Nets can turn postseason into true Knicks horror show
Nets' James Harden loss means more falls to Kevin Durant
Giannis Antetokounmpo showdown is about legacy for Kevin Durant
James Harden's Brooklyn transformation is perception-changing
The Knicks don't deserve your anger
For those of us old enough to remember, watching the 2021 Brooklyn Nets’ offense can be like watching the 1985 Chicago Bears’ defense. You are often left wondering how a unit that dominant could ever lose a game.
The Nets have reduced the Milwaukee Bucks to an amateur-hour operation, with the reigning two-time league MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, shrinking by the possession. Struggling superstars can sometimes find a sanctuary on the free-throw line. For Antetokounmpo, with Nets fans counting off the clock as his excruciatingly painful routine blows past the legal 10-second limit, the line seems more like a torture chamber.
Milwaukee swept the Miami Heat in the first round despite the fact that Miami was a finalist last year with a well-established culture of development and accountability designed to prevent things like playoff sweeps. “This aint the bubble,” the Bucks’ official Twitter account posted after the punctuating Game 4, a cute dig at Miami’s breathless bubble run in 2020.
Cute until Milwaukee’s own bubble burst in Brooklyn.
The Bucks found out the hard way what the rest of the NBA has discovered: It’s getting awfully difficult to picture anyone other than the Nets raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy next month. Milwaukee was supposed to be on its own championship-or-else mission this year after recent playoff failures, including last year’s five-game loss to the Heat. And yet Brooklyn has imposed its will forcefully enough to make the Bucks appear to be counterfeit goods, again, while James Harden sits and watches and saves his injured right hamstring for more worthy foes.
Even without Harden on the floor, the Nets are ridiculously explosive. Kevin Durant is all the way back to being his pre-injury self, shooting over Antetokounmpo, driving past him, and all but taunting him with that double crossover dribble that would break four ankles if you had four. Kyrie Irving is reminding people why the Hall of Fame playmaker who has watched them all, 92-year-old Bob Cousy, ranks him among the five most talented point guards he’s ever seen.
Brooklyn also has its role players rolling, their performances clearly elevated by the firepower around them. Blake Griffin, 32, is high-flying like Blake Griffin, 24, and the Bruce Browns and Landry Shamets are opportunistic enough to find the crevices in the game that their hybrid talents can fill. And then there’s Joe Harris. The Bucks and everyone else realize he is more than worth covering. The problem is, opponents who need to provide help on the Nets’ stars don’t have enough bodies left over to close hard on Harris, who has made 25 of his 49 3-point attempts (51 percent) in Brooklyn’s seven playoff games after leading the league in 3-point percentage during the regular season, when he shot 47.5 percent.
The Nets were 0-2 against the Bucks last month without Harden, and are now 2-0 against the Bucks without him in the only standings that matter — the postseason standings. Yes, as a necessary disclaimer, it’s possible that the Freak rediscovers himself in Milwaukee for Games 3 and 4, and that the fired-up Bucks — tired of their authenticity being questioned — draw on their home crowd’s energy to even the series and make the Nets sweat when they take the Barclays Center court for Game 5.
But that’s all it is — a necessary disclaimer, a warning begging to be ignored. Assuming the Nets dispose of Milwaukee, a quick review of the tournament shows no formidable obstacle separating them from an NBA title, and from a debate over how the city should celebrate the end of a near-half-century basketball drought made possible by an outerborough champ.
If the Sixers survive the Hawks, their concerns about Joel Embiid’s knee will likely outweigh the Nets’ concerns about Harden’s hamstring. The Hawks don’t have the weapons to do to the Nets what they did to the Knicks. Out West, LeBron’s Lakers effectively took the year off. The Jazz? Clippers? Suns? Nuggets? All very good, well-coached teams, but no juggernauts in the bunch. Those four franchises have a combined zero NBA titles to their names; only one, the Clippers, have a primary star who has won any titles elsewhere (Kawhi Leonard, 2). The Nets’ only trophies are the pair that Julius Erving won in their 1970s ABA days, but they have two primary stars who have won NBA championships in Durant (2) and Irving (1).
What does it all mean? The Nets have the most dynamic cast of offensive players, an improving defense, and a chance to summon Harden from the bullpen in the near future. They look like a safe bet to win the whole thing, and it’s been a long time since anyone said that about a basketball team from any part of the big city.
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