BROOKLYN, NY – It only took 43 seconds for the tenor of the Eastern Conference Semifinals showdown between the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks to turn upside down.
That was all the time James Harden spent on the court in Game 1 on Saturday night before limping back to the locker room. And while Brooklyn pulled off a 115-107 win to open this issue to the best of 7, the focus afterwards was understandably on Harden and his potential availability for the rest of the series.
“You know there were a lot of things thrown at us this year, so we were, in a sense, well trained for this event,” Nets coach Steve Nash said after the game. “But you never want to see that for someone like James, who is such an important player and such an incredible player and he cares so much.
“I’m heartbroken for him. I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t know if he will play the next game, if he will be out. I have no idea. But I’m heartbroken for him because he had to.”
The play on which the injury occurred was simple: an attack on Bucks guard Jrue Holiday. But after Harden threw a pass to the opposite corner, he fell and immediately grabbed his right hamstring. The Nets turned the ball out of bounds, made another play, and then Milwaukee carried the ball to the opposite end of the court, but throughout that stretch, Harden never moved at a faster pace than a walk. Then when play came to a halt at the other end, Harden simply walked off the court and headed straight for the locker room.
Later, a team spokesperson told ESPN’s Malika Andrews that she went in for an MRI, results the Nets were still waiting for after the game.
“I didn’t realize what had happened until he started walking off the pitch, but we were supposed to run [una] play and he wasn’t in his place and I looked at him, he was grimacing, “said Kevin Durant, who had 29 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Nets to victory.” It just sucks. Stinks. It sucks because I want him to be there on the floor.
“I know how much he cares. I know how much he wants to be right now. It sucks. I wish him a speedy recovery. We need to keep him involved as much as possible. It’s just a bad time.”
What makes the injury even more concerning for Brooklyn, when it comes to Harden’s ability to return in the series, is that this is the same hamstring that saw him miss more than a month before returning for the last week of the regular season.
He then returned to play in two games before the postseason began, and he had no problems in the series against the Boston Celtics in the first round.
However, trying to get past the many Bucks was expected to be a more difficult task, and that was before Brooklyn lost one of its mainstays in just moments into the long-awaited series start.
“I mean it’s never easy to lose anyone, especially at this time of year where we just want to have fun playing basketball and playing the right way and competing at a high level,” said Kyrie Irving, who had 25 points and eight assists. in 45 minutes. “Obviously we’re out there for bigger reasons, so when you see one of our brothers got taken from the game so early, we feel sorry for him, and we had to make a quick adjustment and just adjust from there.
“That’s the best we can do. We just brought the group together, made sure everyone on the bench knew what kind of situation we were in, and like I said, we played from there. We won tonight, but obviously, we will feel your loss no matter what. “
The bad moment of that low, at least for one night, was erased thanks to the impressive game of the others from Brooklyn. Blake Griffin had a rebirth performance, finishing with 18 points, 14 rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes, including 4 triples, before receiving a standing ovation when he fouled late in the fourth quarter. Point guard Mike James came off the bench and played 30 minutes, finishing with 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
As a team, the Nets shot 15 of 40 from 3-point range, while the Bucks were only 6 of 30 from deep. And after Milwaukee smashed the offensive glass in the first quarter, racking up eight offensive rebounds in those first 12 minutes, the Nets held the Bucks to a total of seven in the final 3 quarters, a much more manageable number.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo compared Milwaukee’s performance to how he looked in his first game against the Miami Heat in the first round. But while the Bucks were able to survive that game in overtime, the Nets, on the other hand, are a far more talented team, even without Harden on the floor.
“I think it was a little bit of everything,” said Antetokounmpo, who scored 34 points, had 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals, but committed five turnovers in 35 minutes. “The shots didn’t go in. We didn’t compete as hard as we wanted to on defense.
“We didn’t play for a week, everyone had the adrenaline, the nervousness, and we couldn’t calm down as a team and take a breath and play the right way and find our shots. But obviously, we were able to win that game. Now, we’re playing against a team that is much better offensively, and they made a lot of shots, so obviously we have to go out in Game 2 and do a better job.
And for their part, the Nets weren’t ready to say the series was over, either. Instead, they were already looking ahead to Game 2 on Monday night in Brooklyn, where the Nets will hope to extend their lead in this series whether Harden is available or not, but they will know the Bucks will be eager to remove the bitter flavors of his games after a poor performance in Game 1.
“Yeah, it doesn’t really matter,” Irving said of how the Nets played in Game 1. “It was just one game. They’re not going to shoot that way, probably the next game or the rest of the series because they’re going to be focused, they’re going to get some even better shots and other guys are going to play with a greater sense of verve and you just have to be prepared for that.
“I think we did a great job playing a few different plays. They got some easy ones. And we just want to fix that. But, we’re playing against great players. So we know they’re going to play better. We just have to keep competing and be in place. Right”.