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Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving combine for 54 as Nets take Game 1, 115-107; James Harden hurt

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2021 NBA Playoffs - Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It was a game filled with mixed emotions ... and a lot to worry about.

The Nets got off to the right foot, taking Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-finals in front of the 15,750 fans — a pandemic sellout crowd — at Barclays Center, 115-107. With the win, Brooklyn takes a 1-0 series lead, but it came at a price, and perhaps a heavy one.

James Harden reaggravated his right hamstring — an injury that cost him 18 straight games during the regular season and 20 out of 21 — 43 seconds into the game. Harden immediately favored his right hamstring after a drive, grabbed at it, then asked out of the game. Later, he was ruled out for the remainder of the contest. In fact, he left the arena to get an MRI. The Nets were already without Jeff Green, who is now day-to-day.

Steve Nash didn’t have an update from Harden’s MRI results at the time of his postgame media session but he was “heartbroken” for him and hinted that very bad news can be on the horizon.

“We’ve had a lot thrown at us this year, so we were in a sense well-trained for this event, but you never want to see someone like James who is such an incredible player and cares so much. I’m heartbroken for him. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if he’s playing next game or if he’s out I don’t know,” Nash said postgame.

“Heartbroken for him that he had to miss the night. This guy was so ready and excited to play tonight. You know the preparation he puts in. You know how much he cares about the game, how much he cares about his team, so you never want to see that when someone gives everything they have towards this,” Nash added.

Kyrie Irving described the loss of “one of our brothers” as something the Nets are “going to feel no matter what” but noted that the team had a meeting on the bench to try and rectify the situation and persevere through the hardship.

“When you see the game be snatched away from one of our brothers, we feel for him. We just had to make a quick adjustment and just adjust from there, that’s the best thing we can do,” explained Irving. “Just came in the huddle, made sure everyone on the bench knew the situation we were in, and just played out from there. Went our way tonight, but we’re obviously going to feel his loss no matter what.”

Kevin Durant — who only noticed Harden was hurt after he wasn’t in his spot on the next play and admitted the players needed time to regroup after the injury blow — was devastated by the situation and wishes him a speedy recovery.

“This s**t sucks. It sucks because I want him to be out there. I know how much he cares. I know how much he wants to be in this moment. It sucks. Wish him a speedy recovery,” said Durant on Harden’s injury. “We are going to keep involved as much as possible, but it’s just a bad break.”

Durant added: “We are going to be thinking about James. Definitely going to call him when I leave here and see how he’s doing but like I said, it’s a bad situation. I hate that it had to have happened to him right now.”

None of that sounds good. Without a medical update, there was a lot of speculation on how bad things are. It’s Harden’s third hamstring issue. As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes put it...

After Harden went down early, the duo of Durant and Irving prevailed, along with a handful of big plays and contributions from bench players who rose to the occasion. Durant — who finished with a double-double of 29 points, 10 rebounds and three assists — paved the way for Brooklyn followed by Irving — who finished with 25 points on 11-of-26 shooting from the field and 3-of-11 from three in the win.

“Kyrie was so important for us just giving us that outlet and that person that can make a play. He’s been there before. He was just such a presence on the court for us. He was unlucky tonight to not have a monster game,” said the Nets head coach on Irving’s performance in wake of Harden’s injury. “I think he had a lot of balls were in and out, but they looked good and those will go down for him.”

Brooklyn got great minutes out of Blake Griffin — who had his three-ball and floor burn working. Griffin — who struggled shooting the three-ball in the first-round series against Boston — went 4-of-9 from three — credit to the Bucks defense focusing down low — to go with 7-of-13 shooting from the field, translating into 18 points. The Nets veteran also snagged 14 rebounds, and collected a pair of hustle plays that paid dividends to the big win.

“Blake was great. He put up numbers but it was just his energy and fight were outstanding. It’s beautiful to see him work, persevere and play extended minutes tonight and was outstanding,” said Nash on Griffin’s play in the Game 1 win.

While Joe Harris had a good performance of 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field and 5-of-9 from deep, it was Mike James who stepped up when the Nets needed him most, after Harden went down. The guard — who was playing in Russia until the end of March — finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 30 minutes of play off the bench.

