There’s something about Jason Kidd that brings out the best in the Brooklyn Nets.
Kidd, the former franchise legend that jumped ship after one year as coach of the Nets, was back in town with his athletic, lengthy, and bright Bucks.
Or, the exact opposite of the Nets.
Of course, Kidd returned as an opponent in last year’s incredible 3OT thriller, but there’s always been a special air around the franchise heir appearing once more. While the Nets are currently 20 wins behind the Bucks in the Eastern Conference, Kidd’s team is still 6.5 out of the final playoff spot. So, while neither situation has been dream-like in 2015-2016, there’s still one major difference:
One team has Giannis Antetokounmpo and one doesn’t.
Antetokounmpo, the Bucks’ new point forward following Michael Carter-Williams’ season-ending surgery, has thrived post-All-Star Break and tonight exhibited it in all it’s lanky and smooth full-court glory. Before you could blink, the Greek Freak has racked up 10 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, and numerous Vines — all in his first 20 minutes of the game.
For the Nets, their only answer was letting Sean Kilpatrick and Chris McCullough just go wild. Kilpatrick, who YES Network’s Sarah Kustok reported was nervous before his first Nets home game, started off 0-3 before hitting his next three in a row. Meanwhile, McCullough, slowly working himself into the demanding physical and mental nature of the NBA, hit a rainbow three-pointer before massively erasing two Milwaukee shots under the rim.
Per Ian Eagle, the Bucks had forced opposing teams into 16 or more turnovers in their last 7 games — and that was precisely why the Nets were able to claw their way deep into tonight’s game (but ultimately the same reason why they gave it away). With just 5 at halftime, the Nets actually lead 51-50, following some pretty footwork from Thaddeus Young (8 points, 7 rebounds) and some much needed bench energy from Shane Larkin (4 points, 2 assists).
The third quarter brought some serious downhill running from Parker, Antetokounmpo, and Monroe, but strong defense by Markel Brown helped the Nets get within 2 before turnovers on 3 of their next 4 possessions pushed it back up to 7. Sloan and Brown combined to go 2-7 from deep and their play-making abilities, usually a necessary evil for Brooklyn, was non-existent.
However, for what they lacked, Bogdanovic picked up in spades. His 3 three-pointers and 7 assists kept the Bucks behind by just a hair on multiple occasions. On Friday, the Nets looked lost at times without his steady stroke and tonight truly exemplified that. After a three-pointer, turnover, three-pointer sequence for Kilpatrick, the Nets took an 85-82 lead with 10 minutes left.
Some savvy ball from Kilpatrick, Bogdanovic, and Karasev (!!) had the Nets clinging to dear life as Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton turned up in the late fourth. As strange as it sounds, the Nets just turned the keys over to Kilpatrick and got the hell out of the way. Remember that turnover statistic from earlier? Well, after starting so controlled and efficently, the Nets would cruise to 20 turnovers with ease and were, frankly, lucky that Antetokounmpo shot just 4-11 from the free throw line.
But, we all know how this one would end — right? A 10-0 run for Milwaukee obliterated the Nets’ flickering hopes of pulling any positive result out. Even Kilpatrick’s heroics couldn’t save the Nets from turning over the ball 12 times in fourth quarter, giving up handfuls of easy transition points in the process. What was a 98-97 lead for Brooklyn was instantly 107-98 and ultimately insurmountable.
With their last gasp, they ran a play to set up Young for a corner three-pointer — it air-balled.
Good effort, good try, no closer — the story of 2016.
4 PTS, 2-2 FG, 2 REB, 5 AST, 1 TOV
Call it flavor of the week, call it whatever you want, but it feels like Shane Larkin has done much better than Donald Sloan over the last week or so.
Yes, this is to be taken with a grain of salt because Kyle Lowry is a far more taxing assignment than Cory Joseph, but Larkin’s energy is almost always a catalyst for that mid-second quarter Nets revival.
When Larkin plays out of control, it’s a serious problem — but when he plays like this, he can be a handful.
20 PTS, 8-12 FG, 3 REB, 2 AST, 2 BLK, 3 TOV
Since Kidd left for Milwaukee, Lopez has struggled against the Bucks. It’s understandably tough when the opposing coach knows where you like it, when you want it, when to double team, and many other inside scouting details about Lopez — there’s no denying that.
His 10 point, 2 rebound half wasn’t surprising, but that manic, determined third quarter was. As the Nets tried to keep up with the Young Bucks, it was Lopez’s trusty mid-range that took the blows in stride. Lopez has now scored 20+ in 6 straight games, a testament to his ever-evolving game and Brooklyn’s need for it to even have a chance.
19 PTS, 8-13 FG, 3-6 3PT, 1 TOV
If he was nervous to play in front of Brooklyn for the first time, he sure recovered quickly. Kilpatrick’s three-straight buckets in the second quarter helped the Nets turn the momentum and ride a slim lead into halftime.
A pair of fourth quarter three-pointers had Kilpatrick talking trash with Jerryd Bayless and looking every bit the part as an NBA mainstay.
8 PTS, 2-3 FG, 1 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK, 1 TOV
Karasev made multiple 3s in a game for the first time since 3/4/15 against the Utah Jazz. Even better, he was part of the early fourth quarter unit that helped keep the Nets out in front.
His time fluctuates as much as an amateur dart player, but I haven’t given up hope on that sweet left-handed stroke.
17 PTS, 8-15 FG, 10 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 1 TOV
It feels like it’s been months since we saw this version of Thaddeus Young’s deft post moves!
Many of his recent game grades stated: when will he consistently make shots under the rim? So it was thrilling to see him take on Jabari Parker fearlessly and successfully. His 26th double-double of the season was a handful for Parker + Antetokounmpo — a welcomed sight for sore eyes.
13 PTS, 4-9 FG, 5 REB, 7 AST, 7 TOV
He doesn’t do much more than shoot three-pointers these days, but it suits him well. Bogdanovic, whose 3 three-pointers were a team-high, also racked up a career-high (and team-high) 7 assists.
However, those 7 turnovers were a huge reason why the Bucks ultimately pulled away.