NEW YORK — Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving came together as free agents in 2019. James Harden joined them after a trade in January.
They gave the Brooklyn Nets offensive talent that is the envy of the NBA. They have won seven scoring titles and combined for more than 78 points per game this season. Their firepower is undeniable.
It’s their chemistry that’s in question.
Durant, Irving and Harden played together just eight times this season, only once in the final three months. The lack of time looms as a weakness on a team that doesn’t have many, one the Nets will hope to overcome starting Saturday in Game 1 of a first-round series against the Boston Celtics.
“I think there’s two schools of thought,” Nets Coach Steve Nash said. “Some people look at our talent and say well, they’ve got to be the favorites. Other people look at our team and say there’s no way they can win because it’s their first year together, their star players have only played a handful of games together. So I could understand why people would come to the conclusion or predict both scenarios.”
Brooklyn went 48-24 to earn the No. 2 seed, despite lengthy injury absences for Durant and Harden during the second half of the season. All three superstars arrive at the postseason healthy, so Celtics Coach Brad Stevens isn’t counting on any struggles from a team that set a franchise record by scoring 120 points 34 times – nearly half its games.
“There will be some tip-your-cap moments where you’re going to have to go like, ‘Nice shot’ and go down the other end and score.” Stevens said. “And that’s probably the other part about this for us, is you’re not going to hold these guys to 90 or whatever the case may be. These guys are a high-octane offense. You’ve got to guard them as hard as you can and then you’ve got to go and score on the other end.”
Boston earned the opportunity by beating Washington 118-100 on Tuesday to secure the No. 7 seed after going 36-36 in the regular season. Jayson Tatum scored 50 points, his third time hitting that mark this season.
“Obviously I’ve had a few of those big nights and other guys have had big nights of their own to help contribute to us winning,” Tatum said. “So it was just one of those nights and obviously we all feel good about ourselves after that and it was a big win, but you know it’s behind us now. It doesn’t really matter. We’re on to a new series so that’s kind of the focus.”
Brooklyn won all three meetings with the Celtics, including a 123-95 rout in Boston on Christmas. Irving had 77 points in 77 minutes in the first two matchups before managing just 15 on 4-for-19 shooting in the third. He averaged 24.1 points in two seasons with the Celtics before signing in Brooklyn.
“He is a super special player with a really good heart and certainly I don’t have anything negative to say at all,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that puts you on your heels when you’re playing against him and certainly has impacted winning in so many ways everywhere he’s been.”
Harden thinks defense is the key for the Nets, believing the points will come even with the a lack of action for him, Irving and Durant.
“I don’t think offense is going to be a problem, just because you’re dealing with three of the most unselfish guys in this league and three of the most skilled and talented guys in this league,” Harden said. “I know my role, I know what I need to do and I know what Ky and Kevin can do on that basketball court scoring-wise.”
NOTES: Brooklyn’s Joe Harris said he feels fine and ready to play in Game 1 after missing the final three games of the regular season with left hip soreness. He led the NBA in 3-point shooting at 47.5%. … The Celtics have advanced past the first round in each of the last four years, with three trips to the Eastern Conference finals. The Nets haven’t gotten as far as the conference semis since 2014.