The Brooklyn Nets might be holding their breath as they wait to see just how severe the hamstring injury that has sidelined James Harden is, but they need to regroup and refocus, as Game 2 of their series against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks is going to get underway without The Beard.
The Nets will have enough headaches trying to deal with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee’s high-octane offense that flows from him, but the Bucks will be looking for revenge after Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday underperformed on the offensive side of the ball, especially from 3-point range.
With Bruce Brown, Landry Shamet, or Mike James expected to eat up more of Harden’s minutes as he works his way back to full health, look for Milwaukee to try and exploit some of Brooklyn’s weaknesses in their less than healthy state.
One person that could be targeted on the defensive side of the ball for Brooklyn is Kyrie Irving, who is not as good an on-ball defender as Harden despite his innumerable offensive gifts. Holiday might target Irving frequently as he looks to put his Game 1 performance behind him.
The Nets must avoid getting Kyrie Irving matched up against Jrue Holiday.
As Harden proved in the regular season against elite players like Kawhi Leonard, he can play some quality defense when he isn’t drained from carrying the offense like he was in Houston. With Brooklyn looking for defensive consistency to this day, losing Harden on this end might be the biggest problem for the Nets.
Giannis is going to get his 30 points no matter what the Nets do, so they would be far better served in figuring out how to stop his role players from taking over the game. As they proved in Game 1, they have enough physical bodies to throw at Holiday and Middleton to mess with their 3-point shots.
Irving, however, is not one of them, as his 114 defensive rating this season isn’t exactly the hallmark of a Gary Payton-esque stopper. It doesn’t take Red Auerbach to see where Milwaukee can use two of their bigger perimeter players to gain an advantage against a Nets team that, despite minor improvements, is a long way away from a quality defensive team.
On a Nets team that switches everything, it could be easy for Milwaukee to move the ball enough to get Irving isolated on one of these two studs. The best solution for this is trying to keep Brown isolated on one of these two for the duration of the game, as he has shown more defensive aplomb than most players on this roster.
At 6-4, Brown has enough size to bang with a traditional small forward like Middleton, but he is also quick enough to handle the speed that a bigger guard like Holiday can throw at him. Brown might not have the best offensive game, but that’s what Irving and Kevin Durant are here for.
The Nets should feel great about taking Game 1 without Harden, but the Bucks were 6-30 from 3-point range, with Holiday and Middleton combining for just two makes out of 12. They aren’t going to shoot this poorly again, and the Nets need to lean on role players to stop them rather than letting them go to work on Irving.
For the Nets to survive without Harden, they need to rely on their army of role players stepping up and doing their job. In Brown or James’ case, it’s locking down Holiday, keeping Irving rested in order to dominate on the offensive side of the ball, and coming up with stops in order to help Brooklyn push this series lead to 2-0 before it shifts back to Milwaukee.