NBA

NBA playoffs 2021: Brooklyn Nets quell chemistry concerns as Big three gel

By Sports Desk June 03, 2021

Few teams have ever entered the NBA playoffs with more uncertainty and intrigue than the 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets.

On the surface, it's almost unfathomable to consider a team that finished just one game back of the conference's best record could have so many questions marks, but when their three star players appeared in just eight games together in the regular season – and only one (ONE!) contest since the middle of February – it's not difficult to see why there were so many unknowns.

During the regular season, the Nets' power trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving appeared on the court together for just over three and a half hours. By comparison, the last 'Big three' Durant was a part of – the 2018-19 Golden State Warriors – he, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson played over 23 hours together during the regular season. The Warriors' threesome reached the 200-minute mark before the calendar flipped to November, so the Durant-Harden-Irving trio are essentially in early season mode – and again, they only appeared in one game together over the season's final two months.

So with all eyes on Brooklyn in their first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics, it took all of one game for the trio to find their chemistry.

The Nets got past a Celtics team playing without their second-leading scorer in Jaylen Brown in the playoff opener, though it wasn't exactly an offensive showcase. Brooklyn led by just three points five minutes into the fourth quarter before Durant, Harden and Irving scored 19 of the team's final 22 points to lead the Nets to a 104-93 win.

After passing their first test, the offense aced their last four in dispatching the Celtics in five games, with Boston needing an exceptional 50-point performance from Jayson Tatum in Game 3 to avoid being swept.

In the final four games of the series, the Nets averaged 143.3 points per 100 possessions when Durant, Irving and Harden were together on the court – a total of 105 minutes, 56 seconds. As a team, Brooklyn shot 56.8 per cent from the field and 52.1 from three-point range to go with an eFG percentage of 67.2 and a 28.7 assist rate when the three played together.

This came after their Game 1 tuneup as Brooklyn had an offensive rating of 113.4 in the 23 minutes 48 seconds the three were together on the court, shot 48.7 per cent from the floor, made five of 20 three-point attempts, had a 55.1 eFG percentage and 19.6 assist rate.

The offense has been playing on another level since then, averaging 128.3 points and a coveted 50-40-90 shooting percentage slash line – 51.6 per cent from the field, 47.4 from three-point range and 91.7 on free throws.

They are the first team since the advent of the three-pointer in the 1979-80 season to score at least 115 points, hit at least 15 3-point shots and make at least 20 free throws in four straight games. That's including the regular season, not just four straight games in a single playoff series or four games in a row in a single postseason – all games.

The Nets held an offensive clinic in a 141-126 Game 4 win on Sunday, shooting 57.8 per cent while making 17 of 27 shots from beyond the arc (59.3 per cent) and 29 of 30 foul shots (96.7). In the process, Durant scored 42 and made all 11 of his free throw attempts while Irving added 39 and converted all 11 of his foul shots, making them the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to score 35 or more points while going 10 of 10 or better from the free-throw line in a game – regular or postseason.

All Harden did in that one was dish out 18 assists – his most for any game, regular or postseason – and score 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

In the five games against Boston, Durant averaged 32.6 points, Harden 27.8 and Irving 24.8. Their combined average of 85.2 points is the most by any trio in any playoff series all-time – one more than Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Rudy LaRusso averaged for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1962 Western Division Finals.

With Durant, Harden and Irving together, Brooklyn is able to create scoring opportunities by spacing the floor, which is paying dividends for Harden.

In the last four playoff games, Harden made 51.5 per cent of the jump shots (17 of 33) he took from 15 feet or more from the hoop – the fifth highest rate in the league among the 35 players with a minimum of 25 such shots since May 25. He made just 37.1 per cent of such shots during the regular season to rank 125th out of 192 players with a minimum of 200 attempts..

The jump shot, meanwhile, has long been a friend of Durant, and he has been knocking down his jumpers at an astounding clip since Game 1.

Among those with a minimum of 25 jump shots attempted from 15 feet or more from the hoop since May 25, Durant leads all shooters by connecting on 61.4 per cent of his shots (27 of 44). His 6.8 made jump shots from 15 or more feet out are only just behind the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic at 7.0 for tops in the league since May 25. This came after Durant shot 46.9 per cent on these same jumpers and averaged 4.1 makes per game during the regular season.

With Harden proving to be a more efficient scorer away from the basket, defences now must respect his jump shot. The problem is, he's still as dangerous as ever to drive and either dish it out – his 17 assists to Durant are the second most by any one player to a team-mate this postseason behind Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo's 18 assists to Nickola Jokic – or finish at the rim.

