The Brooklyn Nets are set to play basketball with their backs against the wall. Again. In a season that has long been defined by the tenets of resilience — the calls for “next man up” on a never-ending loop — the Nets head home for Game 5 of their series against the Milwaukee Bucks without either member of its All-Star backcourt available. No Kyrie Irving (due to an ankle sprain). No James Harden (still out with hamstring tightness).
Kevin Durant will be forced to fend off the Midwest juggernaut on his own in a game that could very well add another storied chapter to his already impressive legacy. He’s aware of the responsibility but plans to play his game, running the pick-and-roll, gliding off screens, and posting up smaller players that get entangled with the Hall of Fame offensive player.
“I picture me doing everything out there just as I do every night,” said Durant on Monday. “I might have to handle the ball more, I might have to post up more, come off pin downs more, just gotta be prepared to do everything out there just like any night.”
While much of the burden of carrying the Nets may fall on Durant’s slender shoulders, head coach Steve Nash is approaching the game with the focus of securing a team win.
“We try and stick with our principles and fundamentals, which is connectivity, competitive spirit, embracing the opportunity, and going out there and playing as a team,” said Nash after Monday’s practice. “This does not fall on Kevin, this falls on the Nets. We gotta find a way together to play great basketball on both ends of the court.”
What’s going to help get the group there, to playing great basketball on the court whilst without the stars? Will it take a series of “hoo-rah-rahs” and complex adjustments to get over the hump?
Not in the eyes of Kevin Durant. His viewpoint is simple. Just play basketball.
“We talk about basketball all year. We talk about schemes and what needs to be done. All of us go through scenarios because we love to play,” said Durant. “But at a certain point, it’s just about going out there and hooping. We can have as many speeches as we want to give, but pretty much around this time, every team is going out there and just playing the game. We’ve got a game plan we wanna execute and it’s simple as that. We try not to add too much extras on anything. We all know what this game is about and we all know what this time is — it’s playoffs.”
Neither one of Durant nor Nash expressed a need to greatly alter the offensive game plan, especially so late in the game. Instead, the Nets will focus on playing with the pace and energy that led this group to a top-two seed while enjoying just 202 shared regular-season minutes of its Big 3 playing together.
“You just go out there and run our sets and play with some pace and energy. We definitely wasn’t planning on not having our guys at this time, but we’re all pros and we gotta adapt to any situation. But at the end of the day, it’s just basketball,” said Durant.
“Guys gotta come out there and play how they know how to play. All of us have to come out there and execute the game plan defensively (and) offensively, go out there and just hoop. That’s just what it is in the playoffs for every team outside of scouting your opponent. But in the fifth game of the series, it’s just like, alright, let’s go out there and play. I think we all have that mentality.”
Given the lack of offensive firepower without two of its three stars, it isn’t crazy to wonder if the Nets would look to put as much scoring potential as possible on the floor to match the Bucks, potentially trading out some defense for offense to insulate the remaining star talent of Kevin Durant with perimeter shooting. Nash, however, shot that idea down. It appears fans can expect regular rotations for Game 5.
“That’s something we have to be willing to adjust to on the fly. I don’t know that we necessarily make that decision or come in with a preconceived agenda,” said Nash. “It’s possible but we’re not going to make any huge adjustments to start the game, we’ll look to refine what we do.”
Coming away with a win in the series, much less Game 5, will be tough given the circumstances. But the Nets aren’t counting themselves out yet. After all, they’ve done their best work when the general public decided it was time to count this group out.
“It’s tough to lose great players but we’ve lost guys all season, so if there’s any silver lining, it’s we continued to win games regardless of who is available, we’ve been able to adapt on the fly which is difficult to do sometimes. But for us, that’s something we’ve had some experiences with. We should have some comfort and belief that no matter who plays, we can still perform, play well, and be very difficult tough to beat.”
In other words, never underestimate the heart of a champion.
- 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
- Nets’ Kevin Durant says Game 5 will be ‘just like any night’ despite no Kyrie Irving or James Harden - Scott Thompson - SNY