“It’s happened to us all year. Somethings happened. Some sort of adversity, someone goes down, and the next man’s up and Mike; who would've thought he would play 30 minutes. Scored the ball, rebounded, made a few plays, hustled,” said Nash on James’ next-man-up quality performance in Game 1.

For Milwaukee, Giannis Antetokounmpo did what he was expected to so with 34 points on 16-of-24 shooting from the field and 2-of-5 from deep. The other two members of their ‘Big Three’ — Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday combined for 30 points while Brook Lopez finished with 19 points in 27 minutes. Brooklyn went on the hold Milwaukee to 44.6 percent shooting from the field and 20.0 percent from behind the arc to go with 14 turnovers that gifted the Nets 18 points.

“Overall, it was pretty good. We did a lot of things well. Some of it is making or missing but I thought our defense was good. We didn’t give them too many wide-open looks. We weren’t perfect, but we scrapped, we clawed, and we fought on the boards, especially after the first quarter,” Nash said. “We cleaned some things up as the game went on and I was really impressed with the fight and our ability to hang in there.”


It didn’t take long for a nightmare to occur in Brooklyn. Only 43 seconds into the game, Harden appeared to be favoring his right hamstring after a drive and headed to the locker room after Nash called a timeout. Brooklyn ruled Harden out for the remainder of the game after the first quarter and he left the arena to get an MRI shortly after.

Griffin opened up on Antetokounmpo while Durant took Middleton, but Milwaukee capitalized with Harden off the floor taking an early 20-14 lead with 6:09 remaining.

Although the strong start, Brooklyn compiled a small 7-4 run to cut the deficit to 24-21 with 3:19 remaining. The Nets opened the contest hitting only eight of their first 17 shots while the Bucks were more efficient, going 10-of-23 from the field in that span, but their 3-point shooting woes (2-of-10) opened the path for Brooklyn to climb back early and conclude the first frame down two (32-30). Durant and Irving combined for 17 points in the opening frame.

Brooklyn opened the second quarter with more attention to detail, looking for their best shot. Although the loss of Harden limited the ball movement, the Nets went with Mike James to fill the void. Following a chippy scene between Griffin and Bobby Portis — who dove on the floor and fought for a loose ball — the tide started to change in Brooklyn’s favor.

The offense was clicking while Milwaukee looked a step behind on rotations during the hot span. Following a little floater from Brown down low off a nifty feed from Griffin — who had a pair of key hustle plays — the Nets lead was 57-48 with 3:38 remaining in the first half. Brooklyn hit the break with Durant picking up his second foul with 0.1 remaining, resulting in Lopez hitting two free throws to cut the deficit to 63-61.

Irving led Brooklyn in the first half with 20 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field and 2-of-5 from three followed by Durant — who was trying to find a rhythm offensively with Tucker on him — with 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field and 0-of-2 from three. Griffin stepped up and helped charge Brooklyn’s flowing offense with 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field and hitting two threes in 19 minutes of play.

Brooklyn’s offensive tone carried over from the second quarter and the Nets continued to fight with grit through Durant’s mid-range game and Irving’s magical drives. Tucker — who picked up his third foul with 4:51 remaining — hit the bench, replaced by Brynn Forbes. Then Brooklyn’s defensive intensity rose, sparked by two big blocks from Claxton with the Nets nursing an 83-75 lead heading into the final three minutes of the third.

After two big misses from Antetokounmpo at the free-throw line, the Nets offense closed out the third on a strong note, beginning with a thunderous transition slam from Landry Shamet off a nifty feed from Irving and the final offensive possession of the third ending with a 25-foot step-back jumper from Durant. Although Lopez hit a 10-foot driving floater, Brooklyn headed into the fourth with a commanding 98-84 lead.

Brooklyn’s foot remained on the gas as the fourth began and after a Brown flush, the Nets extended their lead to 103-88 with 8:21 remaining. After Milwaukee got a big three from Giannis to cut some momentum, Brooklyn responded with a driving slam from Durant and an up-and-under from James to increase their lead to 109-93 with 5:54 remaining.

