Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks had to quickly adjust their strategy against a Brooklyn Nets team fielding several unfamiliar faces. Antetokounmpo, who had prepared to guard known names on the Nets roster, found himself facing a rotation heavily featuring rookies and players on two-way contracts.
Despite this, the Bucks star put on an impressive performance with 32 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists, leading his team to a 144-122 victory on Wednesday night. The Nets, treating the game with a preseason-like approach, rested three starters and minimally played two others, following a win against Detroit that extended the Pistons’ losing streak to an NBA single-season record.
Antetokounmpo acknowledged the challenge posed by the Nets' lineup: “They competed hard. I don’t know most of them, but definitely, I’ll learn them after today because they made it extremely, extremely tough for us”.
Strong Performances Despite Unexpected Lineup
The Nets, under the guidance of coach Jacque Vaughn, who passionately denied treating the game lightly, gave a commendable performance for three quarters. However, the Bucks' experience and skill eventually overpowered the Nets' makeshift lineup.
Khris Middleton added 27 points and 10 assists, contributing significantly to the Bucks' victory. Cameron Payne and Malik Beasley, each making five 3-pointers, helped the Bucks improve to 10-2 in December. The team bounced back from a recent defeat to the Knicks, rounding off their three-game holiday stay in New York with two wins.
Payne scored 18 points off the bench, and Beasley finished with 17, while Bobby Portis added 14. The Bucks also excelled from behind the arc, finishing with 45% accuracy. For the Nets, rookie Jalen Wilson led with 21 points and 10 rebounds, with Trendon Watford scoring 17 points.
Dennis Smith Jr. and rookie Noah Clowney each contributed 14 points in a commendable effort from the less experienced players.
Vaughn’s Strategy and Looking Ahead
Vaughn’s decision to rest key players, citing a heavy workload, reflects a strategic approach to managing player health over a rigorous NBA schedule.
Mikal Bridges preserved his consecutive games streak, now at 423 games, but played only in the first quarter. Cam Thomas, Brooklyn's leading scorer with 45 points against Milwaukee last month, also saw limited action.
The Bucks, recognizing the unique situation, remained focused on their goal.The game ended with the Bucks outscoring the Nets 44-30 in the fourth quarter, showcasing their ability to adapt and excel even against an unexpected lineup.
“They knew they were kind of undermanned, but I think Jacque’s doing a phenomenal job there,” said Bucks coach Adrian Griffin. “We took care of business and again, games like this, you’ve just got to find a way to win and get ready for Cleveland”.