In many ways, everything about Game 1 was as expected. Like they're supposed to, the home team won at home. And like many could've predicted, after a week off, the Bucks came out rusty and off-target – just like they did in their previous series opener. The Nets winning Game 1 and taking a 1-0 series lead is exactly how this is supposed to play out and nothing to be disappointed about.
And yet, despite being exactly what you'd expect, Saturday's result – a 115-107 loss – feels rather disappointing. With Harden's injury knocking him out barely beyond tip-off, Game 1 felt like something the Bucks could've – and arguably should've – stolen, grabbing the early momentum in a series predicted to be the true NBA Finals, the winner liking claiming the trophy in the end. But the Bucks couldn't take advantage, shooting miserably from both the free throw line (a putrid 11 of 19) and the three-point arc (a Heat-esque 6 of 30). And when you're up against an offensive juggernaut like the Nets, even without Harden, those dismal numbers won't add up to a win.
Thankfully, it's a best-of-seven series so the Bucks, much like against Miami, have time to rediscover their shooting stroke and jostle the series on Monday night like they could've Saturday night. So let's take one final look back at Game 1 – the highlights, lowlights and lessons to be learned – and then get the sour taste of missed shots and a missed opportunity out of our mouths.
1. Louder than the Barclays
Game 1 may have been in Brooklyn, but the event was down at Deer District where viewing parties have comfortably returned, uniting fans once again and bringing together the roar of the crowd so the Nets could hear them all the way from a different time zone. The opening game may not have given the fans all that much to cheer about – especially in the second half – but even so, the fans and energy were worth celebration purely on their own.
2. The beard broke down
It didn't take long into Game 1 for this ballyhooed series to change entirely. Within the first few possessions, James Harden, one of the Nets' big offensive three, came down on a play quite gimpy – and soon after left the court and the entire arena, never to return. The diagnosis ended up as a hamstring injury, which isn't typically the kind of injury that goes away quickly.
On one hand, no team is better prepared to lose a star than the Brooklyn Nets. For one, it must be nice to know that, if one of your stars goes down, you've still got two other top-ten players in the NBA in your starting lineup. And secondly, the three Nets stars had rarely played together in the regular season, so Brooklyn was already conditioned to playing without one of its key pieces. That being said, it's hard not to see Harden getting hurt – potentially for a significant part of the series – as a massive gift to the Bucks, and props to the Nets for stepping up without a scoring leader, but Milwaukee should've gotten much closer to stealing this game. The opportunity was there, and like so many threes Saturday night, the Bucks missed it.
3. PJ plugs in nicely
Let's see how PJ Tucker, replacing the injured Donte DiVincenzo in the starting lineup, gelled with the rest of the regulars ...
4. Greek Freak-ing out
While the two other stars on the Bucks struggled in Game 1, Giannis came out to play against the Nets. In addition to helping hold Kevin Durant to merely 29 points – which is about as good as you can get reining him in – and slapping the above shot out of existence, Giannis led the game in scoring, putting in 34 points and 11 rebounds. Now he just needs his supporting cast to join him ... and to make a few more free throws. Like, at least more than none.
5. Brook at the buzzer
Should this shot have counted? Who's to say – but I'm glad it did!
Brook Lopez may not be formally a part of the Bucks "big three," but he's turned into a key cog of Milwaukee's postseason run. He helped dominate the Heat in round one, locking out Bam Adebayo and putting in an impressive Game 4 scoring performance to finish Miami off. Now, against the Nets, his size and defense – all elements where the Bucks can out-do Brooklyn – will be crucial to pulling off the four necessary wins. In Game 1, he did his part, putting in 19 points – second most for the whole team – snagging five rebounds and scoring momentum-shifting buckets like the above (maybe?) buzzer-beater. If he can replicate performances like this, but with the rest of the team joining him, the Bucks can certainly win this thing.
6. Who is Mike James?
No offense to Mike James, who played an incredible game stepping in for the injured James Harden, but if the Khris Middleton's going to be outperformed by this seemingly anonymous NBA 2k Create-A-Player, this series could be shorter than any of us hope.
7. Famous fans
I, too, would maybe play a bit rusty and rattled if American royalty was in the crowd, nodding in gentle approval at seeing me get beaten on defense.
Milwaukee's going to have to step up its famous faces game when the series comes to Fiserv Forum. That's right: Milverine, courtside tickets, now.
8. Cocky for nothing
Last time the Bucks saw Blake Griffin in the playoffs, the former all-star and notable car-jumper (or at least car hood-jumper) got punted out of the playoffs in four blowout games with the Detroit Pistons. And perhaps Griffin remembered that quick and clean embarrassment because he decided to get a little dirty near the end of the game.
Now Griffin did have quite the game on Saturday night, stepping up with Harden's injury and scoring 18 points and 14 rebounds. He should be feeling himself. But come on, stepping over human victory formation/surrender flag Thanasis during junk time – not after a cool block, but after fouling a guy – isn't impressing anyone. It's unearned swagger – which feels very much in line with the Brooklyn Nets ethos. Hopefully this becomes the "Andre Drummond imitating LeBron and mocking Jae Crowder and the Suns from the bench" of this particular series, and serves as a delicious bit of karma a few games from now.
9. Temperatures rising yet again
Going into the playoffs, this postseason was seen as a referendum on head coach Mike Budenholzer. He'd been outcoached in two straight playoff appearances, leading to two straight disappointingly early exits, and had built – between his time in Milwaukee and previously Atlanta – a reputation as perhaps just a regular season coach. The Bucks' revenge-tour ravaging of the Heat in the first round, however, seemed to turn down the temperature on the hot seat.
Not so much.
Budenzholzer wasn't brutally outcoached by Steve Nash – but once again, to the loud disgruntlement of the Milwaukee fan base, the Bucks head coach refused to play his best players to their fullest extent in key games. While the Nets played Durant and Irving more than 40-plus minutes each, Giannis, Middleton and Holiday all played signicantly fewer minutes in a game that, with Harden injured, seemed like a must-win or at least a chance to steal a critical road game. Maybe an adjustment will be made as the series goes along – not that Budenholzer's famous for making mid-series adjustments – but once again, Budenholzer seems intent on making sure Giannis and company are well rested for games that may never come.
10. Do you believe in magic?
Brook Lopez's fashion game is always entertaining – but in the case of his Harry Potter shirt in Game 1, it's thematically on-point as well. Because now down a game, the Bucks might need some magic to pull off the upset. Or at least a few more three-pointers.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.