The Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets will face off at Barclays Center in Brooklyn for a winner-take-all Game 7 for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. Both teams had championship expectations at the beginning of the season, but one is under more pressure than the other.
It’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.
Circumstances are Everything
At the beginning of the playoffs if we would’ve said these two teams would face off in a Game 7, there would easily be more pressure on the Nets because they had the best team on paper in the league by far. But circumstances have changed.
Kyrie Irving, a seven-time All-Star, hasn’t played since Game 4 due to a sprained ankle. James Harden, a former MVP, played practically on one leg in Game 5 and isn’t anywhere near 100% due to a hamstring injury he suffered in Game 1.
That’s essentially one and a half superstars that Brooklyn will likely be without in Game 7. However, the Bucks are all healthy. Antetokounmpo has the best supporting cast he’s ever had. All-Star Jrue Holiday, Kris Middleton, and P.J. Tucker are by his side. Simply, Milwaukee is a more talented team than Brooklyn is right now.
A Simple Question
Imagine a scenario where the Nets lose Game 7 on Saturday night and beat reporters ask Kevin Durant a simple question during his postgame presser: “Why didn’t you win a championship?” Durant would have a viable excuse. “Harden was hurt and Irving didn’t even play in Games 5, 6, and 7,” he’d say. Durant had to play every minute of Game 5 and drop 49 points (at home) just so Brooklyn could beat Milwaukee by two possessions.
Now, let’s flip the script. The Bucks end up falling in Game 7 on Saturday night and Antetokounmpo is asked the same question after the game. “Why didn’t you win a championship?” Antetokounmpo wouldn’t have any excuse. All he could say is “The undermanned Nets were better than us.”
That would be a moment in Antetokounmpo’s career that nobody would forget. As a two-time MVP with All-Star caliber players on his team, he couldn’t beat an injury-riddled Nets team with a rookie head coach. How crushing would that be?
Different Head Coaching Situations
Steve Nash is a rookie head coach who could tell owner Joe Tsai that he wasn’t able to get to the Eastern Conference Finals because Durant was his only healthy superstar and Joe Harris didn’t shoot like he did in the regular season.
Mike Budenholzer, though, is in his third season as the Bucks head coach. They lost to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019 before losing to the Miami Heat in the bubble last year. He has yet to get his team over the hump yet so if he loses Game 7 against an undermanned Nets team, then how can the Bucks front office believe he’s the right guy to get them to the promised land?
There are many things at stake on Saturday night but there are more things at stake for the Bucks.
Follow Ben Fadden on Twitter @ben_fadden
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