Harden is connecting on 73.7 per cent of his 19 layup attempts this postseason after converting 58.4 per cent of them in the regular season. Like Harden, Irving is also successfully finishing at the hoop, making 60.9 per cent of his 23 layup attempts.

Brooklyn's Big three has quickly established a cohesiveness on the court and looks every bit of the offensive juggernaut many envisioned was possible when the team acquired Harden back in January.

One criticism against the Nets all season has been their defense – or lack thereof. The counterpoint to that is that it doesn't matter how many points you give up as long as you score more. And with Durant, Harden, Irving and the Brooklyn offense firing on all cylinders, the Nets certainly have the capability to pile up more points than anyone.

This theory will be put to the test Saturday when Brooklyn open their Eastern Conference semi-final series against the Milwaukee Bucks – the only team to outscore the Nets in the regular season with a 120.1 scoring average.

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  • Ryder Cup: USA's rookies out to party like it's 1999 as Westwood closes in on Mickelson record Ryder Cup: USA's rookies out to party like it's 1999 as Westwood closes in on Mickelson record

    The time for talking is almost done as the coronavirus-delayed 43rd Ryder Cup gets under way at Whistling Straits on Friday.

    Europe head into the much-anticipated showdown with the United States as defending champions after winning 17.5 - 10.5 at Le Golf National in 2018.

    This year's edition in Wisconsin promises to be as competitive as ever, with USA hoping their team of rookies can prevail against their more experienced European opponents.

    Here, Stats Perform picks out the best of the facts and figures ahead of the first tee off.

     

    EUROPE'S RECENT DOMINANCE

    – This year's Ryder Cup is the 43rd edition, with nearly half of those (21) having pitted Europe against USA. Due to the tournament being delayed by a year by the coronavirus pandemic, this is the first Ryder Cup to be held in an odd year since 1999.

    Europe have the upper hand with 11 victories since 1979, compared to eight for USA. There was a tie in 1989, which saw Europe regain the cup having won the previous edition two years earlier.

    Europe have won nine of the last 12 Ryder Cups, including half of the last eight played on US soil.

    – Six of the last eight Ryder Cups have seen a final score gap of at least five points. The gap was never more than three points in each of the previous eight editions (1987 to 2002).

    – This year's Ryder Cup is the first to be played in Wisconsin, making it the 19th US state to host the tournament, with only California, Massachusetts and Ohio having played host on more than one occasion.

    – Since 1979, only four of the 20 Ryder Cups have seen a team overturn a deficit going into the singles (1993, 1995, 1999 and 2012).

    – USA have won 12 of the 20 singles sessions against Europe since 1979 (60 per cent). However, since 2002, Europe have the upper hand in the Sunday format, winning it six times in nine attempts.

    Only two of the 42 Ryder Cups have ended in a tie: 1969 (16-16) and 1989 (14-14).

    WESTWOOD LEADS THE WAY FOR EXPERIENCED EUROPE

    – With a combined total of 156 matches played at the Ryder Cup, this is the most experienced European team since the 1995 edition (196 matches). Three players are making their debut for Europe: Bernd Wiesberger, Viktor Hovland and Shane Lowry, half as many as the US team (six).

    – Fifty per cent of the European team are made up of English players (six out of 12). Since the introduction of Team Europe in 1979, that ties the highest number of English players after 2016.

    – In Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm, Spain have a playing representative at the Ryder Cup for the 21st consecutive edition. In fact, other than England, they are the only nation to have had at least one player at every Ryder Cup edition since the introduction of Team Europe in 1979.

    – Rahm – world number one and Europe's most recent major winner (US Open 2021) – is playing in his second Ryder Cup. He won only one of his three matches in 2018, but that was the singles match against Tiger Woods, only the American's second ever loss in the singles format after 1997.

    Garcia is the highest points scorer in the history of the Ryder Cup (25.5 points out of a possible 41). The Spaniard is taking part in his 10th Ryder Cup – that's every edition since 1999 except 2010. It is also only the third time he has been a captain's pick after 2002 and 2018.

    – Rory McIlroy is making his sixth consecutive Ryder Cup appearance (all since 2010), the longest current run among European players. He has played every single session at the tournament since his debut in 2010.

    – Viktor Hovland is the youngest player at this year's Ryder Cup – he will be aged 24 years and six days on the opening day of the tournament. He is also the first Norwegian to play in the tournament.

    – This is Lee Westwood's 11th Ryder Cup, joining Nick Faldo as the European player with the most appearances in the biennial tournament. If he plays at least four matches, he will overtake Phil Mickelson for the most in the tournament's history. Westwood is also the oldest player at this year's tournament.

