When healthy, the Nets were the odds-on favorite to make a run at the NBA title. But Brooklyn wasn’t healthy as it made its bid for a deep playoff run.
James Harden played through a Grade 2 hamstring strain. Kyrie Irving wasn’t able to play through an ankle sprain, sitting for the final three games of Brooklyn’s second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks.
All of that placed the brunt of the load on Kevin Durant. Despite being only two years removed from rupturing his Achilles, K.D. was the only member of Brooklyn’s Big Three that was playing at 100 percent.
And he didn’t disappoint.
Durant averaged 34.3 points (on 51.4 shooting from the field and 40.2 percent shooting from 3-point range), 9.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists in the playoffs this year. His Game 5 performance against the Bucks was historical: He became the first player in NBA history to have 45 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a playoff game.
The series against Milwaukee helped cement Durant as the league’s best player — at least in the minds of some. For others — including one Bulls legend — the jury is still out.
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Scottie Pippen Still Has LeBron Over Durant
Over the final three games of the Bucks series, Durant averaged 43 points. His spectacular game-tying shot with a second left in regulation sent Game 7 into overtime. He had a chance to be the hero later in that game, but his 3-pointer to win it fell short.
According to Scottie Pippen, that loss is an important factor when discussing Durant as the NBA’s best player. Pippen, a six-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls, recently spoke with Yahoo Sports’ Vincent Goodwill, when the topic arose. Pippen’s take: Durant still hasn’t surpassed Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James.
“Surpassing LeBron James takes a little bit more than an individual’s effort. LeBron James is a complete team player who understands team and winning. Has K.D. gotten to that level yet? He went home,” Pippen told Goodwill. “To say that he’s surpassed LeBron, I think he still has some learning to do in terms of what it takes to will a team to victory. Give Brooklyn a lot of credit. They lost Kyrie, James Harden probably was less than 50 percent. It just wasn’t seeing the same player, but still, it was a heck of a series.”
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Durant Reflects on Game 7
No, Durant wasn’t able to connect on the game-winning shot that would have sent the Nets into the Eastern Conference Finals. But it’s hard to have asked much more of the 11-time All-Star.
After the loss, Durant reflected on a hard-fought series that saw Brooklyn undone by injuries to key players.
“I can’t even speak about how much we missed Kyrie out on the floor and how much we missed James to start the series. And seeing him, you know, I could go for 40 minutes on both of those two, on how much they care about us and how much they put their bodies on the line and help us out as a team,” Durant said, via nba.com. “Kyrie had a gruesome ankle injury, and he was thinking about when could he play next. And that shows that he cares about us so much. James playing on one leg came out there and gave it his all, 48 minutes in Game 5, 40 (in Game 6) and then what, 50 (in Game 7), you know? There’s nothing but respect and love for those two guys. We missed them out there. But we still had a chance to win.”