NBA

Giannis and KD renew acquaintances in Brooklyn

By Sports Desk January 06, 2022

Clear your schedule. There's some appointment viewing in the NBA this week as the Milwaukee Bucks visit the Brooklyn Nets.

The defending NBA champion Bucks renew acquaintances at Barclays Center on Friday with the team they edged in an engrossing Eastern Conference semi-final series last year.

Both Milwaukee and Brooklyn are looking up at the Chicago Bulls, with the Eastern Conference's surprise package continuing to lead the way.

Yet the Bucks and the Nets remain favourites to contest the Conference Finals this season, and their second meeting of the campaign will provide another measuring stick as to who has the edge.

The Nets will not have the unvaccinated Kyrie Irving, who made his season debut against the Indiana Pacers but cannot play in home games due to New York's vaccine mandate.

However, in Kevin Durant they have the NBA's leader in points per game (30.0), and his tussle with Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo - himself averaging 27.9 - promises to be unmissable.

Durant, team-mate James Harden and Antetokounmpo will be the star attractions in Brooklyn, yet some supposed lesser lights could have a decisive say in this marquee matchup.

 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks - Jrue Holiday

Holiday has been key to the Bucks' recent surge, scoring at least 20 points in five of their last eight games, registering three double-doubles in that span.

Excelling as both a scorer and facilitator, the Bucks will likely need Holiday firing on all cylinders for the offense to perform at its best against the Nets.

Brooklyn Nets - LaMarcus Aldridge

Veteran big Aldridge recently revealed he is still suffering from coronavirus symptoms despite clearing the NBA's protocols.

The Nets could certainly use Aldridge at full strength given what he has offered on the defensive end this season. His 4.3 defensive rebounds per game trail only Durant and Harden among Nets players, and he is second on the team in blocked shots with an average of 1.11.

KEY BATTLE - Can Nets bridge three-point gap?

The Bucks were among the most prolific teams in the NBA from the three-point line last month, attempting the second most (603) shots from beyond the arc and converting the third most (217).

Their three-point field goal percentage of 36 was only good enough for 14th. However, with the Nets shooting 32 per cent from deep in December, there is something of a disparity for the home side to make up.

Steve Nash's team are not short of the talent to bridge the gap, though, with Durant, Harden and Co. more than capable of going blow for blow with the Bucks should they get hot from deep.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Having lost to the Bucks back in October, the Nets will be hoping to avoid a fourth straight regular-season defeat in games against Milwaukee.

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  • Champions League final: Familiar it might be, but Liverpool and Real Madrid's desire remains the same Champions League final: Familiar it might be, but Liverpool and Real Madrid's desire remains the same

    Saturday's Champions League final may have a sense of familiarity to it, but for Liverpool and Real Madrid the desire to continue winning trophies is as strong as ever.

    These sides have been involved in five of the past seven finals between them, while Paris is hosting the showpiece event for a sixth time – only London (seven) has done so more.

    The French city hosted the first European Cup final back in 1956, with Madrid winning their first of a record 13 trophies after seeing off Reims at the Parc des Princes.

    Indeed, come kick-off, no two teams will have faced off more times in a European Cup or Champions League final than Liverpool and Madrid (three).

    And yet while it may all feel similar – Liverpool making it to a third Champions League final since 2018, Carlo Ancelotti back on the brink of European glory – it is difficult to remember a similar type of hype surrounding a major club showpiece in recent years.

    That has been clear in Paris in the build-up to the match, with the Eiffel Tower and surrounding fan parks a sea of white and red, colours synonymous with this great competition.

    France certainly knows how to host a major event, explaining why UEFA switched this year's final to the Stade de France with just three months' notice.

    The final had been scheduled for Saint Petersburg, but was shifted to Paris – or Saint-Dennis, more specifically – after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which of course hosted the most recent meeting between these sides; the 2018 final, settled in Madrid's favour by Gareth Bale's heroics and Loris Karius' errors.

    Yet the organisers can only do so much. The onus is now on Liverpool and Madrid to put on a show for the 80,000 inside the ground and the millions watching around the world.

    For Liverpool, there's a shot at a cup treble after winning the EFL Cup and FA Cup with penalty shoot-out victories over Chelsea (both times) at Wembley.

    For Madrid, an opportunity to add their favourite trophy to a LaLiga title sealed with four games to go in a rather serene stroll in Spain's top flight.

    Whereas Los Blancos have been given the opportunity to rotate in the weeks leading up to this match, since their incredible comeback against Manchester City, Liverpool have had to play to their maximum right to the final day.

    This will be game 63 of a gruelling campaign for the Reds – not since Manchester United in 2016-17 has a side from Europe's top five leagues played more in a season (64).

    As Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold were eager to point out in Friday's pre-match news conference, though, fatigue will not play a part against Madrid.

    Nor will the disappointment of missing out on a quadruple last weekend, with City pipping them to the Premier League title by a point.

    "They've obviously had a bit more relaxed preparation and wrapped up their league two or three weeks ago," Robertson said.

    "They've maybe not played as many games and at a high tempo. We knew how hard our run was going to be on our bodies, but we're in the best possible shape.

    "We've come through a lot and yes we've had injuries and problems, but the lads are fully fit. It's important we take the competitive nature of a tough season into the last game."

