The Brooklyn Nets are back in hamstring hell, with James Harden’s adjustment change putting a significant brake on their best win of the season.
The Nets face that family adversity again, only this time they are the losers again. Harden went from a right hamstring strain to a backhand strain, which cost him 20 games, to coming back and being the best player on the team in the first round and re-injuring his right hamstring to just 43 seconds of Game 1 of Round 2 against Milwaukee. Bucks Saturday night.
Brooklyn’s supporting cast stepped up in a big way, and the result was a 115-107 victory over Milwaukee. But it came at a significant cost. And given the No. 13’s hamstring injury history, there’s exactly no reason to be optimistic. Harden was injured on a way to the basket against Jrue Holiday and limped to the other side of the court before heading straight to the locker room and then out of the Barclays Center and into an MRI tube. The results are pending.
“I am heartbroken for him,” Steve Nash told reporters.
It is impossible not to feel for “The Beard”. He is a triple-double machine, a vocal leader, the engine of his team. The whole organization loves it. And he’s chasing that elusive championship ring. Only now James Harden, always known for his durability, can be reduced to a position of coach and cheerleader on the bench. And that is devastating.
The Nets (33-8 with Harden, 12-11 without him since the Jan. 14 trade came in) were considered the favorites because of their Big Three, and are now down to Big Two. It’s hard not to think back to the past and wonder why Harden came back so early from the original pain (he sat only two games). Brooklyn prides itself on taking precautions and having a long-term vision, but its hopes for the title may ultimately be dashed due to a complicated injury that appeared to be poorly managed from the start.
Kevin Durant (29 points, 10 rebounds in 40 minutes) and Kyrie Irving (25 points, eight assists in 45 minutes) rose to the occasion in Harden’s absence, delivering their usual superstar performances. Durant and Irving are champions who know how to do it in time to win, and they did it once again.
But this victory was so much about the supporting cast. Acquiring the Blake Griffin purchase had 18 points and 14 rebounds, as he spent much of his time diving onto the court to pick up fumbles, galvanizing his teammates in the process. Overseas signing Mike James, and top scoring for Sean Marks, JR Holden, Tony Durant and others in this move, made the most of his opportunity and played with his usual fire and bravery, adding 12 points and seven rebounds. And Joe Harris, the guy Brooklyn signed once for two years, $ 2 million before resurrecting his career, was 5-of-9 from 3-point range and added 19 points.
The Nets finally played with the necessary defensive energy and effort. They also shared the ball by committee, rather than going into isolation mode. The 3-point line proved to be the difference: Brooklyn was 15 of 40 to Milwaukee’s 6 of 30, but the Bucks were surprisingly one step behind for most of the night. Giannis Antetokounmpo (34 points, 11 rebounds) got his, but Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton combined to shoot 13-of-42. That’s just not good enough. Milwaukee needs to improve.
Still, the Bucks probably won’t keep shooting that bad from deep. Griffin will likely not be able to string together back-to-back performances of the clock. And Harden’s injury is huge.
There are still many series. The Nets were victorious, but from now on they will be the favorites. The Big 15 is likely to be the Big 14 for some time. Durant and Irving must remain from another world. And the supporting cast must continue to deliver.
Waiting for the results of James Harden’s MRI is the hardest part.