The way Steve Nash looks at it, the Brooklyn Nets are still standing.
After rolling through the Boston Celtics in five games in the first round of the playoffs, the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Milwaukee Bucks has taken on the shape of the regular season. James Harden left Game 1 in the opening minute due to hamstring tightness and eventually returned for Game 5. A sprained ankle took Kyrie Irving out of the series in the second quarter of Game 4.
They lost that game in Milwaukee as the Bucks evened the series but bounced back behind Kevin Durant’s transcendent performance to take Game 5. Milwaukee’s Game 6 win sent the series back to Barclays Center for Game 7 on Saturday night in a series in which the home team has won every game.
“We’ve gone through so much this year,” said Nash. “This is not the way we envisioned our playoff run — losing Ky, having James be in the position he’s in, Jeff Green be in the position he’s in. We just look at this as a great opportunity. We’re still here. We’re still alive given everything that’s happened to us. We feel more a sense that we’ve done an incredible job to get here and to give ourselves a chance at home to win a Game 7.”
Kyrie Irving will remain out for Game 7 due to his right ankle sprain and Steve Nash said James Harden “came through fine” after playing 40 minutes in Game 6. Harden returned in Game 5 after missing all but a minute of the first four games.
“Clearly he made some shots,” said Nash. “He did some things. Certainly, rebounds, assists, steals, so James was better tonight as far as what he was able to do. But you know, it’s tough. He’s really limited and he can’t do a lot of things that he’s accustomed to doing. I’m grateful that it doesn’t appear that he has any setbacks, and if anything, he played a little bit better. But it’s a tough, tough position for James to be out there trying his best, trying to help this team and not be able to move the way he normally would.”
“He was moving better today but you know that's a tough, tough injury he's gutting it out for us,” said Kevin Durant. “We're not expecting too much from him movement wise but he's going out there and giving it his all and we respect that.”
Harden finished with 16 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and four steals. In Game 5 he had scored five points with eight assists, shooting 1-for-10 overall and 0-for-8 from 3-point range. He shot 5-for-9 and 3-for-6 in Game 6.
“It's not even about rust,” said Harden. “It's about being able to move, and I think as I go day-by-day, continue to get better. The last game, Game 5, was the first day that I did any movement like that since I got hurt, so tonight was no different, you know? I'm out there to do whatever it takes to win. I've got to be better on both end of the ball, which I will be in Game 7.”
SEARCHING FOR OFFENSE
Despite navigating through all sorts of availability issues and roster changes during the season, the Nets put up the highest offensive rating in NBA history. But the injuries to Kyrie Irving and James Harden have caught up to them over the last few games against the Bucks.
Over the last four games, the Nets have scored fewer than 100 points three times and their offensive rating is 98.2.
“We didn't create it the way we normally do, but we certainly had some good looks I thought in particular in the first half and in stretches,” said Steve Nash after the 104-89 Game 6 loss. “We had a lot of looks that we just didn't knock down. But overall I didn't like the way we played offensively like I said; we just looked a little slow, a little stagnant and got away from what we do best. But that's sometimes how it rolls in the playoffs, ups and downs, you have a great game, you come on their home floor and things look different. And now we get to go back to our home floor and hopefully play our best game of the series.”
The Nets have gotten Harden back, but his mobility is limited, and Nash acknowledged that showed up in Brooklyn being outscored 26-4 in transition points in Game 6.
“I think we can make adjustments,” said Nash. “We definitely can improve on the things we did. We were able to do it in Game 5. There is solutions to be made, there are adjustments we can have. As much as anything, it sometimes come down to shotmaking, especially early yesterday we had a lot of good looks that didn’t go in and that hurt us. We also were very careless with the ball and made errors that led to transition opportunities. This is what it is. This is the deck we have. We’re gonna solve as many puzzles as we can and we’re also gonna try and play our hearts out and enjoy the opportunity as we have done all year. We’ve found ways to persevere and to give ourselves an opportunity when it didn’t look good. For us, inside our group, we feel great. We feel excited for the opportunity. We feel a lot of belief and trust and excited to go out there and play in front of our fans in a deciding game.”
GOING WITH SIX
The Nets tightened things up further in Game 6, essentially playing with a six-man rotation throughout the game, plus some spot minutes for Bruce Brown, Mike James, and Nic Claxton. Kevin Durant, James Harden, Jeff Green, and Joe Harris all played at least 35 minutes. Only Durant attempted 10 shots or more.
“Frankly, we got some more inexperienced guys on the bench,” said Steve Nash, “so we’re playing heavier minutes for the guys who’ve been there before, and then a little bit of it is having Kyrie out. It kind of limits our options.”