in a hot second quarter, but he still is clearly severely limited. Credit to Harden for trying to play through it, and he definitely can help in the half-court. I do wonder, though, how much his limitations put a governor on their offense if he can’t get out in transition at all. The Nets need to get some easy points, and pulling everything back to work against a set Bucks defense isn’t a great proposition for them, although they are a very good half-court team by virtue of employing Kevin Durant.

Ultimately, I expect Durant to be sensational, with Harden being the wild card. If he’s able to be even a little bit more of a downhill threat, that would do wonders for Brooklyn.

Bucks Stars

It would be natural to start with Giannis Antetokounmpo here, but I think we kind of know what we’re going to get from him. He’ll probably take a couple jumpers we all hate and still end up with 34 points on 14-23 shooting.

I’m much more interested in what Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday have to offer. Middleton has been hit-and-miss this series, although it’s been much more hit than miss of late, capped off by his 38-point performance in Game 6. Milwaukee desperately needs his tough shot-making to keep up with Brooklyn.

If Middleton cools off a bit from his Game 6 inferno, more will fall onto Jrue Holiday’s plate, and needless to say it’s time for him to start pulling his weight. He has not been good offensively this postseason, but if he’s able to score more efficiently it’s hard to envision Milwaukee losing this game. If all three of their guys are scoring well, they’ll win the game.

The Other Guys

It’s tempting to put everything on the stars, and for whichever team loses, I’m sure most of the blame long-term will fall on that player’s shoulders.

The reality, though, is that there’s almost always a role player or two who ends up swinging these games in favor of the winning team.

For Brooklyn, prime suspect number one here has to be Joe Harris. To say that Harris has had a rough series would be putting it ... delicately.

If Harris has his mind right, it’s certainly plausible to see a correction here. If he hasn’t lost his confidence (the best shooters never do), it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him swing this game by making five or six threes to give the Nets that third threat they desperately need. If Harris can’t give them that, the burden gets passed to Jeff Green and Blake Griffin.

Green’s job is to make catch-and-shoot opportunities off of Harden and KD passes, while Blake is more of likely to catch, size-up Brook Lopez, and then decide whether or not he’s going to shoot. Either way, the Nets need SOMEONE other than KD to give them something.

For the Bucks, there are a few more options. Maybe Bryn Forbes can last long enough defensively to hit a couple threes, but I’d look more closely at Tucker and Lopez. Both players are going to be left pretty much wide open, being dared to shoot. If those shots start going down and Brooklyn starts respecting that a little bit more, the Bucks will win.

Coaching

It’s pretty simple for the Nets, as Steve Nash has almost entirely cut down his rotation. Durant and Harden are going to play as many minutes as they’re able, and they know how they want to guard Milwaukee for the most part.

I think we’re all much more interested in what Mike Budenholzer is going to do. It’s time to commit to playing Giannis at the 5. It’s his best position and makes Milwaukee nearly unguardable. I don’t have a massive amount of faith in Bud, but he may have accidentally stumbled onto it in Game 6. They’d be wise to go back to that in heavy doses in Game 7.

Prediction

It feels strange that one of the best postseason performances of all-time could go down in a series loss. Kevin Durant’s Game 5 was legitimately one of the best games I have ever seen played, if not the single best given the stakes.

I also feel silly picking against the best player on the floor, which Durant is. There’s no reason to trust that Mike Budenholzer will coach a sound game, nor do the Bucks really deserve to advance after the way they’ve performed against a badly hobbled Brooklyn team. The advantage to having three stars on your team is usually that you have an insurance policy against one of them getting injured, but the trade off is that the team becomes extra top-heavy.

Well, when two of those stars are injured, you’re in rough shape, which is where Brooklyn finds themselves. I want to pick the Nets, I really do. I think there’s a really good chance I’m going to look really stupid in a few hours, but everything just points to the Bucks having a much larger margin for error. If Harden looks healthier, the calculus changes, but Milwaukee has a few more ways to win this game than Brooklyn does, in my opinion. Give me the Bucks, 102-94.