The Brooklyn Nets closed out the Boston Celtics without Jeff Green and have jumped out to a 1-0 lead on the Milwaukee Bucks without James Harden. Both will be out for Monday’s Game 2 at Barclays Center as well.
As they have throughout the season in finishing 48-24 and in second place in the Eastern Conference, the Nets have managed through these moments. Against Milwaukee on Saturday, they never trailed in the second half, leading by as many as 19 points in their 115-107 win.
The plug-and-play contribution this time came from reserve point guard Mike James, who had played just nine minutes in the five-game series against Boston, but it’s something the Nets have seen all season long.
“You never know what's going to happen over the course of the playoffs,” said Joe Harris. “You see it year after year where different people have huge impacts being able to come in and it might be the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th guy on the roster and you just never know what's going to happen, what sort of situation presents itself and then I think it's just about staying ready, exactly like what we were talking with somebody like Mike James where he didn't play at all in the first series but his number is called and he's ready to go.”
“I think we have a great environment,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “Guys believe in one another. Our guys have confidence in one another. We have a team that I think is on the same page, has good chemistry off the floor even if we haven't had a lot of time together on the floor. We have a great work environment here, very collaborative and the stay ready group — they've been very dedicated, kept guys in condition and with enough sharpness to jump into a game or even a playoff game like Mike James last night. So, my hat is off to the players for being able to absorb all the different things that have been thrown at us this year and to my staff that's just been terrific and just keeping these guys ready and creating this environment.”
Green has been out since Game 3 of the Boston series due to a plantar fascia strain. Harden has been ruled out for Monday’s game due to right hamstring tightness but there was no prognosis beyond that for a potential return. A right hamstring strain cost Harden 18 consecutive games in April and May before he returned in the final week of the regular season.
Nash said the Nets are “preparing for tomorrow night as we ended up playing last night,” and that consisted of an eight-man rotation once Harden left the game. The Nets relied on 30 minutes from James, who played largely with Kyrie Irving, who logged 45 minutes.
Obviously the Nets will need to plug in a new starter. After cycling through a franchise-record 38 starting lineups during the regular season, Brooklyn had started the same lineup through all six playoff games. Bruce Brown replaced Harden when he left Saturday’s game and started the second half as well. But the Nets will be without a three-time scoring champion who is also one of the league’s elite playmakers.
“He's one of the greatest players in the game,” said Nash. “So we miss a guy that can playmake, that can manipulate the defense, can score one-on-one. I could keep going. He's a leader for us. And so we miss a tremendous amount. But we've had that all year. We've had guys in and out of the lineup, guys have stepped up. We are in a position where at least we're familiar with making adjustments with our lineups, rotations, combinations, and we were able to survive it yesterday, and we'll have to be even more cohesive and clear tomorrow night to win.”
DEFENDING THE ARC
The Nets held the Bucks to 107 points in Game 1 and the biggest factor there was Milwaukee’s 6-for-20 shooting from 3-point range. Aside from that, the Bucks shot 54.9 percent on 2-point attempts — a top 10 rate during the regular season — with 72 points in the paint and 20 second chance points.
“We didn’t give them a lot of wide-open threes,” said Steve Nash. “Having said that, can they make some more of those? For sure. It’s one of those things. I thought we missed a lot of open threes as well. So it’s one of those things where making and missing is a part of this league, it’s a part of the outcomes, but you can’t necessarily plan for makes and misses. You plan to have priorities and a strategy and try to execute it and you also hope that your team consistently shoots the ball we as well.”
From Kevin Durant to Kyrie Irving, the Nets made it clear they don’t expect to see the Bucks shoot 20 percent on 3-pointers again.
“It don’t really matter, man. It was just one game,” said Irving. “They’re not going to shoot that way, you know probably next game or the rest of the series because they’re gonna be focused. They’re gonna get some even better shots and other guys are going to play with a higher sense of verve and you just have to be ready for that. So, I think we did a great job contesting a few different plays they got some easy ones. And we just want to clean that up. But we’re playing against great players. So, we know they’re going to shoot better. We just have to continue to contest and be in the right spot.”
The Bucks were fifth in the league during the regular season in shooting 38.9 percent from 3-point range, but they’ve been in a rut since the playoffs started, even though they swept the Heat in the first round. Through five playoff games, Miami is shooting 30.7 percent on 3-pointers. The only two teams with a worse percentage this postseason, the Lakers and Wizards, are home for the summer.
MOVING THE BALL
In James Harden’s absence, Kyrie Irving led Brooklyn with eight assists on Saturday, while Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Bruce Brown, and Mike James had three each. The Nets finished with 25 assists against just eight turnovers. Irving had just one turnover in 45 minutes and James didn’t turn the ball over at all in 30 minutes.
“I just thought we were willing to share and make quick decisions, move the ball, play together, play off one another,” said Steve Nash. “We were unselfish and willing to make the extra pass, and I think it created a lot of opportunities for us.”