NBA fans were treated to an epic duel between two of the game's greats on Sunday afternoon as reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and former MVP Kevin Durant put on an absolute show. The showdown involving two East powerhouses -- the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks -- came down to the final seconds, but ultimately it was the Bucks that pulled out a tough 117-114 win.
Antetokounmpo finished with a season-high 49 points to go along with eight rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal. Brooklyn just had no answer for Antetokounmpo, who seemed to get virtually every shot he wanted over the course of the contest. With the loss, the Nets dropped to second in the East behind the Philadelphia 76ers, while the Bucks gained a game on Brooklyn. Milwaukee now sits just 2.5 games behind both the Sixers and Nets with a couple of weeks remaining in the regular season.
While the Nets weren't able walk away with a win, it wasn't because of a lack of effort, especially on Durant's part. He went shot-for-shot with Antetokounmpo and also eclipsed the 40-point mark, finishing the game with 42 points along with 10 rebounds. Durant scored 42 points for the second straight game after doing the same against the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night. In the process, Durant became the first Nets player to score 40+ points in back-to-back games since Vince Carter in 2005.
The point production of both Antetokounmpo and Durant was extremely impressive, but it wasn't just the fact that they were scoring at a breakneck pace. They were also doing so in an efficient manner. Antetokounmpo shot 21 of 36 from the floor, while Durant went 16 of 33. Both players shot at least 50 percent from long range with Antetokounmpo going 4 of 8 and Durant hitting 7 of his 13 attempts.
Though Durant and Antetokounmpo stole the show, both had their fair share of help. Khris Middleton recorded 26 points, 11 rebounds and six assists for Milwaukee, while Jrue Holiday added 18 points, five rebounds and four assists. Kyrie Irving was Brooklyn's second leading scorer, finishing with 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Overall, it was an extremely exciting game, and the good news is that we won't have to wait long for a rematch as the two teams are scheduled to go back at it on Tuesday night. But before moving ahead to the next meeting, here's a look at three key takeaways from Milwaukee's win on Sunday.
1. Giannis got the better of Durant on each end
Durant had a great game on Sunday afternoon, but Antetokounmpo had a better one. Antetokounmpo scored more points, shot a better percentage from the floor, and his team walked away with a win, which is the most important stat of all. Plus, Antetokounmpo got the better of Durant on each end of the floor. The game started with Antetokounmpo throwing down an impressive alley-oop directly on Durant:
We should have known that Antetokounmpo would have himself a game after starting off like that. He wasn't done there, though. He got the best of Durant on the offensive end at the beginning of the game, and then he got the best of him on the defensive end toward the end of the game. With just over two minutes remaining, Durant pulled up for a midrange jumper and Antetokounmpo swatted it out to the perimeter:
The play ultimately ended in a made three by Irving, but it was still extremely impressive on Antetokounmpo's part nonetheless. You don't see Durant's silky smooth jumper get blocked very often.
2. Jordan clearly not Nets' answer to defending Giannis
Moving forward, the Nets will have to figure out a better way to defend Antetokounmpo, both on Tuesday night and if the two teams ultimately meet in the postseason. For a large portion of the game on Sunday, the Nets relied on DeAndre Jordan to guard Antetokounmpo, and it didn't go well. Out of the 49 points that Antetokounmpo scored, 35 of them came with Jordan as the primary defender.
It's a tall task to ask anyone to guard Antetokounmpo alone, and Jordan just wasn't up to the task. He wasn't quick enough to keep up with Antetokounmpo laterally, so he was forced to either foul him or concede jump shots, which Antetokounmpo knocked down consistently.
The blame doesn't all fall on Jordan's shoulders, however, as the Nets did nothing to help him out. They didn't try to trap Antetokounmpo or send doubles at him, and they didn't switch primary defenders even after it became abundantly clear that Antetokounmpo was having his way with Jordan. On many plays, it was just Jordan on an island with Antetokounmpo.
It makes sense that the Nets didn't want to put Durant on him because they wanted to conserve his energy for the offensive end, but given Durant's length and athleticism, that might be something that Brooklyn wants to explore more in the future. Similarly, it's tough to double-team Antetokounmpo as the Bucks have a plethora of shooters around him, but ultimately when a player is single-handedly dominating you like Giannis was, you have to try to take the ball out of his hands and force other players to beat you. It will be interesting to see what kind of adjustments, if any, Nets coach Steve Nash makes when it comes to defending Antetokounmpo on Tuesday night.
3. The race for East's top seed got a little bit tighter
Had the Nets won this game, they would have maintained their position as the top seed in the East. With the loss, though, they slipped to second behind the Sixers, who hold the tiebreaker between the two teams.
The Sixers now control their own destiny for the No. 1 seed, and they have a significantly easier schedule for the remainder of the regular season than the Nets. The Bucks also climbed closer to both the Sixers and Nets with the win, as they're now just 2.5 games behind both teams with a couple of weeks remaining in the regular season. If they're able to best the Nets again on Tuesday night, they'll climb even closer to the top of the standings. Whoever wins that game will hold the tiebreaker between the two teams, as they've both won one game against the other so far this season.