Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2020-21 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, the Brooklyn Nets take the spotlight.
Context: The Nets throw the first punch.
In Game 1 of their second-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks, the Nets cruised to a 115-107 victory behind the play of two of their All-Stars in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. While Durant went for a team-high 29 points (12-25 FG) and 10 rebounds, Irving chipped in with 25 points (11-26 FG) and a game-high eight assists.
The win is even more impressive considering Brooklyn was without its third All-Star in James Harden, who left the game early due to an injury.
There was one particular play late in the fourth quarter that showed how difficult the Nets are to guard even without the three-time scoring champion.
You know what that means - to the film room!
Breakdown: Durant is in control for the Nets following a made basket from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Surrounding Durant are Irving, Mike James, Joe Harris and Blake Griffin. The four of them park themselves on the 3-point line to give Durant the room he needs to attack P.J. Tucker on an island.
Durant was one of the league's best 1-on-1 scorers this season. According to NBA.com, he averaged 3.9 points per game in isolation, putting him behind only 10 players - two of which were Harden (6.1) and Irving (4.8) - for most in the league. He scored at a rate of 1.18 points per possession, ranking him in the 94th percentile.
You probably don't need those numbers to know that Durant is an elite isolation scorer, but ... yeah, he's a cheat code.
Durant blows by Tucker, forcing three defenders in Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez to collapse.
Rather than forcing a tough shot over them, Durant kicks it out to Griffin in the opposite corner.
Griffin made 40.2 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts this season and had it rolling in Game 1, going 4-for-9 from the perimeter.
Not wanting him to get another open shot, Jrue Holiday leaves Irving on the wing to rotate over to Griffin.
Not wanting Irving to get an open shot, both Antetokounmpo and Lopez run out at him.
Irving quickly moves the ball along to James.
James also had the touch from 3-point range in Game 1, knocking down two of his four attempts.
Not wanting him to get an open shot, Middleton leaves Harris to close out on him.
The ball is on the move again.
The ball ends up in the hands of Harris, who is pretty good at the whole 3-point shooting thing.
A stat that's almost too good to be true: Harris posted an effective field goal percentage of 88.0 percent when left open in catch-and-shoot situations during the regular season, per Synergy Basketball.
This is a layup for Harris:
Why it matters: The Nets lost Harden 43 seconds into Game 1 due to a hamstring injury.
We still don't know the extent of his injury, but seeing as it's the same injury that sidelined Harden for over a month in the regular season, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Nets took the cautious approach.
"I'm heartbroken for him," Nets head coach Steve Nash said of Harden after the game. "I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know if he's playing the next game, if he's out. I have no idea. But I'm heartbroken for him that he had to miss tonight."
What's crazy is the Nets are still practically unguardable without Harden.
That much was clear in Game 1, which saw the Nets hang 115 points on the Bucks on .469/.375/.889 shooting splits, but them lighting teams up without one of Irving, Durant and Harden is nothing new.
According to NBA.com, the Nets scored at a rate of 119.6 points per 100 possessions with Irving, Durant and Harden on the court during the regular season. That number dropped ever-so-slightly to 118.9 when Irving and Harden shared the court without Durant. When Irving and Durant shared the court without Harden, however, it increased to 120.6. And when Harden and Durant shared the court without Irving, it increased to ... 122.1.
Reminder: Brooklyn had the league's best offensive rating this season at 117.3. As long as two of their three All-Stars were on the court, the Nets were basically unguardable.
|Lineup||Minutes||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Net Rating|
|Irving, Durant and Harden||202||119.6||112.5||7.1|
|Irving and Durant without Harden||772||120.6||111.8||8.8|
|Irving and Harden without Durant||703||118.9||114.6||4.3|
|Harden and Durant without Irving||301||122.1||110.9||11.2|
The Nets are obviously at their scariest when all three of their All-Stars are healthy and not having Harden in this series would hurt them in different ways. (Durant and Irving each played 40 minutes in Game 1. Having Harden allows Nash to stagger the three of them more, easing each of their loads). There's also a good chance that Game 1 ends up being Milwaukee's worst performance of the series. Antetokounmpo dominated with 34 points (16-24 FG) and 11 rebounds, but Holiday and Middleton didn't provide much help - the two of them combined for 30 points on 13-for-42 shooting from the field - and the Bucks were ice-cold from 3-point range.
Still, the Nets have played a lot of this season with only two members of their Big Three. It's not something they would like to be dealing with in this series, but those reps sure came in handy in Game 1.
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