The first pairing in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals tips off on Saturday with the #2 Brooklyn Nets and their Big 3 hosting Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo and the #3 Milwaukee Bucks in the most-anticipated series in the NBA playoffs.

Milwaukee Bucks Brooklyn Nets series 2021 NBA Playoffs Greek Freak Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets drives by Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo from the Milwaukee Bucks when the two teams met in May at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. (Image: Getty)

Depending on who you talk to, the winner of this matchup should go on to win the 2021 NBA championship. Even though it’s only the East semis, the Bucks and Nets series is considered the real NBA finals between the two strongest teams remaining in the postseason.

Heading into Game 1, the Bucks are a +3.5 underdog against the Nets at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

2021 NBA Playoffs – Series Odds
#3 Milwaukee Bucks (46-42) vs. #2 Brooklyn Nets (48-24)
Brooklyn Nets -200 Milwaukee Bucks +160


Milwaukee Bucks vs Brooklyn Nets – Series Score Props
Nets win 4-0 +700
Nets win 4-1 +350
Nets win 4-2 +450
Nets win 4-3 +450
Bucks win 4-0 +1400
Bucks win 4-1 +800
Bucks win 4-2 +550
Bucks win 4-3 +650

DraftKings posted a series score-related prop bet for the Bucks and Nets. The Nets winning in five games pays out +350 odds, whereas the Nets locking up the series in six or seven games pays out +450 odds for both scenarios.

Betting the Bucks and Nets

The Bucks and Nets met three times during the regular season, with the Bucks winning 2-1. A total of 11 points separated all three close games. Just before the season ended, Antetokounmpo dropped 49 points in a three-point victory over the Nets. Kevin Durant scored 42 points in the loss without James Harden. But the battle between Antetokounmpo and Durant gave fans a little teaser of a postseason battle.

The Bucks knocking out the Nets in six games paid out +550 odds, while the Bucks winning in seven games pays out +650.

The Nets were the consensus favorites to win the 2021 NBA championship the moment LeBron James fell to the court with a severely sprained ankle at the end of March. You can back the Nets at +175 odds, according to a recent update by the Mirage Casino and Sportsbook in Las Vegas. The Bucks are the third-highest team on the NBA futures board at +500 odds to win the title.

The Bucks lost starting shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo for the rest of the postseason with torn ligaments in his ankle. Pat Connaughton started in his place in Game 4, but Brynn Forbes absorbed most of DD’s minutes with 22 points in Game 4.

Milwaukee Bucks: Greek Freak’s time to shine

The Bucks swept the Miami Heat in the first round to enact a bit of revenge after the Heat knocked them out of the East semifinals last year. The biggest difference was a much stronger defense thanks to the addition of Jrue Holiday and a modern philosophy that embraced switching on screens.

The Bucks added Holiday in the offseason for a series like this. Holiday is one of the NBA’s top two-way players, and he’ll draw the tough defensive assignment against Harden or Kyrie Irving — whoever is giving the Bucks the bigger headache at the time.

Khris Middleton stepped up in the Miami series. Middleton drilled a buzzer beat in overtime to lift the Bucks to a victory in Game 1.

“Khris has been clutch for us all season,” said head coach Mike Budenholzer. “It was fitting he hit a big shot for us to set the tone for the Heat series.”

Middleton averaged 21.5 ppg and shot 40.7% from 3-point range against the Heat. Big man Brook Lopez did a great job at rim-protecting and in shutting down Miami’s Bam Adebayo in the paint. Lopez averaged 15.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in the opening round.

Forbes averaged 15 ppg off the bench and played a key role filling in for DiVincenzo. Although the Bucks didn’t lean on forward PJ Tucker (3.0 ppg) against the Heat, the veteran “big dog” could be a valuable bench player along with center Bobby Portis during an extended series against the Nets.

If the Bucks expect to beat the Nets, they’ll have to knock down their 3-point shots. The Bucks shot only 32.7% against the Heat. Aside from Forbes and Middleton, who both shot over 40% from downtown, the rest of the Bucks struggled from deep.

Brooklyn Nets: Unstoppable offense, surprise defense

The Nets needed only five games to defeat the Boston Celtics in the opening round. Everyone knew the Nets could score with their holy trinity of Durant, Harden, and Irving, but it’s their defense that raised eyebrows in the opening series against the Celtics. The Nets proved they’re not a one-trick pony that will have to outgun opponents to win games. They got much-needed stops in crunch time against the Celtics.

As expected, Brooklyn’s Big 3 provided a major scoring punch. Durant led the Nets with 32.6 ppg, followed by Harden (27.8 ppg), and Irving (24.8 ppg).

Brooklyn Nets Big 3 – Playoff Stats
Points Rebounds Assists 3-PT%
Kevin Durant 32.6 7.4 3.0 50%
James Harden 27.8 7.2 10.6 47.5%
Kyrie Irving 24.8 6.4 2.8 38.9%

The Nets shot 42.6% from 3-point range, which should stretch Milwaukee’s perimeter defense and open up the lane. Joe Harris shot out of his mind from beyond the arc with a 51.5% clip against the Celtics. Durant (50%) and Harden (47.5%) also got a lot of open looks.

Blake Griffin wasn’t much of a factor off the bench in the Boston series with only 4.8 ppg in 20.4 minutes per night. But against the Bucks, Griffin could be the x-factor with all eyes on the Big 3 and Harris’ sniper abilities. Head coach Steve Nash tapped Griffin to defend Antetokounmpo the last two times they met in the regular season.

Check out more of OG’s coverage of the 2021 NBA Playoffs.

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