On a normal team, James Harden missing all but 43 seconds of the first two games of a second-round playoff series would be a catastrophic blow. The Brooklyn Nets, however, are not a normal team. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in peak form, the Nets haven’t missed a beat without Harden in taking a 2-0 lead on the Milwaukee Bucks.
On Wednesday, news broke that Harden will again be sidelined for Game 3 — which is set for Thursday in Milwaukee at 7:30 p.m. ET — as his right hamstring continues to bother him.
The combination of Harden, Durant and Irving played only eight games and 202 minutes together during the regular season, but after a quick 4-1 series win over the Boston Celtics in the first round, it looked like the star trio was finally starting to coalesce.
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Unfortunately, the injury gods just won’t leave the Nets alone. Less than one minute into Game 1 of their second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, Harden left and went to the locker room. He was seen reaching for his right hamstring on Brooklyn’s first offensive possession, a drive and kick attempt. He was then ruled out for the remainder of the game, and he went on to miss Game 2 as well.
“Yeah. I mean you know to be honest with you, tightness, and most importantly is he’s out for the next game,” Nets coach Steve Nash said after Game 1. “… For James, we obviously are desperate for him to return and he’s a huge piece of what we do and our team, but at this point I think it would be all guesswork to really understand — he’s had such an up-and-down recent history with it and it’s really hard to predict, so let’s hope for the best. But we can’t really say anything too predictive or too definitive right now.”
While Nash said that the Nets would have to consider taking some risks given it is playoff time, Brooklyn isn’t going to risk further injury to Harden, who missed 21 games during the regular season because of this same hamstring, by rushing him back.
“All I’m aware of is tightness,” Nash said. “I think James, he has high hopes. And wants to be back ASAP. Now I think we want to protect James, too. We want to make sure he’s right. This is playoff time, this is time to take some risks, but it has to be right to take those risks. We’re not going to take any old risk. So we hope he’s back. I think he believes he can be back. But we gotta see what happens, and only time can tell how he responds.”
This series already has a number of injuries weakening both sides. The Nets have also been playing without forward Jeff Green, who will also miss Game 3. The Bucks lost guard Donte DiVincenzo for the postseason during their first-round series against the Miami Heat. Spencer Dinwiddie tore his ACL earlier in the season and has been out ever since.
Injuries have sadly been a constant feature of this condensed season, but as Nash said, Brooklyn is built to withstand them as well as any other team. Having three All-Star shot creators helps protect them against an injury to any one of them. The duo of Irving and Durant is still more than enough to keep the offense afloat for a short period, but in order to win the championship, the Nets will likely need all three of their stars contributing.