What happened to the Nets? Plenty of offensive firepower, not enough health
NEW YORK — The Brooklyn Nets had all the shooting and scoring any team could ever want.
They just didn’t have the health that every team needs.
Kevin Durant was spectacular in his first postseason in Brooklyn, but by the end of it a Big Three was down to 1 1/2. Kyrie Irving was on the bench and James Harden probably should have been.
That’s the way it often went for Brooklyn after putting together its three superstars. On paper, it looked unstoppable.
On the court, it just wasn’t seen all that much.
“We gave it everything we had,” Harden said. “Just having to deal with injuries throughout the course of the year set us back.”
That contributed to an ending far earlier than the Nets anticipated. Brooklyn was eliminated with a 115-111 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Irving missed the final 3 1/2 games of the series with a sprained right ankle. Harden played only 43 seconds of Games 1-4 because of right hamstring tightness, then came back without much mobility to play the final three.
Things like that happened plenty for the Nets. Just as one All-Star would come back, another would go out. Durant, Irving and Harden played in the same game only eight times during the regular season and got only one round together in the postseason.
“So much adversity this year,” coach Steve Nash said. “First year together. So many changes to the roster. So many injuries. COVID protocols. They couldn’t have given us anything more.”
The Nets went 48-24, the best winning percentage in franchise history and the second-best record in the East. They were second in the league in scoring and 3-point percentage, led the league in field goal percentage and reached 120 points 34 times, nearly half their games.
But that firepower was gone by midway through the second round. All the Nets really had left was Durant, and that was almost enough. He had 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 5 and then 48 points, most ever in a Game 7, while playing all 53 minutes.
The plan was for him to have more help and win more games.
“We want to win,” Durant said. “We want to win every game we play. We want to win a championship every year, just like every team.”
They didn’t get nearly close enough.
Things to know about the Nets as they begin their offseason:
After missing a season recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, Durant looked just as good as he did while winning four NBA scoring titles. He averaged 26.9 points and set career highs by shooting 53.7% from the field and 45% from 3-point range.
Harden said after Game 7 he was playing with basically a Grade 2 hamstring strain. He wasn’t in shape to begin the season in Houston and perhaps that led to an injury-plagued finish in Brooklyn, where he missed 20 of 21 games in the second half with hamstring problems.
MANNING THE MIDDLE
The center spot is probably the biggest need for the Nets. DeAndre Jordan lost his starting role and eventually his place in the rotation entirely, LaMarcus Aldridge had to retire because of a heart condition and Blake Griffin ended up having to start despite being undersized. The Nets will have to determine if second-year big man Nicolas Claxton is the answer or if they need to look outside.
The Nets gave their rookie head coach an experienced staff. But there are currently seven teams looking for new coaches and some of Nash’s assistants, such as two-time Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni and Ime Udoka, could be candidates.
ROUNDING OUT THE ROSTER
With Durant, Irving and Harden all under contract, the Nets have made all their big moves and should need only to build around them. Veterans such as Griffin and Aldridge were happy to sign on cheap for a chance at a ring and the Nets should be able to interest more players like them.