Antetokounmpo casually tallied 32 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a 127-104 win over Kevin Durant, James Harden and the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday in the NBA opener of the 2021-22 campaign, looking a lot like a man in full control of his basketball powers. It was a resounding reminder that the road to a championship goes through Milwaukee, even though Brooklyn entered the season as a favorite.
“Obviously we were all excited for the ring and to see our banner”, Antetokounmpo told TNT’s Stephanie Ready on post-match broadcast, when the nerves were shaken. “It’s a little hard to balance that – to move from that excitement and that emotional state to getting ready to play a game, but I think we did a great job when it was over. We were able to focus on our game plan and on ourselves. , and we were able to achieve victory. “
With the garbage time, to boot.
The last time he played against the Nets, Antetokounmpo faced Durant in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, his Bucks winning overtime. The series left us with a few questions about who was the best player in the East, if not the league. And the last time we saw Antetokounmpo on the pitch for good, he dropped 50 points in the title win over the Phoenix Suns, submitting his answer.
Durant was one of the few Nets committed enough to match the intensity of a defending champion straddling the confidence of the franchise’s first banner-raising night in 50 years. He recorded 32 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in a wasted effort. Harden added 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Brooklyn looked old at the start of the team’s season. Former All-Stars turned title mercenaries Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap finished with a total of seven points on seven shots in 44 minutes of action. Steve Nash has prioritized 34-year-old James Johnson – on his sixth list since February 2020 – over Bruce Brown, a younger and better option the Nets relied on for versatility last season.
Nash also rode Nic Claxton and Aldridge as a traditional center tandem, rather than retesting Griffin as five small balls in the lineups that have performed so well in the playoffs. Maybe the Nets are just a team that knows they’ll still be there at the end, at their own pace, and tinkering around with a rotation of veterans.
The absence of All-Star playmaker Kyrie Irving was the elephant in the room, until Hall of Famer Charles Barkley openly tore up Irving’s anti-vaccination stance during the NBA on the show half-time of TNT. Irving was not in uniform for the Nets as they banned him from all practices and games until he got his COVID-19 shot or the New York City warrant that prevents him to attend the Barclays Center be lifted.
“You don’t get the vaccine just for yourself,” Barkley said, echoing Commissioner Adam Silver’s comments earlier in the evening. “You get vaccinated for your family first. You get vaccinated for your teammates then. Things like that. That’s what bothers me about all of this. I think everyone should get the shot. I’m really proud of the Nets for putting their foot down, for saying, ‘No, we’re not going to half take care of this. The only thing that bothers me is that he’s going to make another $ 17 million sitting at home. “
Newly signed playmaker Patty Mills fared well in Irving’s absence, scoring 21 points on a 7-for-7 shot from the 3-point range off the bench. For those who count at home, he is on the verge of making his 574 of his 3 this season. The rest of the Brooklyn bench combined to miss their nine opening night shots.
The best thing the Nets had going for them on Tuesday was Harden’s post-game commitment to the team.
The Bucks haven’t completed nearly half of their rotation, as Bobby Portis, Donte DiVincenzo, Rodney Hood and Semi Ojeleye are all injured early in the season. All-Defensive playmaker Jrue Holiday’s second quarter injury (bruised heel) put the Milwaukee bench to the test again, but reserves Pat Connaughton and rarely used second-year winger David Nwora combined for 35 points on 14 shots out of 26 (7 -15 3P).
Khris Middleton (20 points), Holiday (12) and Grayson Allen (10) put six dollars in double digits. They seemed a lot more connected than the Nets, spinning the ball on offense and suffocating it on the other end.
Antetokounmpo hardly needed all this help. He was everywhere from the start, Claxton lock at the rim, smoothly enter his first 3-point of the season and complete a transition dunk on a Middleton rifle pass that you can feel free to mark as the first pass favorite of the year. All in the first trimester.
Antetokounmpo even made seven of his nine free throws. If his 50-point result last season was like an all-time record, the league is better off than he hit his cap because Tuesday was one hell of a warm-up exercise for the recall. It could be a long, cold winter for Milwaukee’s opponents.
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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have any advice? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach