We're nearing the end of the NBA's regular season. Sometimes it has felt like fans of the Brooklyn Nets have lived nine lives. But as we hurdle toward the home stretch, we got one game that's certainly starting to feel like a rivalry matchup.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the defending champs, the Milwaukee Bucks, came to Barclays Center on Thursday. Needless to say, the game got more than a little chippy. It sounds like the Nets didn't appreciate the style of play the Bucks implemented. The word “reckless” was used a few times after a 120-119 Bucks overtime win, which now has the Nets tied for eighth place with both the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks.
There's history here with these Bucks now. Remember back in 2021, during the Eastern Conference Semis? Kyrie Irving landed on Giannis' foot, sprained his ankle, and missed the rest of a series that came down to the absolute wire.
Here was the unfortunate play:
Kyrie Irving goes down hard with an ankle injury pic.twitter.com/Itu2E7xIem
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) June 13, 2021
Here's how Irving referred to that play, this past January. Sounds like he thinks Giannis was a little bit “reckless.”
“In the playoffs last year, James (Harden) goes out. And then, I’m going up for a shot and Giannis comes over and his foot just happens to be in the way?”
Hmmm … just happens to be? Not what you'd say if you felt it was a total act of randomness, is it?
Fast forward. That little bit of history, and the way it shaped a series that came down to a toe on a line, hasn't been forgotten by these Nets.
With the history in mind, the first play in question was this one, when Bruce Brown slowed up just a bit on a breakaway dunk, allowing Bucks wing Khris Middleton to catch up and commit a flagrant foul:
Bruce Brown slowed up on this fast break and Khris Middleton caught up to foul him hard. Middleton was assessed a flagrant 2 and ejected 😳
Good or bad call to eject Middleton? 🤔pic.twitter.com/zV5PqMhQXj
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) April 1, 2022
Middleton was too late to make a basketball play, so a flagrant call was clearly warranted. The next question was basically how unnecessary and dangerous was his play? Officials deemed it enough to warrant an ejection.
“I thought the Middleton play was risky,” Nash said after the game. “You know, guy left his feet and you're coming from behind and if you grab the arm, that's a very dangerous play. Unfortunate, I don't think Khris is a dirty player at all, but that is a dangerous play.”
In this writer's humble opinion, I understand it's not common to eject a player for a play like this. But I'm fine with the outcome. I'd rather defenders give up an open dunk when they don't have any chance at a clean block. Intentionally fouling a guy in mid-air after sprinting for a dunk can only end badly.
That play set the stage for postgame comments from Nets players.
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Bruce Brown, who landed hard on his wrist, was the first to weigh in.
“I feel fine, I'm good. I think I just bruised a bone in my wrist,” Brown said, sounding pretty casual for a guy admitting he thinks he has a bone bruise but is known around these parts for his toughness. “But, yeah, I seen Khris [Middleton] behind me, I didn't think he was gonna grab me out the air, but it's cool, it's just a hard foul, I'm good.”
Was that a basketball play?
“I mean, I wouldn't do it, but I don't care, it's fine,” Brown admitted.
He clearly felt some type of way about the hard and dangerous foul but didn't want to say too much. He admitted he was trying to avoid fines as well:
"I seen Khris behind me I didn't think he was gonna grab me out the air but it's cool, it was just a hard foul I'm good."
Reporter: Was that a basketball play?
"…I mean I wouldn't do it but I don't care, it's fine."
Bruce Brown on the foul that got Khris Middleton ejected pic.twitter.com/DMAs8gqU0t
— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) April 1, 2022
You can tell in the clip of the foul above that Brown wasn't exactly fine with it in the moment. Maybe Middleton showing immediate remorse calmed Brown down, but the Swiss Army Knife looked furious when it first happened. Thankfully he wasn't hurt badly, although we'll keep an ear out for updates on his bone bruise.
Kyrie Irving was the next to talk about the Bucks' style of play.
“They're playing pretty physical. I think they were a little reckless at times just on a lot of their fouls, or a few of their fouls. … That's who they are, but I just think it was just reckless sometimes,” Irving said.
The line “that's who they are” certainly feels loaded given the context, doesn't it? I think he meant they're very physical and make reckless plays enough that it's part of their identity now. But you can listen for yourelf:
"They're playing pretty physical. I think they were a little reckless at times on a lot of their fouls, or a few of their fouls. That's who they are, but I just think it was just reckless sometimes."
Kyrie Irving on the Bucks 👀
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) April 1, 2022
Irving was asked about a few different plays in the clip above, one by Middleton and another one by Giannis.
“I'm not trying to get into individual plays,” Irving said. “I'll leave it to people that are observing the game, but it's just recklessness. You know, just being in the way at times when it's an easy play to avoid,” Irving said.
For a little extra context, here was another play Irving felt was reckless from Nassir Little of Portland back in January. Perhaps this dive toward Irving's legs would go under the definition of “easy to avoid” for the Nets star:
Here is the diving play by Nassir Little that Kyrie Irving felt was ‘unnecessary.’ Irving rolled his left ankle but finished the game and said he’ll be available for Chicago. pic.twitter.com/4qOkQpEl6j
— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) January 11, 2022
Next was Kevin Durant to get in on our theme of the night. Durant was visibly shaken up late in this one, grabbing his ankle after this foul by Bucks guard Wesley Matthews:
It was a three-shot foul but not ruled a flagrant since KD had already landed when the contact occurred. It's only a flagrant when you occupy someone's landing space before he lands, not after. Maybe the league will want to revisit that one, though. We don't want players crashing into shooter's legs even after they've landed when they're still susceptible to ankle rolls like in this one.
Durant didn't seem to appreciate the play by Matthews. Watch until the end of this back-and-forth:
"We all thought that was reckless right?… he came running into my leg though… as soon as I hit the floor, he came running at my leg, but he didn't make a contest, I thought it was supposed to be a flagrant."
-Kevin Durant on Wes Matthews "reckless" foul on his corner 3. pic.twitter.com/MWa0YPD9zL
— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) April 1, 2022
Durant was asked by YES Network's Michael Grady if that was a “reckless” closeout. Durant flipped the question right back.
“I mean, we all thought that was reckless, right?” asked Durant.
“But I think, technically, like I have to be in the air and if I come down on his foot then that's the flagrant. But he can run into my leg, though, a split second before, as I was coming down I mighta hit the floor, then as soon as I hit the floor here he come running at my leg. But he didn't make, it wasn't a contest, I thought it was supposed to be a flagrant. But, technically, I didn't make the correct play to get a flagrant.”
It's pretty clear KD has identified a flaw in the rule if this is the case. But is he hurt? He stayed down after the play for a minute or two.
“I'm hurting,” Durant admitted. “That's two games in a row players walked up underneath me and I'm trying to make a basketball play so my ankle's hurt.”
But is he miss a game hurt or what?
“Nah, I'm good,” he said, cutting off the questioner. “It's a little sore, you know how that go. Or do you?”
Durant was questioning if the reporter who asked knew what it was like to play through a sore ankle. Now that's a story to take home.
“Hey, honey, how was work?”
“Amazing, best day ever!
“Why? What happened?”
“After the game Kevin Durant like … I'm pretty sure he called me a wuss.”
“And that's a good thing?”
“Actually, yeah it was a total rush. He basically said I could never gut through a sore ankle like he can.”
If the Nets and Bucks meet in the playoffs, you already know the atmosphere is going to be turned all the way up. The Nets' comments after a tough one-point loss won't do much to squash whatever beef we have percolating here. But maybe that's just who the Bucks are though, right? They just happen to be in the way on a risky play?