It’s a New Series as the Injury Bug Returns to Bite the Nets

MILWAUKEE — When the Nets settled into their resort in the metropolis’s Historic Third Ward final week, their 2-Zero collection cushion in opposition to the hometown Bucks appeared particularly soft. A lead that reached as excessive as 49 factors in the Nets’ Game 2 rout — with out the injured James Harden — had the whole N.B.A. discouraged.

By the time the Nets flew again residence on Sunday evening, after a second consecutive highway defeat and the lack of one other famous person, they had been abruptly pressured to ponder the chance that fielding a full-strength workforce is a luxurious this season would possibly by no means afford, regardless of how lavishly the roster reads.

Kyrie Irving’s proper foot bent sharply in Sunday’s second quarter after he transformed a layup and got here down on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s proper foot. Antetokounmpo had positioned himself for a rebound however left little touchdown area, and Irving was quickly dominated out for the remainder of the recreation with a sprained proper ankle. It all meant that Kevin Durant would have to attempt to sustain with the emboldened Bucks alongside a fairly restricted supporting forged, whereas Harden stood all through the recreation to shout directions from the bench in road garments.

Milwaukee predictably pulled away for a 107-96 Game four victory that evened this best-of-seven, second-round collection at two video games apiece and which, coupled with the uncertainty of Irving’s standing, erased any notion of consolation that the Nets as soon as felt. Irving left Fiserv Forum on crutches and together with his proper foot in a strolling boot after X-rays had been damaging, in accordance to a individual briefed on Irving’s standing however unauthorized to focus on it publicly.

“It was a big adjustment tonight to play without him and James,” Nets Coach Steve Nash mentioned, referring to Irving and Harden. “But we’ve had that type of year.”

Even by the requirements of this injury-laden Nets season, wherein Durant, Irving and Harden have scarcely been in a position to play collectively since Harden arrived in a four-team commerce in mid-January, Sunday afternoon’s occasions had the jarring really feel of a new low. That was the unavoidable takeaway with out even factoring in the fireplace alarm after the closing buzzer that pressured all area occupants, together with each groups, to be evacuated for what the Bucks termed “precautionary reasons.”

The Nets’ authentic intention for this Milwaukee journey was to win not less than one recreation and arrange Game 5 on Tuesday evening at Barclays Center in Brooklyn as a closeout alternative, enabling Harden to basically take the collection off after aggravating a proper hamstring harm in the opening minute of Game 1. With the collection now tied, in what was billed in lots of corners as a matchup that might nicely produce the N.B.A.’s subsequent champion, Nash discovered himself fielding questions on the urge to restore Harden to the lineup on Tuesday.

“I think it’s an independent case,” Nash mentioned, swatting down the concept that Irving’s prognosis would affect Harden’s timetable. “I don’t want James to be rushed back.”

The different issue, past Irving’s setback, that prompted such questions: Milwaukee had begun to trigger issues even earlier than Irving’s exit and appeared a lot extra like the workforce that swept the Miami Heat in the first spherical. Antetokounmpo had the standout box-score line with 34 factors and 12 rebounds, however P.J. Tucker was the Bucks’ unquestioned spark, easing the strain (not less than quickly) on the Bucks’ under-fire coach, Mike Budenholzer. After scoring simply 9 factors in the first three video games of the collection, Tucker sank three 3-pointers from the nook, his well-chronicled favourite spot, and completed with 13 factors and seven rebounds.

He might need been much more efficient at the different finish, imposing his physicality on Durant in exactly the method the Bucks envisioned once they acquired him from Houston in a March commerce. Durant led the Nets with 28 factors and 13 rebounds however wanted 25 photographs to attain his scoring whole. When Tucker was the major defender, Durant shot Three for 12.

During a verbal confrontation between Tucker and Durant in Milwaukee’s slender Game Three victory, Antjuan Lambert, a private safety guard for Durant who was employed by the Nets once they signed him, got here onto the court docket and shoved Tucker. The Nets had been notified on Saturday that Lambert had been barred by the league workplace from any additional on-court involvement in the collection.

Sunday really introduced a optimistic begin for the Nets, with Jeff Green being cleared to make his collection debut after lacking the first three video games with a left plantar fascia pressure. Green instantly drew a cost upon coming into the recreation late in the first quarter, placing Antetokounmpo in early foul bother, however the Nets’ hopeful vibe was quickly doused by the sight of Irving hobbling to the locker room after he spent a number of minutes on the ground recovering from the painful touchdown.

When the Nets lastly surrendered in the fourth quarter, pulling Durant with four minutes 28 seconds remaining and the hosts main by 99-84, Milwaukee’s crowd, which included the Wisconsin native J.J. Watt of the Arizona Cardinals, broke into a “Bucks in six” chant.

You’d have struggled to discover anybody, with or with out native ties, who believed that final result could be potential after Milwaukee’s humbling 125-86 defeat at Barclays Center final Monday in Game 2. In these playoffs, although, accidents proceed to wield the largest affect. Health woes for star gamers had been unrelenting all through the second half of a harried common season carried out in pandemic circumstances — and stay so.

Remember the warning we obtained from Philadelphia 76ers Coach Doc Rivers at the begin of the second spherical?

“It’s going to be the battle of the fittest by the end of this thing,” Rivers mentioned. He was uncertain at the time how nicely his star heart, Joel Embiid, would fare attempting to play by means of a slight meniscus tear in his proper knee in the 76ers’ second-round collection in opposition to Atlanta.

Embiid, for now, is flourishing. For the Nets and particularly Durant? Suddenly nothing is slight about their scarcity of playmakers or the load he’ll have to carry.

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