The Brooklyn Nets have their first-round opponent after the Boston Celtics got through the play-in tournament to nab the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.
It’s hardly a reward to meet the Nets, who many projected at the start of the 2020-21 season to represent the East in the NBA Finals.
Those odds have only increased since the Nets added James Harden to their already-imposing duo of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
The only problem is that the trio have only played eight games together since Harden’s arrival in January, as injuries have consistently led to at least one of the “Big 3” missing time.
According to FiveThirtyEight, Harden, Durant, and Irving have only played together for 5.8% of the Nets’ regular-season minutes, which would make it the least-played core to win a championship that season should they win it all.
Regardless of those numbers, Harden said that there is a “1000%” chance the Nets win it all as long as they find their game when it matters most.
“Some teams say, ‘We just need to do what we do best,’ and that’s just not good enough at times. But for us, that’s a great quote, and if we do that, then we definitely have a chance,” Harden, who returned from an 18-game absence due to a hamstring issue with two games left in the regular season, said. “Yeah, I’m back.
“I thought winning was all that matters. When I was doing the stats and putting up numbers [with Houston], it wasn’t good enough. At some point, we’ve got to figure out what we’re talking about.”
The playoffs will be the first true test of how the trio will interact on the floor when everything is on the line. Some have suggested that egos will get in the way, but Harden is dispelling that notion.
“It’s all about winning,” he said. “I don’t care about stats. My impact doesn’t have to show up on that stat sheet for us to win. Today in practice, I had zero points. We won. My job as a leader is to make sure everyone is playing well. If I’m doing that, I can focus on myself last.”
That leadership mentality certainly showed when Harden was able to stay healthy and on the floor in Brooklyn. He averaged 24.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 10.9 assists per game as the Nets went 29-7 when he was in the lineup. When he wasn’t, they were 12-11.
“We’re in constant communication,” Harden said as he drove home the point of his absence not having an adverse impact on the team. “We basically talk all day about what we need to do, our approach to the game. Mostly, it’s not about offense. It’s about defense and things we need to get better on.
“We all know that, us three and the entire team and coaching staff as well. Not for one bit do I think offense is going to be a problem because you’re dealing with three of the most unselfish guys in this league, three of the most skilled and talented players in this league.”
No. 2 Nets vs. No. 7 Celtics 1st-Round Schedule
- Game 1 @Nets: Saturday, May 22, 8 p.m. ET
- Game 2 @Nets: Tuesday, May 25, 7:30 p.m.
- Game 3 @Celtics: Friday, May 28, 8:30 p.m.
- Game 4 @Celtics: Sunday, May 30, 7 p.m.
- Game 5* @Nets: Tuesday, June 1, TBD
- Game 6* @Celtics: Thursday, June 3, Nets at Celtics, TBD
- Game 7* @Nets: Saturday, June 5, TBD
Team Rankings, 2020-21 season
Points per game
- Nets- 118.6 (2nd in NBA)
- Celtics- 112.6 (16th)
Points allowed per game
- Nets- 114.1 (21st)
- Celtics- 111.2 (11th)
Field goal %
- Nets- 49.4% (1st)
- Celtics- 46.6% (19th)
- Nets- 39.2% (2nd)
- Celtics- 37.4% (11th)