    HISTORY ON USA'S SIDE

    – USA have six Ryder Cup rookies at this year's tournament, the most since 2008. In fact, they have won both previous editions against Europe where at least 50 per cent of their team was made up of newcomers: 1979 (eight rookies) and 2008 (six rookies).

    – Eight of the 12 American players at this year's Ryder Cup are aged under 30, which is twice as many as the European team (four out of 12).

    – Collin Morikawa is the youngest US player at this year's Ryder Cup – he will be aged 24 years, seven months and 18 days on the opening day of the tournament.

    – Tony Finau's first Top 10 at a major came in the 2015 US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. He won two of his three matches in his only previous Ryder Cup appearance in 2018, setting the second-best points ratio (66.7 per cent) in the US team after Justin Thomas (80 per cent, four points out of a possible five).

    – This is Brooks Koepka's third – and consecutive – Ryder Cup appearance. He won three of his four matches the last time it was held in the United States (2016).

    – This is Jordan Spieth's fourth consecutive Ryder Cup appearance. He has collected eight points from a possible 11 in fourballs/foursomes, a 73 per cent scoring rate. Only Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have a better ratio among US players in the team format.

    – At 37, Dustin Johnson is the oldest member of this year's US Ryder Cup team. This is his fifth appearance in the showpiece event, winning only one of his previous four (2016). He is the US player with the most matches played in the history of the tournament without a single half point (W7 L9).

    – Bryson DeChambeau lost all three of his matches in his only previous Ryder Cup appearance in 2018. He was the only US player to remain scoreless alongside Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, whom he both partnered in 5 and 4 losses.

  • NFL Fantasy Picks: Herbert should electrify against Chiefs NFL Fantasy Picks: Herbert should electrify against Chiefs

    Is it Week 3 already? The advent of a 17th game means the regular season will stretch further into January, but the NFL campaign always seems to fly by at breakneck speed.

    In the world of fantasy football, plenty of managers may be seeing things spiral out of control in a hurry after an 0-2 start.

    Or maybe you're on the other end of things, with at least one win on the board and feeling satisfied that your draft-day decisions were the right ones.

    Either way, it's important to remember that fantasy is a weekly game, and success hinges on the selection calls made each weekend.

    Stats Perform is here to try to help you make the correct calls. Here's this week's look at four players and a defense in strong spots to produce matchup-winning fantasy scores.

    Quarterback: Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs

    Herbert was frustrated in Week 2 as the Chargers let opportunities go begging in their defeat to the Dallas Cowboys, with two interceptions undermining an otherwise impressive display that saw him throw for 338 yards and a touchdown.

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    Indeed, the Chiefs are allowing a league-worst 7.56 yards per play through two games. Only the Detroit Lions (9.44) are allowing more yards per pass play than the Chiefs (9.37).

    Going against a porous defense and with Patrick Mahomes a near-certainty to deliver points on the other side, Herbert has a clear opportunity to record his third successive 300-yard game to start the season and put up a massive fantasy performance in a potential shootout.

    Running Back: Ty'Son Williams, Baltimore Ravens @ Detroit Lions

    Despite seeing their running back depth decimated by injuries, the Ravens saw their backfield get going in a huge way in their stunning Week 2 win over the Chiefs.

    Baltimore gashed Kansas City for 251 yards on the ground at an average of 6.1 yards per carry. The complexity that quarterback Lamar Jackson's running threat brings to their rushing attack played a significant role, but the Ravens will have been extremely encouraged by Williams' performance.

    Williams averaged 5.9 yards per carry as he put up 77 yards on 13 carries, and he now gets the opportunity to go against a Lions defense that has been relatively stout against the run but has given up a league-high nine offensive touchdowns.

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    Wide Receiver: D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers @ Houston Texans

    On the surface, there is not much intrigue in Thursday's primetime clash between the Panthers and Texans.

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    Aside from Christian McCaffrey, Moore is the top threat on the Panthers' offense. He had eight catches for 79 yards and a touchdown last week against a New Orleans Saints defense that is superior to that of the Texans, which allowed Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield to complete 90 per cent of his passes in Week 2.

    Targeted 19 times across his first two games, if Moore gets a double-digit share as he did versus New Orleans, he will be set up perfectly to deliver another productive performance.

    Tight End: T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions vs. Baltimore Ravens

    While the Lions may be in a rebuilding year, Hockenson is constructing an excellent case for him to be considered among the NFL's premier players at the tight end position.

