NBA

NBA playoffs 2021: Giannis wants Bucks to 'keep getting better' after sweep of Heat

By Sports Desk May 29, 2021

Giannis Antetokounmpo knows the Milwaukee Bucks can beat the teams a variety of ways, and they had to take the hard road Saturday. 

The Miami Heat held the Bucks' top two scorers without a field goal in the first quarter of Game 4, but Milwaukee pushed through that early adversity and prevailed 120-103 to sweep the first-round NBA playoff series. 

Khris Middleton finally got on the board early in the second quarter and the Greek star went without a basket from the field until a dunk with one minute to play in the second quarter, but Antetokounmpo said his team never lost patience even when their shots failed to fall. 

"At the end of the day, nothing's going to be easy. It's a game that's win or go home for them," he said.

"Obviously they're going to play extremely hard, they're going to try to be physical, they're going to try to get us out of our spots.

"But at the end of the day, as players you're going to have games that you're going to come, you're going to score the ball right off the bat. There's going to be days that you're not going to do that.

"Today was one of those days that we couldn't score the ball right off the bat but at the end of the day we keep finding one another, keep facilitating, keep playing the right way. For me and for Khris, that's what we both did.

"Obviously they did a great job guarding us and just making it tough for us, but it did not really test our patience, because what we do, we keep playing the right way, we keep finding one another."

Antetokounmpo turned in a career-best 15 assists on the way to his first playoff triple-double, adding 20 points and 12 rebounds as the Bucks out-scored the Heat 64-39 in the second half. 

But he left most of the scoring load to others this time, as Brook Lopez led the way with 25 points, Middleton had 20, and Bryn Forbes scored 22 off the bench. 

"I try to affect the game in any way I can," Antetokounmpo said.

"I'm blessed enough that I can affect the game defensively, I can pass the ball.

"There's days I'm going to be dominant, and I'm mature enough to understand that there's days I'm going to be able to do it and there's days I'm not going to be able to do it."

Thanks to their first-round sweep, Milwaukee will have a week off before the next round, where they were eliminated 4-1 by the Bucks last season. 

Antetokounmpo and his teammates want more this year, and they know this was just the start. 

"We've got to keep getting better. We have a week now to recover and rest our bodies and get better," he said.

Obviously we don't know who we're playing yet. We're going to try to focus on ourselves as much as possible. 

"Not trying to take anything away from this moment -- obviously it's a great moment for us, winning 4-0 and beating the team that beat us last year. It feels good. But at the end of the day, we've got a long way to go. Gotta stay humble."

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  • Tokyo Olympics: Durant backs Tatum to top his new Team USA record Tokyo Olympics: Durant backs Tatum to top his new Team USA record

    Kevin Durant believes Jayson Tatum will eventually claim the Team USA points record he just took from Carmelo Anthony.

    In scoring 23 points in the United States' 119-84 win over the Czech Republic – a victory that secured their progression to the quarter-finals at Tokyo 2020 – Durant reached 354 in Olympic play.

    He is now past Anthony (336) and will expect to stretch his advantage in pursuit of a third Games gold.

    The three-pointer that took Durant to new heights gave Team USA their first lead midway through the second quarter, with the Brooklyn Nets forward leading his country's recovery from a slow start.

    Tatum took control thereafter, though, finishing on a game-high 27 points.

    The 23-year-old is appearing at his first Games but has 50 points through three appearances, prompting Durant to make a bold claim.

    Appearing alongside Tatum in a post-game interview, Durant said: "This guy to the left, I think he's going to be the next one to break that record."

     

    Tatum boosted his total with five-for-10 three-point shooting, as the United States made 20 shots from deep – tied for their third-most in an Olympic game.

    Coach Gregg Popovich said of Tatum: "Obviously he's more confident but he makes better choices, decision-making wise.

    "He attacks for himself and for a team-mate at the same time, and he didn't do that in the very beginning in the league; he was just a scorer.

    "But now he's valuable because he does the other things. He's starting to rebound better. We're telling him that it's important, we're not that big and we do need him on the boards."

    In the same news conference, Durant was asked again about his achievement in surpassing Anthony.

    "You just think about all the players that played in this programme and [it is] pretty cool to be among names like that," he said.

    "Carmelo is a guy that I played on two Olympic teams with and I've seen his approach to these games and I try to steal some of his techniques and approach.

    "It's still pretty weird for me to do stuff like this because I play a team sport and I try my hardest to make it about the group.

    "But it is special to do something like that and scoring is something that I've worked on my whole career and something that I've expanded my whole career, and to consistently do it is pretty cool."

  • Tokyo Olympics: Durant and Tatum shine as Team USA run riot Tokyo Olympics: Durant and Tatum shine as Team USA run riot

    The Czech Republic were no match for the United States as Jayson Tatum and Kevin Durant starred in a 119-84 romp.

    Team USA's emphatic victory sealed their place in the quarter-finals as the second-placed side in Group A and ensured they will not face one of the pool winners.

    Durant put up 23 points and six assists, overturning an early deficit, while Tatum led the team with 27 points, including five three-pointers.

    Team USA's 20 threes represented the fourth time they have managed as many in an Olympic game,  also doing so against Argentina in 2012 (20), Lithuania in 2004 (21) and Nigeria in 2012 (29).

    Due to the margin of defeat, the Czechs – who threatened an upset before falling away dramatically – will not progress into the next round as one of the best third-placed sides.

    ROTATION GAME

    France were able to rest some star names as they progressed. Les Bleus had won their opening two games and completed a clean sweep in Group A with a 79-62 victory over Iran.

    Only one player – Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot – played more than 20 minutes, with star men Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert given limited game time.

    Nando De Colo enjoyed a highly efficient cameo in his 15 minutes on court, scoring 10 points on 100 per cent shooting while adding five rebounds and five assists.

    Iran talisman Hamed Haddadi finished off his Olympic campaign with an 18-point showing, but it was not enough to keep his team in the tournament.

    France have already beaten the United States, but Fournier dismissed the suggestion they are gold medal favourites.

    "To be honest, I'm not even focused on the gold medal, just the quarter-finals," he said. "Any team that we are going to play there will have its strengths and weaknesses, but I can't tell you who I would prefer there because we don't even know who's going to be there."

    AUSTRALIA CLAIM TOP SPOT

    Patty Mills scored five threes in a haul of 24 points as he led Australia to an 89-76 victory over Germany.

    The Boomers needed victory to secure first place in Group B and they did so with a 13-point margin to ensure they will be seeded in the quarter-final draw on Sunday.

    Despite defeat, Germany will go through as one of the best third-placed teams.

    Mills is heading into unrestricted free agency in the NBA, but his sole focus is on propelling Australia towards a medal.

    "This is a lifetime of work in a matter of a couple of weeks. I'm making sure there are no distractions for me or my team-mates," he said.

    MANNION SEALS FOURTH-QUARTER FIGHTBACK

    Italy clinched a spot in the last eight by overturning an eight-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to beat Nigeria 80-71 in Group B.

    Nico Mannion scored 14 points in 16 minutes, including a vital late effort from deep to help seal Italy's comeback success as Nigeria ended winless following a 24-8 fourth quarter.

    "I think everybody is surprised with the way he's playing, he's showing everybody that he's a great player. Also, he's only 20 years old," Achille Polonara said of Golden State Warriors guard Mannion.

    "I hope that he can help us like this in the next game, too. He's a great guy, he's very happy to stay with us, and we're very happy to have him."

  • Dallas Mavericks: A new era starts but Luka Doncic the undoubted cornerstone Dallas Mavericks: A new era starts but Luka Doncic the undoubted cornerstone

    A decade ago, the Dallas Mavericks stood atop the basketball world after Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and company won the NBA Finals over a heavily favoured Miami Heat team that featured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in their first season together.

    With the Heat dynasty clearly on the rise and with the Mavs fielding a veteran roster already, Dallas decided not to make an earnest title defense and traded defensive anchor Tyson Chandler.

    The Mavericks have yet to win a playoff series since those 2011 NBA Finals.

    Despite postseason appearances in six of the past 10 seasons and the acquisition of a generational talent in Luka Doncic, owner Mark Cuban decided change needed to come in the 2021 offseason.

    Gone is Donnie Nelson, who had been the general manager since 2002 and was the architect of that title team a decade ago.

    Also gone is longtime head coach Rick Carlisle, who had been in place since 2008 and amassed a record of 555-478. Nonetheless, Cuban decided to change things up.

    "The league has changed in the 21 years since I've been here," Cuban said. "Players have changed. How you build a championship team has changed. Sometimes you just have to look to have a different tool set."

    Who is in charge?

    Doncic and Nelson have a famously close relationship and the 22-year-old star was disappointed to see his longtime friend replaced by former Nike executive Nico Harrison as general manager.

    While training with Slovenia in preparation for the Olympic Games, Doncic admitted he was less than thrilled by the move:  "It was kind of tough to me. I really like Donnie. I know him since I was a kid and he was the one that drafted me.

    "It was tough for me seeing that, but I'm not the one making decisions there."

    This indicates that Cuban, who has long held the reputation as one of the most involved owners in American sports, was asserting his view of what the Mavs' leadership team should look like.

    Yet moving on from Carlisle, long considered a leading NBA coach, appears to be a move targeted at appeasing Doncic. The young star had openly shown his disapproval with some of Carlisle's coaching decisions and substitution patterns, becoming increasingly prone to on-court displays of frustration.

    Doncic may not quite wield the sway of someone like LeBron James, who has become the face of the "player empowerment era" in the NBA, but Cuban has wisely taken Doncic's input into consideration.

    And as much as the hiring of a new leadership team represents a new era for the Mavs, Cuban is clearly trying to revive some of the magic of the 2011 squad.

