Two of the most constantly used words in sports are “if” and “maybe.” They justify or explain what could have been. Last Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, if Kevin Durant’s feet had been an inch behind the three-point line when he hit an incredible, spinning, 24-foot jumper from the right side of the arc with one second remaining, the Nets would have taken a 110-109 lead in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals series versus the Milwaukee Bucks.
“But my big ass foot stepped on the line,” said Durant. “I just saw how close I was to ending their season with that shot.” Instead, his bucket was a two-pointer and the score 109-109 at the end of regulation. Both teams were fatigued, but the Nets’ struggles with injuries caught up with them and their offense stalled in overtime.
They only put up two points, a basket by Bruce Brown at 4:38 of the five minute extra period. The Bucks added six points in OT to come away with a 115-111 victory and advance to the conference finals against the Atlanta Hawks, which began last night in Milwaukee.
“We got lucky his toe was on the line and they called it a two,” explained Bucks forward Khris Middleton. “But once he hits that shot, we’ve got to forget about it. There’s still ballgame left. That wasn’t the game.” While Durant was spectacular, scoring 48 points with nine rebounds, the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo was nearly as good, posting 40 points and 13 rebounds.
Not making excuses, Steve Nash offered a reason for the Nets coming up short. “You’re missing Kyrie (Irving). James (Harden) is on one leg. You have to understand,” said Nash, who dealt with injuries to his star players all season yet guided his team to the No.2 seed in the East in his first year as a head coach. “It’s not the same. And so, I still thought we could win it, and clearly I think we proved tonight that we could.”
Harden re-injured his right hamstring, the same hamstring he initially injured in April, in the first 43 seconds of Game 1 against the Bucks. The Nets were able to win the first two games at home without him, but then Kyrie Irving suffered a sprained ankle midway into the second quarter of Game 4 in Milwaukee, landing on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s foot after a layup, sidelining him for the remainder of the best-of-seven series.
Durant, Irving and Harden, Brooklyn’s Big 3, were limited to playing only eight games together during the regular season and six total in the playoffs, including Harden’s brief appearance in Game 1. With the series tied at 2-2 and back in Brooklyn for Game 5, Harden took one for the team, inserting himself back into the starting lineup, closely monitored by the Nets’ medical staff in his effort to help the team.
The nine-time All-Star wasn’t close to usual form. Harden gutted it out and came close to a triple-double, his stat line reading 22 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in Game 7, although he was only 2-12 from the three-point line and 5-17 overall. “I tried to go out there and do the best I [could],” said Harden. “Hopefully I gave my teammates some encouragement, some life.”
Not enough life to continue their season.