Playing without Kevin Durant (who has yet to see the floor for Brooklyn), Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LaVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen, the Nets needed a miracle to beat the 54-13 Milwaukee Bucks Tuesday. And that’s just what the basketball gods gave them.
Beating the Bucks—who weren’t exactly giving it their all—in a seeding game with no fans in attendance isn’t quite the same as upsetting the Soviets in Lake Placid. But beggars can’t be choosers and the eighth-seeded Nets are certainly that. In danger of facing these very same Bucks in their first-round playoff series (not that playing the second-seeded Raptors, winners of 23 of their last 27, would be much easier), the Nets entered Tuesday’s game in Orlando as enormous 19-point underdogs, but prevailed nonetheless, winning by a final count of 119-116.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot (his last name is so long it doesn’t even fit in ESPN’s box score) was the hero for Brooklyn, notching a career-high 26 points including 17 in the second half on efficient 8-of-12 shooting. Meanwhile Garrett Temple gave a balanced effort with 19 points, five boards, four assists and two blocked shots. Temple’s clutch jumper from just inside the arc sealed it with 7.3 to go as the Nets handed the Bucks just their fourth “home” loss of the season.
There’s no denying the injury-depleted Nets showed considerable moxie in conquering the high-powered Bucks, but let’s not give them too much credit. This game carried little significance to the Bucks who, barring a complete collapse, will enter postseason play as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed. Coming off a taxing loss to Houston on Sunday night, the Bucks likely saw this game as an opportunity to give their stars a breather. To that end, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton logged 16 minutes each with neither leaving the bench in the second half. Tuesday represented Giannis’ lightest workload of the season while Middleton’s 16 minutes of game action were his fewest since the Bucks’ 41-point rout of Charlotte on November 30.
Sportsbooks probably should have anticipated the Bucks wouldn’t be going full throttle and adjusted their odds accordingly. But with Vegas asleep at the wheel, the undermanned Nets scored one of the biggest moneyline upsets in recent memory. In fact, according to Barstool Bets, Brooklyn faced the steepest odds (+1600) of any winning team since the Lakers in 2016.
After getting off to a blistering start, Milwaukee has fallen back to Earth, quietly dropping six of its last nine including two of three in the Orlando bubble. To the untrained eye, it might seem like the Bucks are in a slump, but they’re actually doing it exactly right. With the Raptors and Celtics both posing significant Eastern Conference threats, the Bucks know they’ll need to save all the bullets they can for the postseason.