Kevin Durant knew something was wrong when the Brooklyn Nets were trying to run a play and James Harden wasn’t in the right place.
Moments later, Harden wasn’t even in the game, forced to leave with a right hamstring injury less than a minute into the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“That was tough,” Nets coach Steve Nash stated.
Durant and Kyrie Irving made sure it wasn’t a knockout blow.
Durant scored 29 points, Irving had 25 and the two superstars carried Brooklyn to a 115-107 triumph over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night in Game 1.
Harden’s injury is the same one that forced him to miss two losses to the Bucks in May.
But the Nets beat Milwaukee when it mattered most without him, getting 19 points from Joe Harris and 18 points and 14 rebounds from Blake Griffin.
“We try not to be too emotional out there, but losing one of your leaders like that on the first play of the game, we had to regroup for a couple of minutes and figure out what was next, but I think the coaches, the coaching staff did a great job of moving forward,” Durant said.
“Guys came in and just tried to play extremely hard. We didn’t care about anything else but playing and executing the game plan and just leaving it all out there.”
And they got a solid defensive effort despite giving up plenty of size, limiting the Bucks to 13 points below their NBA-leading average.
Durant grabbed 10 rebounds and Irving had eight assists, throwing some amazing passes as the Nets moved the ball around quickly and had the Bucks a step or more behind all night.
“We’ve got to guard defensively together, especially against this team,” Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo said.
Game 2 is Monday night.
“Our guys got to execute defensively regardless of who’s on the court, execute offensively regardless of who’s on the court,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’ve got to be better. We’ll be better Monday.”
Antetokounmpo had 34 points and 11 rebounds, but the Bucks were just 6 for 30 from 3-point range and lost for the first time in the playoffs after storming past Miami in a first-round sweep.
Brook Lopez scored 19 points for the Bucks and Jrue Holiday had 17 points and nine rebounds. Khris Middleton finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds but was 6 for 23, missing all five 3-pointers.
The NBA’s two highest-scoring teams played at a dizzying pace, where look down after a basket and they might already be shooting at the other end by the time you looked up.
The pace favored the Nets, who pulled away for good in the third quarter. Durant picked up his fourth foul with 1:36 left in the period, quickly waving his hands toward Nash that he didn’t want to come out of the game. Lopez made the two free throws to cut it to nine, but Durant then scored seven straight points, with his 3-pointer pushing it to 98-82 with 5.1 seconds remaining.