The Day It All Came Together: Looking Back At ‘Bubble Nets’ Sports Betting Upset

Written By Mike Mazzeo on August 25, 2021
NBA 2020 Nets-Bucks Upset

One of the biggest NBA upsets in sports betting history belongs to “The Bubble Nets.”

On Aug. 4, 2020, Brooklyn was a 19-point underdog against Milwaukee. But a motley crew of castoffs and no-names carried the Nets to a shocking 119-116 victory over the heavily favored Bucks on Disney’s Campus.

According to ESPN, it was the largest point-spread upset in the NBA since 1993.

Maybe it isn’t the Miracle on Ice. Or Leicester City winning the Premier League. Or Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson. Or Eli Manning lobbing it to Plaxico Burress in the back of the end zone against the 18-0 Patriots.

Still, it was quite memorable.

A little more than a year later, PlayNY decided to look back at Brooklyn’s stunner in The Bubble.

Sportsbooks got spared by bettors, mostly anyway

The biggest score: $32,000-plus.

A William Hill bettor placed a $2,159 wager on the Nets at 15-1 odds to win more than $32,000.

The biggest loser: $11,000.

BetMGM’s sportsbook took an $11,000 bet that the Bucks would win the first quarter. But Brooklyn outscored Milwaukee 40-34 in the opening 12 minutes. The wager would’ve paid $1,834.

According to ESPN, BetMGM did pay out $7,800 on a $600 moneyline bet on the Nets at 13-1 odds. But the majority of the money was on the Bucks, including 94%of moneyline bets at PointsBet. A spokesman for PointsBet also told ESPN that a “significant number” of $1,000 moneyline bets were placed on Milwaukee at -3,000. The bets would’ve yielded just over $32.

On paper, the Nets didn’t have a prayer against the Bucks

Brooklyn was without Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen for a variety of reasons, including injuries and opt-outs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A mostly rag-tag bunch of players with something to prove, led by consummate pro Garrett Temple (19 points), remained. Jamal Crawford played just six minutes before getting injured. In fact, assuming Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (26 points) and Tyler Johnson (11 points) don’t return in 2021-22, none of the Nets who played in the bubble upset will still be on the roster.

The Bucks were trying to secure the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, Brooklyn was fighting to keep its playoff spot.

“We were getting a lot of trash talk from all angles,” veteran reserve Justin Anderson (11 points) told PlayNY. “Before we became ‘The Bubble Nets,’ I think I saw people comparing us to Jackie Moon and the Flint Tropics (from Semi-Pro).”

It certainly wasn’t Big Three Era in Brooklyn just yet. Just a lot of heart, grit, and determination, the franchise’s values under GM Sean Marks that paved the way for Irving, Durant, and James Harden to ultimately join forces.

Anderson’s career NBA highlight dunk over Giannis

Anderson, a journeyman forward, hasn’t had too many plays run for him during his career.

But Nets’ interim coach Jacque Vaughn elected to call the lefty’s number midway through the second quarter.

Anderson wound up posterizing two-time MVP (and now NBA champion) Giannis Antetokounmpo as a result.

“I was originally supposed to get a 3-pointer out of it, but the shot wasn’t there,” Anderson said. “So I just curled, got downhill, and then I saw Giannis out of the corner of my eye. But what I also saw was daylight to the rim. Knowing Giannis, I knew he was gonna try to contest it but I jumped a little bit before him. I knew I had the angle and timing on him, so to be able to dunk that one is something that’s pretty memorable. I’ve made sure I’ll remember it because it’s a poster on my wall now. So it’s a pretty cool memory.”

Anderson immediately flexed upon flushing it down with his left hand.

“My teammates, the guys on the bench, everyone was going crazy,” Anderson said. “I’ve got the utmost respect for Giannis. He’s such a classy champion. It wasn’t anything personal. But it was good to get him, and whenever I see him it’s obviously a talking point to just joke around. I wouldn’t say I blacked out afterward, but it was an important play in the game, and it makes it sweeter that we were able to get the win.”

Anderson, who is looking to get back into the NBA as a free agent, didn’t even know if he’d be able to play in the bubble after testing positive for COVID-19 (even though he was asymptomatic). But he was eventually able to produce negative tests, and find his way into the lineup.

“To me, that was a miracle in itself,” Anderson said.

A hard foul on Giannis proved to be the turning point

The Nets were ahead 42-37 with 10:16 remaining in the second quarter when big man Donta Hall (22 career NBA games) shoved Antetokounmpo to the hardwood as the two were battling for a potential rebound underneath the basket.

The two had to be separated.

“I’m gonna (expletive) him up!” an irate Antetokounmpo told the referee.

Antetokounmpo (16 points, six rebounds, four assists in 16 minutes) played the rest of the first half. But “The Greek Freak” and Khris Middleton sat for the entire second half. The Bucks clearly didn’t want to take any chances in a game that ultimately had little meaning for them standings-wise.

“You had a lot of guys that were playing for their basketball lives,” Nets’ radio broadcaster Chris Carrino, who called the game remotely from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, told PlayNY.

“It was one of those things where the Bucks realized, ‘We don’t want our stars out there anymore.’ That’s kind of the vibe I got. Especially after the dust-up. It was like, ‘These guys are looking at this game differently than us, and let’s not mix Middleton and Giannis and that crew up with this.’ Their mindset was different.”

An NBA game for the sports betting record books

Six different Brooklyn players scored in double figures. As a team, the Nets hit 21 3-pointers.

In a tightly-contested affair, they made more clutch plays down the stretch to seal the deal.

And yes, Brooklyn’s players did learn that they were 19-point underdogs after returning to a jubilant locker-room celebration.

Anderson’s phone blew up with text messages about his dunk and the unlikely “W.”

“We don’t care about people’s bets. We don’t go into games looking at that. We go into games trying to figure out what’s our game plan and how we can win a game,” Anderson said. “I’ve never gone into a game thinking that because someone is a favorite, we’re going to lose this one. Or how can we just not lose by as much as everybody thinks we’re going to lose it by.

“But we definitely saw it. And I think it just adds that much more to the memory. It just allows us to look back, and when that story comes up, when we tell our future families or people about it. That’s something that either you can bring up or somebody that’s a gambler or likes to bet, that’s something where they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember that. That’s one of the biggest upsets in sports betting history,’ or whatever the case may be. There were just so many things that came together that day for The Bubble Nets.”

The unpredictability of sports is why we watch

Any given Sunday. Or in this case, Any given Tuesday.

In any single game, anything can happen. That’s why we love sports. Of course, the unpredictability can also drive bettors insane.

Especially the one who lost $11,000 over the first quarter.

“That’s one of the great things about what I’ve gotten to do for the last 20 years,” Carrino said. “You show up to the arena, and you never know when you’re going to witness something you’ve never seen before. I was just worried about getting there that day with (Tropical Storm Isaias). And then I got into a fender bender outside the arena. That was all that was on my mind. And then knowing that the Nets didn’t have much of a team. But then all of a sudden you get this great game. It kind of took my mind off everything.”

Nets 119, Bucks 116 on Aug. 4, 2020 will live on in sports betting lore. No doubt about that.

Photo by Cda2008 |
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Mike Mazzeo

Mike Mazzeo is a contributing writer for PlayNY, reporting on legal sports betting in New York while covering the potential legalization of NY online casinos and poker. He previously wrote for ESPN, the New York Daily News and The Ringer, among others.

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