Brooklyn Nets skeptics raved across social media, television, and everywhere in between when Jrue Holiday clamped down on Kyrie Irving during their teams’ second regular season bout, where Irving shot just 8-21 from the field en route to a 117-114 loss.
The crowd of those taking pleasure in Irving’s demise has always been one of great size and intensity, but this felt differently with a playoff matchup between the Bucks and Nets brewing in the near future.
Just over a month later, that future has come to pass, with the Nets having already played Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series with the Bucks, winning 115-107.
Hardship once again hit the Nets early during this one, as James Harden exited after reaggravating his hamstring just 43 seconds into the game.
Harden, who missed all three games against the Bucks this season, was seen as the X-Factor by most entering this series, making his exit that much more heartbreaking. The Nets announced Harden will sit Game 2 Monday night as well.
Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving should strike fear into Milwaukee Bucks fans.
But as The Beard headed to the hospital for a scan, immense pressure fell upon Irving and company, especially with their two losses at Milwaukee’s hands not too distant in their rear view mirrors, including the previously mentioned one in which Holiday made Irving look mortal. But Brooklyn responded perfectly, with Blake Griffin (18 PTS and 14 REB) perhaps offering his finest game yet as a Net, Kevin Durant continuing his excellence (29 PTS and 10 REB), and Irving of course dazzling with 25 points and eight assists.
Durant’s onslaught this game more or less came as something expected from the Bucks’ end. Milwaukee was unable to even slow him down all season, as he averaged 34.6 points per game against them. But Irving’s big game had to have come as a more difficult blow. Although the Bucks seem to respect Irving’s offensive talents, they found success while defending him just over a month ago, by way of Holiday.
But even with Holiday shadowing Irving all night, Uncle Drew stayed in his bag, starting out hot with a team high nine points during the first quarter. Irving then upped his efforts the following period with 11 points. He lead all scorers at the half with 20 points, doing so at a very efficient rate while going 9-16 from the field.
Although Irving only scored six points during the second half, he still created offense for his team with ease, dishing out six assists, including a backwards pass feeding Durant into a highlight-reel transition dunk, putting the team up 107-93 with 6:25 left to play. Collectively, he accounted for 43 percent of his team’s points, the most by any Net.
With Holiday no longer appearing properly equipped to contain Irving as he formerly had, some distress must be taking place within this Bucks team. The one star they believed they could bottle up no longer appears so easily restrained. Irving simply killed the Bucks from all over the court, often creating mid-range shots for himself, slipping through defenders for fancy layups, and nailing multiple three-pointers.
This comes after just one game, though, and true panicky feelings are undoubtedly premature at this point. But nonetheless, caution still feels warranted.
If the Bucks hope to win Game 2 and make this series what NBA fans expect it to be, it starts with Holiday returning to his defensive might. But Game certainly 1 taught us that a task such as that comes as something not so easily accomplished for the Bucks — at least, not anymore.