In a mere 43 seconds, the Brooklyn Nets saw their championship aspirations go completely off the rails. James Harden aggravated a preexisting hamstring injury in the opening minute of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the #2 Brooklyn Nets and #3 Milwaukee Bucks.
Harden drove to the basket against Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday. He passed the ball to a teammate on the perimeter before limping out of bounds while clutching his right hamstring.
Despite losing Harden for the remainder of Game 1, the short-handed Nets held off Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo and the Bucks to win 115-107.
Kevin Durant scored 29 points with 10 rebounds in the win. Kyrie Irving added 25 points. Joe Harris contributed 19 points with five 3-pointers. As a starter, Blake Griffin scored 18 points and hauled down 14 rebounds. Backup point guard Mike James absorbed the bulk of Harden’s playing time, scoring 12 points in 30 minutes.
The Nets have a 1-0 series lead, but don’t know how sever Harden’s injury may be. Harden underwent an MRI, and the Nets are awaiting a complete diagnosis. His status for Game 2 is unknown.
Harden’s hamstring woes
Harden averaged 27.8 points, 10.6 assists, and 7.8 rebounds per game in the first-round series against the Boston Celtics. The Nets finished off the Celtics in five games.
Harden initially tweaked his hamstring in early April against the New York Knicks. He missed five weeks before returning to action for two games in the final weekend of the regular season. During 44-game regular season, Harden averaged 24.6 points, 10.8 assists, and 7.9 rebounds per game.
No big 3, no problem?
The Nets only had the Big 3 for a handful of games this season. When Harden arrived in a trade, Kyrie Irving had been sidelined due to personal reasons. When Irving returned, Kevin Durant injured his hamstring. When Durant recovered from his injury, Harden became the next member of the trio to miss time.
The Nets spent most of the season without their big guns and still secured the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Playing without Harden is doable, but they’ll need his scoring and playmaking abilities over the long haul if they expect to win a championship.
The Bucks vs. Nets series is widely considered a huge matchup between the top two teams in the league. A prevailing theory exists that suggests the winner of the Bucks/Nets will end up winning the championship. Any injury to a starter in the playoffs is a major concern. Losing Harden for any amount of time is a bad beat in crucial series against the Bucks.
“It went our way tonight,” said Irving after Game 1’s win. “Obviously, we’re gonna feel his loss no matter what.”
“It just sucks,” said Durant said. “It sucks.”
Oddsmakers are awaiting the results of Harden’s MR before they adjust the NBA futures board. You can still back the Brooklyn Nets at +180 odds to win the 2021 NBA championship, according to Betway. The Milwaukee Bucks are the third-highest team on the board at +550 odds to win the title. The Nets are -220 odds to win the series and the Bucks are +175 underdogs, according to a recent update by DraftKings.
Check out more coverage of the 2021 NBA Playoffs.