    Jason Kidd was named the team's next head coach, with it also announced that Dirk Nowitzki would begin a formal role as a front office advisor – two moves that also surround Doncic with mentors to help him progress into a champion.

     

    The cornerstone

    Doncic's career is off to an unprecedented start, and Dallas clearly intends to build around its multi-talented superstar well into the future. Doncic was the fastest in NBA history to reach 5,000 points, 1,500 rebounds and 1,500 assists, hitting those marks in 195 career games.

    LeBron James took 228 games to reach those numbers. Michael Jordan needed 282 games.

    Doncic has also improved every season since entering the league in 2018. Already a triple-double machine, he posted career-high efficiency in 2020-21 by shooting 47.9 per cent from the floor and 35.0 per cent from three-point range.

    His game has started to mature, as well, especially as a scorer. Doncic is a child of the shot-efficiency era, and he has always gotten shots from the most efficient areas on the floor – at the rim, behind the 3-point line and at the free throw line. Those shots remain valuable, but Doncic has diversified arsenal of mid-range options by developing a variety of floaters and pull-ups. He shot 51.5 per cent from mid-range last season – better than mid-range maestro Devin Booker (51.2 per cent) – after shooting around 41 per cent in his first two seasons.

    This bodes well as an indicator of future success in the postseason, when opponents' defenses are geared toward taking away the most efficient shots.

    Doncic's numbers are virtually unassailable and make him almost a lock to win an MVP – if not more – at some point in his career. It can be hard to forget, though, that Doncic has only played three years in the NBA.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo, although a less refined prospect when drafted, needed until his sixth season to win his first MVP and became a champion in his eighth season only after suffering heart-breaking losses, sanding away some rough edges in his game that made him vulnerable in the playoffs and evolving into a true leader.

    Doncic's numbers may remain steadily impressive over the coming years, but he can still grow and develop in subtle ways as he matures. Kidd, a dynamic triple-double threat in his own playing days, will be responsible for overseeing Doncic’s growth.

    "My job is to give him answers to the test," Kidd said of Doncic. "His imagination is at the highest level, which is a great thing to be a part of. I (as a young player) tried a lot of things, and I know I drove a lot of my coaches crazy. I won't get mad because I've been in those shoes."

    Do the pieces fit?

    With a .362 usage rate last season, Doncic shouldered the largest offensive burden of any player in the league. Kidd has already said publicly that the superstar will need more help from his team-mates going forward.

    "Not having to bring the ball up every time and start the play," Kidd said. "When you look at the fourth quarter, he wears down at times."

    Further evidence that Doncic will need more help is that he has exploded for more than 40 points in five of his 13 career playoff games, yet the Mavericks are just 2-3 in those games.

    Kristaps Porzingis has been tabbed as the second option in Dallas but could end up in trade rumours sooner rather than later after a flaccid playoff performance, averaging just 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

    Despite largely considered a disappointment for not recapturing his peak form, Porzingis still plays an important role as a floor spacer on offense while defending bigger players. And while his numbers fall short of what is expected of a second option, his presence on the court makes Doncic better.

    Porzingis spaces the floor and gives Doncic room to penetrate opposing defenses, allowing him to be more efficient while both scoring and assisting, while also shooting much better from any range with Porzingis on the court compared to when he sits.

    Dallas' depth got worse last offseason with a disastrous trade that sent Seth Curry to the Philadelphia 76ers for Josh Richardson, who has failed to live up to his reputation as a defender and who is yet to match his 17-4-4 averages from his breakout season with Miami in 2018-19.

    After a disappointing regular season, Richardson played just 13.4 minutes per game in the Mavs' first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, averaging 4.9 points and shooting under 40 percent.

    Curry, meanwhile, exploded in the postseason for Philadelphia, averaging 18.8 points and connecting on over half of his three-pointers on 6.8 attempts per game.

    Richardson's defensive prowess also appears to be a farse, as the Mavericks allowed 113.0 points per 100 possessions with him on the court last season and only 107.7 with him on the bench.

    Richardson appears to be a failed experiment, and Dallas will need to look elsewhere to find something resembling a third star.

    Evolution or Revolution? Verdict: Evolution

    The organisation has already undergone a massive transformation by ousting their longtime general manager and head coach in favour of a new direction, so it is fair to say that anything resembling a "revolution" has already taken place in the front office.

    The Mavs' roster is far from a finished product, however, and Harrison will need to hit the ground running in his first general manager job. Dallas did not own the rights to any of its picks in the NBA draft, so he will have already assessed the need to look elsewhere to upgrade the roster around his young superstar.

    The postseason failures and frequent injuries of Porzingis could lead the Mavs to the trade market, but opposing teams have also seen those weaknesses and have adjusted their assessments of him as well. Dallas may be better served by displaying some patience with a player who is still only 25 and has averaged over 20 points per game in three straight campaigns.

    Milwaukee's 2021 title demonstrated that teams can still build patiently while developing players and Dallas may be one acquisition away – as the Bucks were with Jrue Holiday – from becoming contenders once again.

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