It’s time to take a look back at another TNT doubleheader!
Hello and welcome to another edition of Thursday Night Thoughts (TNT) on Friday! In this space I will give my takes on both games of the NBA’s premiere weekly broadcast. If you have any of your own thoughts on last night’s doubleheader, feel free to hit me up on Twitter and tell me about them!
Toronto Raptors 110, Milwaukee Bucks 96
The second verse of this two-game mini-series in Milwaukee was the same as the first: the Toronto Raptors secured another decisive win over the Bucks on Thursday night. The Raptors were without Kyle Lowry due to a sprained left thumb, but that didn’t stop them from picking up the sweep and ending the season series with the 2-1 advantage.
Point blank, the Raptors were the better team this evening. They came out aggressive on both sides of the floor, and really set the tone for this game in the first half, holding a 58-41 lead at halftime. Offensively, Toronto did a great job abusing Milwaukee’s drop coverage. Multiple Bucks defenders struggled to fight over screens while their bigs stayed back in the paint to prevent any layups. As a result, Toronto managed to go 10-of-20 on two-pointers outside of the restricted area. Norman Powell led the charge with a game-high 29 points. He accomplished that total on 9-of-12 shooting. 15 of his points came in the first quarter. Pascal Siakam followed up with 27.
Defensively, it seemed like the Raptors managed to contest almost every Bucks shot attempt. They successful maintained The Giannis Wall that keeps the reigning back-to-back MVP from wreaking havoc in transition. Toronto also made the decision to double Khris Middleton whenever he would try to come off of a screen. These tactics proved successful, as Giannis finished the night with 23 points on 8-of-20 shooting, five turnovers, and he fouled out in the fourth quarter. Middleton had 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting (0-of-3 from three), six turnovers, and four fouls. The two stars’ accounted for 11 of Milwaukee’s 15 total turnovers on the night.
Milwaukee managed to come out less lethargic in the second half. They won the third quarter 31-27, led by the Antetokounmpo brothers. Giannis had quarter-high 11 points, though it was on 3-of-8 shooting. Thansis brought lots of energy off the bench, culminating in a plus-minus of +6, which ended up being a team-high for the game. In the end, however, the Bucks just weren’t as polished as the Raptors, and the absence of Jrue Holiday — missing his sixth consecutive game due to health and safety (read: COVID) protocols — and his two-way abilities was evident.
The Bucks have now lost five straight for the first time in the Mike Budenholzer Era. Milwaukee hasn’t had a streak of futility that long since February 2017 when Jason Kidd was the head coach. Milwaukee also failed to score at least 100 points for the first time this season, ending a streak of 36 regular season games at or above the century mark. The last time they didn’t make it was March 9, 2020, in a 109-95 loss at the Denver Nuggets.
Fortunately, an opportunity for redemption is right around the corner. Milwaukee will host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night, the third game of their eight-game homestand. Unfortunately, OKC, despite their 11-17 record, won’t be a cakewalk. This team has already gotten the best of the Bucks, defeating them 114-109 this past Sunday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Brooklyn Nets 109, Los Angeles Lakers 98
The second game of Thursday’s doubleheader was supposed to be the main event. Sadly, this interconference matchup between second-place teams failed to live up to the hype. The shine of the star-studded event was dimmed by several key absences, and, despite the final score, the game was decided fairly early. Brooklyn held their largest lead, 99-74, with 9:20 left in the fourth quarter. However, the Lakers reserves were able to close the gap in garbage time, making for a more presentable margin by the final buzzer.
The biggest key to Brooklyn’s win was their ability to outpace LA from beyond the arc. Through three quarters, both teams were even in terms of field goal percentage. The Lakers were shooting 50.8 percent, the Nets shot 50 percent even. However, Brooklyn were also shooting 16-of-31 from three-point range, while Los Angeles could only muster a 5-of-18 output from distance. As a result, it was 90-74 game heading into the fourth.
Brooklyn was without Kevin Durant for the third straight game, and the sixth game in the last seven. The beauty of having an offensively potent team, though, is that other players can pick up the slack. James Harden led the charge with 23 points (team-high) and 11 assists (game-high). Joe Harris followed up with 21 points, including six three-pointers on seven attempts. Kyrie Irving finished with 16 points and five assists, even though he struggled with his outside shot (0-of-5 from three) and turnovers (a game-high five).
The Nets secure their fifth consecutive win and are now 4-0 on their west coast road trip. They’ll have the chance for the full sweep when they close out their trip on Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers. Also, the Nets are now 15-2 in games where they’ve led by double-digits at any point (stat courtesy of John Schuhmann). It’s good that a team with this much firepower is capable of closing out games that they firmly control.
Los Angeles, on the other hand, entered the game 8-5 in games where they trailed by double-digits at any point. They’re the only team in the NBA with an above-.500 record in that stat. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get win No. 9 on Thursday. Of course, the team entered the game with Anthony Davis, who will likely be out until at least All-Star Break. However, Dennis Schroder was a late scratch due to health and safety protocols.
While No AD was expected, Schroder’s sudden removal had to have thrown a spanner in the Lakers’ works. He’s an explosive player on both ends of the floor, and I’m sure he played a big role in how the Lakers planned to cut down the Nets. As a result, the Lakers came out sloppy on offense, and that’s the quickest way to lose ground against a team like the Nets. Brooklyn’s shots kept falling, and LA just couldn’t keep up. The Nets took a 21-20 lead with 3:29 left in the first quarter and never looked back.
LeBron James had a great game, pacing his team with 32 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. He also eclipsed the 35,000 career points mark late in the second quarter. James is the third player to reach that plateau, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. He reached this milestone the quickest out of the trio.
At times, LeBron would bulldoze his way into the paint in transition or in early offense in an attempt to jumpstart LA’s offense. It’s honestly amazing he can still do that successfully at 36 years old. Unfortunately, he and Kyle Kuzma (16 points, 10 rebounds) seemed to be the only Lakers with any semblance of rhythm Thursday evening. By the time LeBron left the game for the final time at 5:19 in the fourth, he and Kuzma had combined to shoot 58.3 percent from the field while the rest of the team had shot just 35.1 percent.
This game marks the Lakers’ eighth defeat of the season, and they remain one of three franchises (all in the Western Conference) to still have single-digit losses this year. I don’t see a cause for alarm. Schroder being out may have thrown things off a bit, but LA is still a pretty well-oiled machine. The adventures of the Lake Show continue on ABC Saturday Primetime when they host the Miami Heat in a rematch of the 2020 NBA Finals.