First they lost James Harden, then Kyrie Irving, and finally the Brooklyn Nets lost their lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Though the series is tied, the Milwaukee Bucks are way ahead in the health category.
Down to Kevin Durant as their lone healthy superstar, the Nets limp home to host Game 5 on Tuesday, a team that once piled up points with ease suddenly struggling to cobble together much offense at all.
“This is what it’s all about in the playoffs, is you’re going to have ups and downs. You’re going to have momentum shifts, you’re going to have adversity and it’s about how you respond,” Nets coach Steve Nash said Monday. “So tomorrow is a great opportunity for us to show what we’re made of, respond in a positive way and put on our best performance of the series.”
The Nets were bitten by the injury bug all season, with long absences for Durant and Harden in the second half. Their three stars played together only eight times in the regular season and they may not have another chance until October.
Nash said Irving won’t play Tuesday because of the sprained right ankle he sustained in Game 4. Harden hasn’t played since the opening minute of Game 1 because of right hamstring tightness. When he returned from the same injury in April, he promptly strained it minutes into his return and missed the next 18 games, so the Nets are being cautious with him.
So most of the positives now belong to the Bucks, a far cry from when the series left Brooklyn after the Nets handed them a 125-86 beating in Game 2.
“I think our confidence has been the same,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “We said the same thing after we lost 1 and 2, we’ve just got to find a way to protect our home court like they did. We didn’t get down on ourselves. We didn’t count ourselves out. Now our message is we’ve got to steal one of these on the road to win the series, no matter what. Hopefully it starts Tuesday.”
Hawks even series with Sixers as Embiid struggles
Trae Young overcame a cold start to score 25 points, including a floater that gave Atlanta the lead with 1:17 remaining, and the Hawks rallied to beat the Philadelphia 76ers 103-100 on Monday night, tying the Eastern Conference semifinal at 2-2.
Philly blew an 18-point lead and may have bigger concerns: Big man Joel Embiid spent time in the locker room in the second quarter and didn’t make a field goal in the second half. Embiid has been playing with torn cartilage in his right knee.
Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 22 points for the Hawks, and John Collins had 14 points and 12 rebounds. Young made only 8 of 26 shots but had 18 assists.
Game 5 is Wednesday night in Philadelphia.
Embiid finished with 17 points and 21 rebounds. Tobias Harris scored 20 points for the Sixers, and Seth Curry had 17, missing a potential tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Sixers led 60-42 late in the first half but Atlanta chipped away in the third quarter. Bogdanovic opened the final period with a 3-pointer to give Atlanta its first lead of the half, 83-82.
Philadelphia led 98-94 before Collins’ 3-pointer cut the lead to one point. Young’s floater with 1:17 remaining gave Atlanta a 99-98 lead, and his two free throws when fouled by Embiid pushed the advantage to three.
The Hawks hung on from there, catching a break when Embiid missed a layup and the Sixers knocked the ball out of bounds with 7.8 seconds remaining.
Nuggets lament injury-riddled season that came up short
The Denver Nuggets’ season came to an ignominious end with Jamal Murray looking on from the bench and newly crowned league MVP Nikola Jokic watching from the locker room.
The Phoenix Suns completed their second-round sweep with a 125-118 win Sunday night in Denver, holding off an inspired effort by the Nuggets following Jokic’s stunning third-quarter ejection.
A year after leading the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals in the Walt Disney World bubble in Florida, Jokic steered his team through a trying season marked by a rash of injuries, most notably to fellow star Murray, who tore his left ACL in April.
They also lost Monte Morris, P.J. Dozier, and Will Barton III down the stretch.
Amid all those injuries — not to mention a jampacked season where virtually everyone got some rest along the way — Jokic was a rare everyday player, a big man who logged big minutes. He’s the only player to start all his team’s regular-season games in the last two seasons, being on the floor for tip-off all 145 times.
Despite that ever-changing cast around him, Jokic guided Denver to the No. 3 playoff seed in the West. Behind Jokic, the Nuggets went 13-5 after Murray tore his ACL on April 12 and he led Denver past Portland in the first round of the playoffs.