The Brooklyn Nets’ first hurdle has been easily cleared, disposing of the Boston Celtics in five games with a 123-109 victory in Game 5 at Barclays Center on Tuesday night.
This was the expected result, after all. But Brooklyn’s greatest strength — its ‘Big 3′ of Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Kevin Durant — also posed its largest questions heading into the playoffs. The trio played together in just 5.8% of the Nets’ regular-season minutes (h/t FiveThirtyEight), which would make it the least-played core to win a championship that season should they win it all.
In the first round, at least, there was no issue about how they co-existed.
Durant led the way averaging 32.6 points per game against Boston, Harden continues to adapt to more of a facilitating role with 27.8 points and 10,6 assists per game, and Irving rounded it out with 24.8 points per game of his own in the first round.
That’s a pretty good distribution of the wealth between three players who have combined for 27 All-Star appearances, two MVP’s, and seven league scoring championships.
“We don’t want to take any of this time for granted, and we know this doesn’t happen too often in our culture, in our history where three of the best scorers to ever play the game are on one team,” Irving said. “Then you have a collection of guys that have done unbelievable things in this league, either coming off the bench or starting with us. So we just want everyone to feel good. We’re a selfless group.
“We try to make sure it’s not just about us three, but we understand that the expectations is on us to perform and to lead our team. It’s just inevitable so we welcome that. We just don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.”
It’s only going to get tougher with the vaunted Milwaukee Bucks waiting for them in the second round, but this was a plenty promising postseason start to the Nets’ quest toward a first NBA title.
“Obviously, there’s some things we’ve got to work on; obviously, communication and just where guys like the ball,” Harden said. “It has to come fairly quick. For me, I pretty much know, but I think communication goes a long way. As long as we’re aggressive and we kind of communicate throughout the course and our coaches do a great job of putting us in positions, that’s all that matters.
“I think if the rest are on the same page and playing well, we can communicate with the rest of the guys where to be on both ends of the ball, I’ll take our chances against anybody.”
The Bucks have some hefty expectations upon their own shoulders as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. They swept the defending conference champion Miami Heat in the first round with superstar big man Giannis Antetokounmpo averaging 23.5 points, 15 rebounds, and 7.8 assists per game.
He headlines a physical, big Bucks team that will try to get the most out of its considerable advantage in size against the more finesse Nets. Of course, it all depends if they’ll be able to keep up with Brooklyn’s Big 3.
“We just want to take it one day at a time. Obviously, when you get ahead of yourself, that usually doesn’t work out for us so we just want to take it one day at a time as we develop more of a collective effort that we can be consistent with,” Irving said. “I just feel like we’ve made strides in a short period of time. It feels like three weeks ago we were talking about getting on the same page, doing the little things in order for us to win, continuously boxing out, rebounding, and stopping teams from feeling comfortable against us out there.
“So in any competitive field, you want your opponent to feel some type of physicality so you make it harder on them.”