The Nets-Bucks Eastern Conference Semifinals series has so far been dictated by health and will ultimately be determined by a Game 7 Saturday night.
Brooklyn hasn’t heard those infamous two words in quite some time. The last (and only) time the team played a Game 7 at Barclays Center ended in a disaster with the team collapsing late to the Chicago Bulls back on May 4, 2013. Brooklyn trailed heading into the fourth and cut the deficit to four points after Deron Williams nailed a 25-foot three, but it was too late. Instead of the Nets collecting the first Game 7 victory at Barclays, the win instead went to Brooklyn native, Joakim Noah, who scored 24 points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field in 41 minutes.
Exactly one year later, Brooklyn ended on the winning side after an offseason highlighted by the infamous Celtics trade. The Nets prevailed in Game 7 in a thrilling wire-to-wire battle against the Raptors in Toronto on the backs of the the aging superteam of Deron Williams, Paul Pierce — who sealed the win with a block on Kyle Lowry —, Kevin Garnett and Joe Johnson. It was among Johnson’s best games as a Net. He led the way with 26 points on 11-of-25 shooting from the field, putting in 45 minutes of play.
A whole lot has changed since the last and only two Game 7s. But the Nets will once likely need a veteran or two to step up.
Brooklyn displayed utter dominance playing under the Barclays Center lights this season — going 20-8 at home. In the the post-season, the Nets have yet to lose at Flatbush and Atlantic (6-0).
So, Brooklyn will host the win-or-go-home contest in front of an expected pandemic sellout crowd of 16,000+.
“It’s all or nothing at this point. This is obviously the biggest game of our season at this point in time and we’re fortunate that we have homecourt,” said Joe Harris. “Go back, we have great energy at the Barclays. Unbelievable fans so it’s extremely important to come out and start the game well.”
That benefit of Game 7 at home stems from the injury-riddled Nets’ fight and grit dating back to the final handful of games of the regular season when the Nets secured the No. 2 seed with a comfortable enough two-game lead over the Bucks.
“That’s what this is all about is persevering, finding ways to come back and bounce back and that’s why we were able to push through and finish second in the East so we can have Game 7 on our own floor,” said Steve Nash following Brooklyn’s 104-89 loss in Game 6 Thursday night.
James Harden, who is gutting out the remainder of the series on one healthy leg, agreed with his head coach’s ideology.
“That’s exactly correct. Everything we dealt with and been through, we have the second seed for this particular reason. We just got to go out there and hoop at home. One game,” Harden said.
The Nets superstar was more aggressive in the Game 6 loss, smartly testing right hamstring tightness with mental toughness and a lot of kinesiology tape. Although Brooklyn needed the superstar form of Harden to prevail in Game 6 Thursday, his efforts on one leg were productive. He went 5-of-9 from the field and 3-of-6 from deep to finish with 16 points while dishing seven assists, tallying four steals and five rebounds in 40 minutes.
“It’s not even about rust. It’s about being able to move and I think day by day, I continue to get better. Game 5 was the first time I did any movement or anything like that since I got hurt. Tonight was no different,” said Harden after the Game 6 loss. “I’m out there to do whatever it takes to win and I got to be better on both ends of the ball, which I will be in Game 7.”
Although being not quite himself, he shined as a bright light for Brooklyn. He’s now played 85 combined minutes over the span of two games. Nash — who sounded cautious when speaking about Harden — is grateful his star’s courageous efforts and that they haven’t led to any apparent setbacks. Nash did acknowledge that Harden is in one tough position.
“He made some shots. He did some things; rebounds, assists steals so, James was better tonight as far as what he was able to do but it’s tough,” said Nash on Harden’s play. “He’s really limited and he can’t do a lot of things he’s accustomed to doing so I’m grateful that it doesn’t appear that he has any setbacks. If anything, he played a little bit better. But it’s a tough, tough position for James trying to do his best but not being able to do what he normally does.”
When asked whether Harden plans to continue to get better, Nash simply responded with, “that’s the plan,” while cracking a small smile. Ahead of the Game 7 dogfight, Joe Harris believes the team doesn’t need to make any drastic changes and doesn’t want the sting of the Game 6 loss to drag into Saturday night.
“Going into Game 7, I think the focus, preparation, and all that stuff that we have been doing up to this point has to remain the same because guys have been locked in and it’s been a competitive series. It’s been a dog fight this entire time and you can’t let the emotional toll of losing this game [Game 6] affect how we play Game 7. We got to come out with confidence and just let it rip.”
The must-see Game 7 will take place on Saturday, June 19, and will tip at near 8:30 p.m. ET and will be nationally broadcast on TNT.