The Nets hit the two-minute mark nursing a 10-point lead and Nash released the bench — Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Alize Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Reggie Perry and Chris Chiozza at the 1:26 mark to finish the Game 1 win in front of a sellout crowd on their feet.

The Film Room

After losing its superstar point guard, its floor general on and off the floor, James Harden, it’d have been understandable if the Nets had just rolled over and quit.

But instead, they fought, clawed, and scrapped. Blake Griffin electrified the crowd and bench with hustle plays, diving for loose balls in a sea of white jerseys while knocking down crucial spot-up threes. Mike James came in and provided instant-offense, a HoopMixtape worthy package of flashy crossovers, crosscourt dimes, and pull-up threes.

Joe Harris, who has been somewhat of a downhill pest for opponents in the postseason so far, catches Khris Middleton off-guard with a drive to the rim after the Milwaukee All-Star guarded him tightly to extinguish the three-point shot. When Brook Lopez steps up to block the shot, Harris drops it off to Nicolas Claxton, who finishes with a flush.

More smart basketball from Joe Harris, who comes out of this flare screen action with Blake Griffin. Jrue Holiday is forced to rotate onto Harris after Khris Middleton goes under Griffin’s screen, and Joe handles the rest with the extra pass to Kyrie Irving. Kyrie, well, does what he does best. The crowd erupted after this one.

Extra passes were the theme of the night, and Kyrie Irving, who recorded 8 of his own and filled in nicely for the injured Harden, was a big provider of looks for teammates. Irving attacks after the hard closeout from Khris Middleton, waits until Brook Lopez rotates over to the block the shot, and then drops it off to Brooklyn’s resident miniature five-man, Bruce Brown.

“We have the ability to rise to the occasion,” said Kyrie Irving. “We’re a very mature basketball club because we play selflessly and we trust each other. Any situation in a game, I feel like we have the talent, we have prepared, we have the coaching staff to execute.”

With 5 guys in double figures, this was the textbook definition of a TEAM win.

Milestone Watch

Not much here tonight, other than Blake Griffin and Mike James who played their best games as members of the Nets...

  • Blake Griffin (18 points, 4-of-9 from deep, 14 rebounds) recorded his first double-double of the playoffs. Griffin posted one double-double in the regular season as a Net and his high for 3-pointers made as a Net in the regular season was four.
  • Mike James (12 points, 5-of-11 overall, 2-of-4 from deep, seven rebounds — a career high) played 30 minutes after James Harden went down.
  • Kyrie Irving’s 45 minutes is the most he’s played in a non-overtime game since joining the Nets. He played 48 minutes in the Nets overtime loss to the Cavs back on January 20.

Celebrities galore

Jay-Z and Beyonce’ were back courtside for the first time in a very, very long time.

Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck, multiple Super Bowl champions, were there to rep the Giants. Joe Douglas, the Jets GM, was there with family to rep the Jets. Comedian Trevor Noah and rappers A$AP Ferg and Travis Scott were also sitting courtside for the Game 1 victory.

Beyonce, Jay-Z and Noah etc. joined a crowd 15,750 last night, 98 percent of whom were vaccinated. That’s a pandemic sellout and a little less than 2,000 short of normal NBA capacity at Barclays. Unlike Knicks (who no longer are playing ICYMI), Barclays is still selling tickets to unvaccinated who sit in reserved sections where social distancing limits attendance.

A different look at fan violence from someone who’s been there!

When after last week’s surge of fan incidents some joked that what was taking place in the NBA is nothing compared to games in Europe. Mike James, who’d played for teams in seven Europe countries, responded.

What’s next

The Nets will return to action on Monday, June 7 when the team hosts the Bucks for Game 2. The game is scheduled to tip at 7:30 PM ET and will be nationally televised on TNT and Kyrie Irving knows that Milwaukee won’t have another tough shooting night come Monday.

“It didn’t really matter man. It’s just one game and they’re not going to shoot that way probably for the rest of the series because they are going to be focused and get even better shots with a higher sense of urg[ency]. You just got to be ready for that,” said Irving on the Bucks.

For a different perspective, check out Brew Hoop - our sister site covering the Bucks.