Nets’ suffocating defense can turn Bucks series ugly fast

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There is a chance this all falls under the umbrella of the old chicken-or-the-egg theory. Are the Bucks making the Nets defense look like the ’85 Bears? Are the Nets making the Bucks’ offense look like the last-place team in your town’s 8-and-under rec league?

Probably a little of both.

The Bucks look awful. Worse: they look done. They look frustrated, flummoxed, puzzled, perplexed. They don’t look like they belong in the same area code as the Nets, let alone on the same court. Game 1 was a schooling. Game 2 — Nets 125, Bucks 86 — was a trip to the woodshed. If not the wood chipper.

And, sure, the Bucks missed their share of good, open looks early.

But it is worth remembering that the one thing the rest of the NBA was prepared to hang its hat on in figuring out the Nets — besides the likelihood that they might suffer a debilitating injury — is the fact that, for the most part, the Nets treated the 72-game regular season and the five-game warm-up round win over the Celtics as if defense was some kind of boring, bourgeoisie task for others to worry about.

“We’re growing,” Steve Nash kept insisting.

The Nets had shown some flashes against the Celtics. After a 32-point quarter in Game 1 of this series, they closed their fists around the Bucks the final three quarters. But this was something else. This was start-to-finish, end-to-end. There were large swaths of the game when it felt like the Nets were on a power play, and a five-on-three one to boot.

Part of that is extraordinary offense.

And part was a defense that suffocated the Bucks and ultimately sent them back to Wisconsin wondering if they can figure this out in time to make a tangible difference, even on their home floor.

“We battled, we scrapped, we fought,” Nash said when the carnage was complete. “We did the little things you have to do to win.”

Blake Griffin guards Giannis Antetokounmpo on Monday.
Blake Griffin guards Giannis Antetokounmpo on Monday.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

And the big things, too, especially with James Harden watching the game in civilian clothes. The offense was extraordinary, as usual, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving combining for 54 points. But we’ve come to expect that, even when the Nets are shorthanded.

We aren’t used to seeing the Nets hold an elite offensive team like the Bucks to 44 percent shooting from the floor, 29.6 percent from 3. The Bucks were so shaken they only made four of their nine free-throw attempts. The basket looked as big as a thimble all night. And the Nets helped shrink it for them.

“The guys have worked hard this year trying to find our best level on that end of the court,” Nash said. “Tonight was exceptional. It’s been pretty solid throughout the payoffs, we feel like underdogs on defense, relying on heart and connectivity.”

Underdogs is a funny word to use in regards to the Nets right now, who are overdogs in almost every way. At the least, it was thought that the Bucks — who’ve been a contender for years and played them well all three games this year, winning twice — would push the Nets to another level. And they have. The Bucks just haven’t gone along for the ride. Not yet.

In the history of playoff blowouts, the one that usually offers the most hope and good cheer for the victims of such dustings is the Memorial Day Massacre, May 27, 1985, when the Celtics jumped to a 79-49 halftime lead in Game 1 of the NBA Finals at old Boston Garden before settling for a 148-114 final.

The Lakers recovered from that, won the series, won clinching Game 6 at the Garden, in fact. That has always been a life raft for playoff teams who play so poorly that it allowed the great Marv Albert, at least one more time, to speak of “extensive gar-BAJ time.”

If that really does help the Bucks, God bless. Same to the rest of the league. Because if the Nets are going to play defense like this? Mike Breen might want to ask Marv if he can borrow that catch phrase for the Finals. Because this won’t be the last one-sided night we’re going to see.

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