The 2021-22 NBA season tipped off Tuesday night, and it was the Milwaukee Bucks who came away with the first win of the season in a dominant 127-104 performance over Kevin Durant, James Harden and the Brooklyn Nets. The Bucks also received their championship rings and raised a banner to the rafters of Fiserv Forum to kick off the opening night of the league's 75th anniversary.
Reigning Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks, finishing the win with 32 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists. Khris Middleton tacked on another 20 points and nine rebounds, while Grayson Allen added 10 points, six assists and four rebounds to help overcome the loss of Jrue Holiday for the second half. For Brooklyn, Durant and Harden paced the Nets offensively combining for 52 points, 19 rebounds and 12 assists in the loss.
The Bucks showed minimal rust throughout the game, while Brooklyn struggled to get into a rhythm and couldn't stop Milwaukee on the other end of the floor. It's just one game, and the Nets will be able to use this loss as an opportunity to make adjustments for their next matchup. But until then, here are three key takeaways from the Bucks-Nets game.
1. Bucks dominated from start to end
From the opening tip to the final buzzer, Milwaukee controlled everything about this game. It started with Giannis, but that dominance spread to virtually every other player in a Bucks uniform. If it wasn't Antetokounmpo getting a bucket at the rim, it was Pat Connaughton beating someone off the dribble (surprising, I know) for a bucket. Or it was Grayson Allen drilling three triples and finishing the night with 10 points. Jordan Nwora came off the bench and made an impact in a variety of ways, going 3-for-6 from deep and shooting 41.7 percent from the field.
When it was announced that Jrue Holiday wouldn't return to the game with a right heel contusion, which kept him out of the second half, George Hill stepped into that familiar role and operated as a facilitator for the Bucks. But, of course, the most impressive part of Milwaukee's win was Antetokounmpo's performance.
Just look at this absurd bucket around Durant:
It's as if no time had passed between Antetokoumpo's 50-point, championship-clinching performance and tonight's game because he was in midseason form. We all know he's a dominating force when he gets downhill, and tonight was no exception, but what really stood out was his passing. Antetokounmpo would've finished with a triple-double if some of his teammates knocked down a few more shots created by him, but even still, the seven assists he delivered were mesmerizing at times.
This one to Allen in the third quarter was something you'd see from the likes of Luka Doncic or LaMelo Ball, but we're seeing it from a 6-11 forward who just looks incredibly comfortable pulling this off:
Though Giannis didn't get much attention for MVP entering the season, tonight's performance showed that perhaps he should be in that conversation, even if he's already won the award twice.
2. Welcome to the Nets, Patty Mills
There wasn't a lot to like about Brooklyn's performance against the Bucks, but one of the few bright spots was definitely Mills' game off the bench. He finished the night with 21 points, second behind Kevin Durant and a team-high plus-7. He was incredibly efficient from everywhere on the floor, and his seven made 3-pointers tied the Nets record for most triples made in a game off the bench. Mills also matched the NBA record for 3-pointers made in a player's debut with a new team.
The question heading into tonight was how would the Nets fare without Kyrie Irving's production, and I think they got their answer after Mills' performance. This is exactly what you want out of Mills if you're Brooklyn, as he was instant offense every time he stepped on the floor or had the ball in his hands. He pushed the pace, got to his spots and even got a steal and block each.
Mills has never averaged over 11 points a game in his 12-year NBA career, so it may be unrealistic to think he could keep up the pace he set tonight, but he's certainly capable of putting up 13-15 points a contest, especially if he keeps shooting the 3-ball as he did against the Bucks. Brooklyn won't need Mills to be a gunner every night, but it's good to know that he can be if needed.
3. Brooklyn's depth was nowhere to be found
For as good as Mills was off the bench for the Nets, that's about where the compliments end for the Nets' second unit. This is a team that was touted as the deepest team in the league after signing guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap, but neither of those guys played a real factor in this game tonight. In fact, Mills was the only bench player for the Nets to make a field goal all game, and if it weren't for some garbage time fouls, the Aussie guard would've been the only player in the second unit to put points on the board.
Obviously, it isn't time to freak out if you're the Nets. It's going to take time for these guys to mesh together well, but it's just impossible to ignore how poorly Aldridge and Millsap both played. Millsap only registered five minutes and didn't take a single shot, while Aldridge missed both shots he took and went 1-for-4 at the foul line. Aldridge hasn't played in a year, so rust is to be expected, but he looked far from the guy who averaged 13.5 points in his last full season in the league.
Nets coach Steve Nash said prior to the game that he plans on tinkering with the lineup early in the season, as Brooklyn has the potential to be a 10-deep rotation. So games like this where guys can't buy a shot are to be expected, but it was just jarring to see in the first game after so much talk about how great the Nets' depth was going to be. It's also worth noting that guard Bruce Brown only saw about four minutes of action against the Bucks, and he clearly was the odd man out of the deep rotation that Nash is tinkering with. After being so crucial for the Nets last season, perhaps we see more of him in the next game.