The anticipation is building and the excitement is everywhere as the Nets are set to play the biggest game in the Brooklyn era tonight, squaring off with the Bucks in Game 7 in their backyard.
“We certainly are confident. This is exciting for our guys, they get a chance to play a Game 7 at home. That’s why we scrapped it together all year with the adversity to get the highest seed possible. That’s the reward that we get to be at home [Saturday] night. It’s an incredibly exciting day for all of us tomorrow and a great opportunity,” said Steve Nash after Friday’s practice.
One big reason for the excitement is that Brooklyn enters tonight’s Game 7 unbeaten at Barclays Center in the postseason (6-0), having won by an average of 16.7 points in those six home victories and 17.7 points against Milwaukee in the three home games during the semifinal series. To dive deeper, Milwaukee is 2-8 all-time in Game 7s while Brooklyn boasts a 1-2 all-time record and also has history on their side — the higher seed holds an overall record of 109-31 in Game 7s.
Although those stats raise positivity and belief, you can throw it all out the window. But one thing remains the same. Even though the win-or-go-home contest features a combined four MVP awards among three players, they don’t get a pass in the win-or-go-home game. For the Nets, it’s up to Kevin Durant. It’s his responsibility to carry the Nets to the Eastern Conference Finals.
“He’s been carrying us and I believe tonight won’t be no different. He’s going to go out there and play his heart out and put us on his back and lead us to the win,” said Jeff Green on what he expects from Durant in Game 7.
Durant has been stellar in the six postseason meetings against the Bucks — and throughout the entire postseason— while the team battles the adversity of key injuries and the lack of supporting cast contributions. Highlighted by arguably his greatest performance of his career in the Game 5 win — delivering 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists in the latest game at Barclays — he has averaged 33.3 points across the six games this series.
Saturday night’s setting is no stranger to KD. He heads into his fourth Game 7 with a career record of 3. The Nets superstar has averaged 33.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 42.8 minutes across the four Game 7s he’s played in. Three of those four games were on his home floor — in Oklahoma City.
While Milwaukee will have their hands full with Durant, Brooklyn will be without Kyrie Irving — who is out with a right ankle sprain on the five-year anniversary of the biggest shot of his career in the dagger over Steph Curry of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. Although there’ll be no Irving for the Nets, James Harden has taken strides from his Game 5 performance to Game 6, visibly progressing well and slowly molding himself back with him battling right hamstring tightness, say the Nets. Harden also carries valuable experience into Game 7.
Like Durant, Harden has also played in four Game 7s and he too holds a 3-1 record — averaging 24.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.2 assists. In fact, Harden and Durant played together in one of the three wins — Game 7 of the 2015 Western Conference Semifinals against the Grizzlies — a game KD went for 39 points, nine rebounds and three assists and Harden delivered 17 points in 31 minutes.
While Durant will need to carry the responsibility of getting Brooklyn past Milwaukee to keep their elusive first championship chase alive, the Nets head coach downplayed the theory of his team having more pressure to win.
“I don’t think we look at it like that. We’ve gone through so much this year. This is not the way we envisioned our playoff run — losing Kai, 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 to win a Game 7,” Nash said.
Milwaukee has only made the Eastern Conference Finals twice since 1986 and haven’t delivered a title to the Cream City since 1971. Meanwhile, Brooklyn hasn’t made it to an Eastern Conference Final since the 2002-03 season and hasn’t won an NBA title yet aside from being crowned champs in the ABA in 1974 and 1976.