NEW YORK (AP) — First they lost James Harden, then Kyrie Irving, and finally the Brooklyn Nets lost their lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Though the series is tied, the Milwaukee Bucks are way ahead in the health category.
Down to Kevin Durant as their lone healthy superstar, the Nets limp home to host Game 5 on Tuesday, a team that once piled up points with ease suddenly struggling to cobble together much offense at all.
“This is what it’s all about in the playoffs, is you’re going to have ups and downs. You’re going to have momentum shifts, you’re going to have adversity and it’s about how you respond,” Nets coach Steve Nash said Monday. “So tomorrow is a great opportunity for us to show what we’re made of, respond in a positive way and put on our best performance of the series.”
The Nets were bitten by the injury bug all season, with long absences for Durant and Harden in the second half. Their three stars played together only eight times in the regular season and they may not have another chance until October.
Nash said Irving won’t play Tuesday because of the sprained right ankle he sustained in Game 4. Harden hasn’t played since the opening minute of Game 1 because of right hamstring tightness. When he returned from the same injury in April, he promptly strained it minutes into his return and missed the next 18 games, so the Nets are being cautious with him.
So most of the positives now belong to the Bucks, a far cry from when the series left Brooklyn after the Nets handed them a 125-86 beating in Game 2.
“I think our confidence has been the same,” Bucks star Khris Middleton said. “We said the same thing after we lost 1 and 2, we’ve just got to find a way to protect our home court like they did. We didn’t get down on ourselves. We didn’t count ourselves out. Now our message is we’ve got to steal one of these on the road to win the series, no matter what. Hopefully it starts” Tuesday.
The Nets were held to 83 points in Game 3 and 96 on Sunday, when the Bucks were able to focus additional defensive attention on Durant. He said he will be ready for whatever role he has to play and expects the same of whichever teammates can play the remainder of the series.
“We’re pros and we’ve got to adapt to anything,” Durant said. “And if Kyrie and James are out there, guys will be ready, and if not guys will be ready as well. So that’s just really what it is up here at this level.”