It is one wildly unexpected and unlucky turnaround for the Nets under the brightest lights and on the biggest stage.
Brooklyn has ruled out both James Harden (right hamstring tightness) and Kyrie Irving (right ankle sprain) for Game 5 on Tuesday. While the losses of both superstars come with a heavy sting and a drain of optimism, Steve Nash said there should be “some comfort and belief” with the team's history of playing without their top weapons.
“It’s tough to lose great players but we lost guys all season. If there is any silver lining, you need to win games regardless of who's been available. We’ve been able to adapt on the fly which is difficult to do sometimes but for us, that’s something we have some experience with,” said Steve Nash after Monday’s practice. “We should have some comfort and belief that no matter who plays, we can still perform and play well and be very difficult to beat. I’m excited for our guys.”
Kevin Durant — who is expected to be the sole member of the “Big Three” on the court for Brooklyn in Game 5 — feels bad for both Harden and Irving who will out for the biggest game of the season. KD said he hopes both players will get healthy as soon as possible and doing their best in their respective rehabs.
“I’m not the one that’s injured. Kyrie and James, this is an opportunity for them to play at the highest level and to not play because of injuries, I feel more for them than for me. I wish were out there playing. I wish they were healthy but that’s a part of the game and we all understand that. We wish they were out there playing but I know they’re going to be doing their best to get back on the floor and get healthy as fast as possible,” said Durant on the injuries to Harden and Irving. “That’s all we can hope for.”
Indeed, as Kevin Pelton of ESPN wrote later Monday, the Nets played well with only KD on the court.
Of Brooklyn’s three stars, Durant played the fewest minutes without either of the other two during the regular season because of his injuries: just 286, as compared to 613 for Irving and 517 for Harden. During that span, the Nets were quite good, outscoring opponents by 14.4 points per 100 possessions outside garbage time, according to Cleaning the Glass lineup data — even better than the team did with all three on the court (plus-11.1 net rating).
“I always expect me to go out there and have good intentions every possession and play as hard as I can,” Durant said. “I’ve always approached the game that way, so I just stick to what I know, stick to what I do and go out there and play.”
Prior to the team releasing the updates on both stars, Nash confirmed the loss of Irving following the MRI that revealed an ankle sprain but didn’t provide much of an update on Harden’s availability.
In fact, the Nets coach seemed to offer some wiggle room on Harden’s status. He noted how Harden was practicing but didn’t know if Monday’s workout classified as a “high-intensity” load — the kind of workout he had previously said Harden would need on consecutive days before he returned to play.
“I don’t know what today constitutes. Those things are with the performance team. I’m sure that it’s a different framing during the playoffs than the regular season. I can’t really answer that either,” said Nash on the type of workout Harden went through during Monday’s practice.
“I feel like he’s progressing really well and he’s having a workout today, but I don’t have an update or anything further than that.”
The Nets head coach said he has let Harden focus primarily on his hamstring rehab during his injury absence. He wants his superstar to continue to put his rehab first and once he’s ready, Harden or the performance team will notify the Nets head coach.
“We’ll see how he does with his workouts and see how he progresses. I’ve tried to leave him alone as far as that goes. Let him rehab. He’s still a big part of our team with meetings and when we travel and all that stuff, he’s just been great. I just want to let him do his work, focus on that and when he’s ready, he or the performance staff will let us know,” said Nash on Harden.
When the Nets head coach was asked about the grade of Irving’s right ankle sprain, he said he didn’t know. There are three grades of ankle sprain, with Grade 3 the worst. Although Irving is ruled out for Game 5, Nash said he will have to wait and see how Irving’s ankle progresses in the coming days to see what his availability will be for Thursday’s Game 6 in Milwaukee.
“I have no idea and see how it progresses. The experts would have to wait and see how it progresses and then give you a clearer picture and window for his return,” Nash said.
Ankle sprains are notoriously tricky injuries to predict. When Nash was asked if Irving would return for Game 6 and Game 7 (if necessary) while playing through the pain, the Nets head coach said it’s difficult to give precise answers at this time.
“It depends on the individual and the injury. These injuries are different for every person and everyone’s got a different body, different game, different mentality so when you add it all up, it’s not a linear equation all the time. It could be very, very difficult or it could be something he shrugs off quickly,” said Nash. “It’s just a matter of all those factors and it’s really hard to predict.”
The injury blows will no doubt hurt Brooklyn’s chances to go up 3-2 in the semifinal series but when asked whether the two key injuries served as a “big punch in the mouth,” Nash said the team simply has to control what it can control.
“However you want to look at it, we’ve had some bad luck this year. I’m sure other teams will say the same thing. We don’t like to dwell on the bad luck or the negative. We worry about what we can control and the positives,” Nash said.
“This is what it’s all about in the playoffs. You are going to have ups and downs. You are going to have momentum switches. You are going to have adversity and it’s about how you respond. Tomorrow is a great opportunity for us to show what we’re made of, respond in a positive way, and put out our best performance of the series.”
- Kevin Durant will have to be a superhero in Game 5 with Kyrie Irving, James Harden out - Stefan Bondy - New York Daily News
- Kevin Durant will be only one of Nets’ Big 3 to play in Game 5 - Greg Logan - Newsday
- The Kevin Durant vs. P.J. Tucker defensive battle will continue in Game 5 - Steve Popper - Newsday
- Kyrie Irving, James Harden ruled out for Nets’ Game 5 against Bucks - Justin Tasch - New York Post
- Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis goes on bizarre Kyrie Irving rant: ‘Got his a–‘ - Mark Fischer - New York Post
- Nets’ Kevin Durant says Game 5 will be ‘just like any night’ despite no Kyrie Irving or James Harden - Scott Thompson - SNY
- NBA playoffs 2021: Without Kyrie Irving and James Harden, here’s what the Nets face in Game 5 - Kevin Pelton - ESPN+