    Intentional or otherwise, however, the tempo of Liverpool's final training run-out at the Stade de France on the eve of the match was far lower than that of Madrid.

    Jurgen Klopp was happy for his players to pass the ball around on the sun-soaked surface, which has been freshly laid for this game – a big topic ahead of the contest.

    Madrid's players were equally as relaxed – understandable given the experience in their ranks – as they split into two full-size teams for a mini-match.

    As they made their way down the tunnel area, there was still a chance for the likes of Marcelo and Toni Kroos to glance around at the vast venue. Maybe even two of the most decorated players in the modern game can still be awestruck every now and then, and it goes to show that, while we are now used to seeing these same players battle it out at the top, the experience is different each time.

    The pain of losing hurts no less; the joy of winning all the sweeter as a player or a coach enhances their legacy.

    Klopp, for example, is aiming for his second major European title in what is his fourth appearance in a final. Ancelotti, on the other hand, is hunting a record-breaking fourth Champions League crown.

    As for the supporters who could be heard chanting late into the night on Friday, an "I was there" moment awaits as two behemoths go at it again.

    Familiar it may be, but enjoy it while it lasts. 

  • 'We know what's at stake' – Tatum a '10 for confidence' as Celtics target NBA Finals 'We know what's at stake' – Tatum a '10 for confidence' as Celtics target NBA Finals

    Jayson Tatum is full of confidence that the Boston Celtics will bounce back against the Miami Heat and seal a place in the NBA Finals.

    Jimmy Butler turned in one of the great playoff displays for the Heat on Friday as a 111-103 away win forced the Eastern Conference Finals series to Game 7, tied at 3-3.

    Butler scored a playoff career-high 47 points, claimed nine rebounds and provided eight assists, with 17 of his points coming in the final quarter.

    While the momentum might now be with the Heat, who have home-court advantage for the final game of the series, Tatum believes the Celtics can step up.

    Asked what his confidence level was heading into Game 7, Tatum replied: "On a scale from 1-10 – 10. It shouldn't be any less than that, right? You know, it's the last game. This is what it's all about. 

    "On a scale from 1-10, it's a 10 for my confidence level in myself and the group.

    "It's no secret, it's Game 7. A trip to the NBA Finals – there's a lot on the line.

    "A couple of us have been in this situation before, so we know what's at stake, we know how much this means to everybody. We know that going into the game."

    Tatum led the way for Boston, scoring 30 points and finishing with nine rebounds and four assists, though he only made one shot in the fourth quarter while Butler took hold at the other end.

    "I think it was just in the flow of the game, and how the game was going," Tatum said.

    "Obviously I've got to watch the film, and things like that, but I think being out there, and the feel of the game, I was drawing a lot of attention.

    "I was trying to find a mismatch, obviously, and when I find it, they sent a double, so I'd find the open man. I think it was just kind of how the flow of the game was going."

  • Kyle Lowry calls 'incredible' Jimmy Butler 'one of the best players I've played with' Kyle Lowry calls 'incredible' Jimmy Butler 'one of the best players I've played with'

    Miami Heat point guard Kyle Lowry gushed over the performance of teammate Jimmy Butler as they avoided elimination with a 111-103 Game 6 victory over the Boston Celtics, tying the series at 3-3 with Game 7 headed back to Miami.

    Butler played arguably the greatest game of his career in the must-win fixture, racking up 47 points on 16-of-29 shooting, including going four-of-eight from long range and 11-of-11 from the free throw line. 

    He added nine rebounds, eight assists, four steals and a block, becoming the first player since Michael Jordan in 1988 to have multiple games of at least 40 points and four steals in the same series.

    After only producing a combined 14 points and eight assists in the three games he played this series, Lowry was superb, scoring 18 points and dishing 10 assists before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

    Speaking to post-game media, after Butler said he "did decent throughout the game", Lowry made it evident what he thought of his teammate's performance.

    "[Butler was] f****** incredible – my bad, don't fine me NBA, that was really my mistake," he said.

    "I just think he's such a humble basketball player, and the work he does put in – I witness it. 

    "It's incredible to have a guy like him next to me. I've played with some great players, and he's one of the best players I've played with. 

    "To do it on this stage – Game 6, win or go home, do or die – I wouldn't want to lace them up with many other people than this guy."

    He later touched on his own struggles, and how he overcame them with everything on the line.

    "I'm never going to make an excuse – I've played bad before – and I have opportunities to redeem myself," he said.

    "I've got great guys in the locker room, great guys in my team, great organisation, great people in my life who just support me.

    "Tonight was one of those chances – I think coach would have said it's a 'legacy game' – and I think having a guy like [Butler] next to me helped that."

    Butler – as well as imploring the league to fine Lowry for his profanity, in jest – highlighted a phone call he had with Heat legend Dwyane Wade in the lead-up.

    "D-Wade never hits me [up] until his voice is really, really needed – and it was," he said.

    "I texted him and told him I appreciate him for it, just letting me know to go out there and continue to build on that legacy, and make sure we win… it just feels great to get one on the road.

    "I think we just did our job – we've been saying it this entire series. It's not finished yet, we've got Game 7 at the crib, and we need to win."

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