Nets get trounced by defending champs
Open season with 127-104 loss to Bucks in Milwaukee
For once, the Brooklyn Nets didn’t have to deal with many questions about mercurial point guard Kyrie Irving.
Instead, they had to explain away a brutal season-opening loss to the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last season.
Pick your poison.
“We weren’t very good,” Nets head coach Steve Nash ceded plainly after Brooklyn started the much-anticipated campaign with Tuesday night’s 127-104 loss to the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks in front of a sellout crowd of 17,341 fans at the Fiserv Forum.
“If you’re not playing at a high level against the champs, you’re not going to win.” Nash added.
The Nets (0-1) trailed by 12 points after 12 minutes and never seriously challenged the Bucks (1-0), who knocked Brooklyn out of the Eastern Conference semifinals in seven memorable games earlier this year before grabbing their first title since 1971.
Milwaukee players received their championship rings and hung the title banner while the Nets looked on in envy, hoping that they will be able to stage a similar ceremony at Barclays Center come next season.
But Tuesday’s contest was hardly one at all.
The Nets handed the Bucks 22 points off turnovers and only managed one basket on Milwaukee’s seven giveaways.
Brooklyn was outrebounded, 54-44, and gave up at least 30 points in each quarter but the the second, when it surrendered 29.
The lack of defensive intensity, coupled with the absence of Irving, who continues to be away from the team due to his lack of compliance with New York City’s vaccine mandate, troubled not only Nash, but Kevin Durant as well.
“We were climbing uphill all game,” Durant lamented after typically leading the Nets’ offense with 32 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots.
James Harden added 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists a few hours after declining to ink a three-year extension with Brooklyn, and new addition Patty Mills enjoyed a brilliant Nets debut with 21 points on 7-of-7 shooting from 3-point range.
None of it was enough, however, as reigning NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo torched the Nets for 32 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists on a night Bucks fans waited half a century for.
“We’re part of history,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’m excited. But now it’s over with.
“We’ve got to focus on building good habits, keep moving forward and keep playing good basketball and hopefully we can repeat this again this year, next year and all the years that we’re going to be here down the road.”
Not if the Nets have anything to say about it.
Durant, a two-time champion himself, complimented the Bucks for their banner season and even cited their togetherness and common purpose through the years for their evolution.
These Nets are still feeling their way through the process of fitting in new players sans Irving, whom the organization banned from practicing or playing on the road despite his eligibility in cities that do not have strict vaccination mandates in and around their arenas.
“This isn’t a situation where we have to be a finished product at the start of the season,” Nash noted prior to tip-off.
“We want to incorporate these guys in a natural way to build on last year’s continuity in a natural way with the new players and allow it to come. I think you can force it or you can put too much pressure on that process, and I think it can backfire. I think we’re trying to do it in a healthful way.”
Whether banning Irving results in him missing the entire year, finding his way back to the team due to an easing of vaccination restrictions or getting a vaccination shot, Brooklyn is currently down to two stars rather than the three it so boldly boasted about last season after acquiring Harden.
And that should be more than enough to compete with most NBA teams on a nightly basis.
Just not the defending champions on opening night in their home arena.
NOTHING BUT NET: Harden will likely sign a four-year deal to stay in Brooklyn next summer, but wasn’t going to commit to a three-year extension before the Nets played a single contest this year. “The contract, the money is going to be there,” he said. “I don’t plan on leaving this organization.” … Durant was selected to the NBA’s all-time 75th anniversary team Tuesday, something the league hasn’t done since 1996, when it celebrated a half-century of existence. “It means a lot,” Durant said. “It means everything to be honest. You wanna leave your mark on this league, on the game of basketball itself. To be among the greatest that this game has ever seen, just to be in that same company is pretty sweet. As a kid I saw the 50th anniversary and always dreamed of having one of those jackets on, being amongst that group so it feels good to be a part of it now.” … The Nets will visit the 76ers in Philadelphia on Friday night before hosting their home opener at Barclays vs. Charlotte on Sunday at 4 p.m.
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