The Brooklyn Nets worst fears were realized Saturday night. And later that night, so was the rest of the NBA’s.
Just 43 seconds into Game 1 of their playoff series against the formidable Milwaukee Bucks, James Harden left the court with a hamstring injury and never returned. That exact scenario is what had Nets fans fretting going into these playoffs – an injury to one of their Big Three. It also was what the rest of the league secretly might have been wishing for.
Fear not, Brooklyn. The other two-thirds of the Big Three – Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving – combined for 54 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists and Blake Griffen added an 18-point, 14-rebound double-double to lead the Nets to a 115-107 win.
The Nets chances of winning the franchise’s first NBA title will be greatly enhanced with a healthy Harden, of course. But for one night, the Ne0s had enough to offset the Bucks’ Big Three of Giannis Antetokounmpo (34 points, 11 rebounds, four assists), Khris Middleton (13 points, 13 rebounds, four assists) and Jrue Holiday (17 points, nine rebounds, six assists).
The Nets are quite accustomed to playing without one member of their Big Three. Durant, Harden and Irving were on the court for just eight regular season games. They may have to win without Harden for a while.
Harden initially injured his right hamstring on April 5th. He missed 21 games, returning to play in the final two games of the regular season. He was fine and fantastic in the opening-roound win over the Celtics. But hamstring injuries are among the most unpredictable.
Durant scored 29 points, grabbed 10 boards and had three assists. Irving had 25 points, five rebounds and eight assists. The difference was Griffin, who posted his second double-double of the season.
Now comes the hard part – waiting to learn the extent of Harden’s injury. The Bucks couldn’t have asked for a better chance to win the first game of this seven-game series. And the NBA was reminded of just how good the Big Two are.