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In the closing minutes of Brooklyn’s 123-109 series win over Boston, TNT cameras captured a terrifying image: Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving leaning against a table, laughing and smiling, three healthy NBA superstars apparently in the same step. . For conference rivals, that image is as terrifying as it sounds.
The Nets head to the second round after cleaning up the Celtics. It was a predictable result. Any chance Boston had to hang on this series evaporated. when Kemba Walker and Robert Williams joined Jaylen Brown on the disabled list after Game 3. Any hope the Celtics had of forcing a Game 6 in Boston was buried under an onslaught of 3-pointers from Brooklyn in the fourth quarter.
Said Marcus Smart: “You can’t do much with what you have.”
What the Nets got were answers. Some, anyway. Among the questions Brooklyn had going into the postseason: How quickly would its three stars clump together? The trio of Durant, Harden and Irving played just eight games together during the regular season, representing just over 200 minutes of rest. Chemistry is a valuable asset for championship-driven teams. Brooklyn would have to develop it on the fly.
That chemistry looked pretty good against the Celtics. The Nets trio accounted for 104 points in Game 4. They added 83 in Game 5. Overall, the Durant / Harden / Irving combination averaged 85 points in this series. And it was the three in a row midway through the fourth against Boston that put the game (and series) out of reach.
“They’re getting bigger and better,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “Whether it’s a good performance or a poor performance … it translates into more growth.”
Harden said: “There are some things that [still] I have to work, ”Harden said. “Obviously communication, where the boys like the ball. That has to come pretty fast. For me, I know quite well, but I think communication is very useful. As long as we’re aggressive … and can communicate with the rest of the guys about where to be, I’ll take my chances against anyone. “
Durant scored 24 points (on shooting 8-16) in Game 5, his lowest-scoring game of the series. But the 32 points Durant averaged in January, his first full month playing in more than a year, after recovering from a broken Achilles in the 2019 Finals, and the 74 points he accumulated against Milwaukee in back-to-back games in May. They weren’t a test of Durant’s still-present abilities, the 32.6 points he averaged against Boston were.
This season he’s been bitten by a snake for Durant. COVID protocols cost you time early in the season, a sore hamstring costs you more in the middle. But against Boston, Durant reminded the world that there may not be a more dynamic scorer. He ran down the court and scored in transition, placed and threw unblockable jump shots on smaller defenders and was better off the free throw line (64.7%) than from the court (56.2%).
“It’s fun to play with two guys,” Durant said, “who can do pretty much anything on the basketball court.”
This season was not a redemption tour for Harden. Not really need redemption after eight All-Star years in Houston, regardless of how the last eight games ended. What it has been, for at least the 36 regular-season games Harden played in Brooklyn and the last five in the playoffs was a reminder: When Harden is healthy, there are few better players in the NBA. Against Boston, Harden averaged 27.8 points, 10.6 assists and 7.2 rebounds. His willingness to be a playmaker – Harden averaged 16.6 shots in the regular season and 14.4 in this series, a far cry from the more than 20 shooting seasons he used to make in Houston – is one of the main reasons the Three Nets greats have worked.
“He’s a willing passer,” Durant said. “His energy, he comes to the gym every day and it’s exciting to play basketball. That energy is contagious. You can tell that everyone was drawn to James from the day he arrived here. His presence has been key for us ”.
Irving will always be polarizing. But his scoring skills are undeniable. Irving didn’t miss a beat this season, averaging 27 points while claiming the rare 50% from the floor / 40% from three / 90% at the free throw line. In a tense series against Boston, his former team, Irving averaged nearly 25. After Game 5, Irving seemed to recognize the importance of what the Nets could accomplish.
“We don’t want to take any of this time for granted,” Irving said. “We know this doesn’t happen too often… three of the best scorers to ever play the game on a team and then you have a collection of guys who have also done amazing things in this league, either off the bench or as a starter. with us.”
Milwaukee is on deck and the Bucks will present a more formidable challenge. Milwaukee just took a four-game beating over current conference champion Miami. The Bucks have a two-time MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo and a collection of high-level shooters around him. Jrue Holiday has been everything the Bucks hoped for when they traded him for Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton has established himself as a reliable second choice.
Harden said, “I’m thinking about them right now.”
Nash said the Nets-Bucks result could come down to mental toughness. Harden agrees with him. “It won’t come down to x and o’s, schemes or plays,” Harden said. “It’s about details and little things. The box outs, who can jump for the basketball on the court, who is going to make winning plays. Whoever does it will have a chance to win the game. “
Indeed. Brooklyn passed its first test. A more rigid one is the following.
More NBA coverage:
• Grizzlies live and die next to the float
• Historic Night of Damian Lillard
• The Celtics were no match for the Nets
• Chris Paul is back to his starting point in the playoffs
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.