    He has 163 yards and two touchdowns in his first two games and now gets to face a Ravens defense giving up the most fantasy points per game in the league to opposing tight ends.

    Shredded for 109 yards and a touchdown by Travis Kelce in Week 2 and for 105 yards and a score by Darren Waller in Week 1, the odds of the Ravens preventing Hockenson from producing a similar statline appear slim.

    Defense: Arizona Cardinals @ Jacksonville Jaguars

    Backing a defense to excel after a game in which that unit gave up 26 points in a 34-33 shootout win may seem foolhardy.

    While the Cardinals' defense is certainly vulnerable, as the Minnesota Vikings proved last week, Arizona could hardly ask for a better matchup in which to bounce back on that side of the ball.

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  • Ryder Cup: Stars who could earn their stripes for the USA and Europe Ryder Cup: Stars who could earn their stripes for the USA and Europe

    After three long years, the wait for another Ryder Cup ends this week as the United States and Europe take to the fairways and greens of Whistling Straits. 

    Europe are the holders but the USA start as favourites for many observers, with home advantage and a formidable-looking team. 

    There will be shocks along the way and there will be some expected stars of the show who end up taking a back seat as unlikely heroes emerge. 

    Captains Steve Stricker and Padraig Harrington will have their own ideas of who might be best placed to make a telling impression. 

    Here, Stats Perform looks at four players who could make a huge impact across the weekend in Wisconsin. 

    UNITED STATES: Super Spieth ready to show his teeth

    Jordan Spieth has been a resurgent force this year, finishing second at the Open Championship and in a tie for third at the Masters, while at the other two majors he finished a respectable 19th and 30th. 

    The American also ended a four-year wait for a victory on the PGA Tour with a sweet win in his home state at the Texas Open in April and is primed to cap a fine year with a strong Ryder Cup. 

    Spieth has mentioned in the build-up that he loves the course set-up at Whistling Straits, which he feels provides scoring opportunities on almost every hole. 

    The 28-year-old also referenced his previous Ryder Cup success. He has collected eight points from a possible 11 in fourballs/foursomes, a 73 per cent scoring rate. Only Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have a better ratio among USA players in the team format. 

    UNITED STATES: Nice guy Finau just the man for Stricker's superstars

    American teams in the past have been accused of…well…not exactly getting along. Having the ultimate good guy in the team is sure to boost morale and Tony Finau certainly fits that mould. 

    But make no mistake, Finau is a guy with real pedigree – even if sometimes he hasn't quite been able to convert that into wins (his triumph at the Northern Trust last month was only his second PGA Tour title and first in five years). 

    On his Ryder Cup debut, he was one of few bright notes for Team USA, with Finau winning two of his three matches – including a singles win over the otherwise unflappable Tommy Fleetwood, setting the second-best points ratio (66.7 per cent) in the American team after Justin Thomas (80 per cent, four points out of a possible five). 

    Moreover, at the 2015 US PGA Championship, Finau finished 10th having shot four sub-par rounds at Whistling Straits. Finau is the sort of character who can really flourish at a Ryder Cup, particularly with home support behind him. 

     

    EUROPE: Europe eye trophy Rahm raid

    Jon Rahm is the man for the big occasion. He is the only player to have secured a top-10 finish at all four majors this year, while he is also Europe's most recent victor at one of the leading events, having won the U.S. Open. 

    The world number one's Ryder Cup debut did not go entirely to plan in 2018, as he won only one of his three matches, but that triumph was in a singles match-up with Tiger Woods – only Tiger's second loss in the format. 

    Now established at the forefront of the sport, Rahm will expect to be the man to lead Europe to glory with an improved all-round showing, justifying his status as the bookmakers' favourite to be the leading points scorer at Whistling Straits. 

    EUROPE: Viktor sounds like a winner

    Belgium's Thomas Pieters was the top points scorer five years ago at Hazeltine, scoring four points but ending on the losing side. With Norway's Viktor Hovland relishing his debut on the team, could there be another surprise leader on the points board? 

    Hovland played college golf for Oklahoma State and has been a familiar figure on the PGA Tour, so playing in America is second nature. He was low amateur at the Masters and U.S. Open in 2019, won the U.S. Amateur, and has come of age since, jumping to a career-high world ranking of number 10 in August. 

    Eight top-10 finishes and just one missed cut since the turn of the year show what he brings, and that level of consistent play is bound to appeal to captain Harrington. 

    "I'd like to think I have some fans out there that maybe won't necessarily boo against us," Hovland said this week. "But if they do end up doing that, that's what they're going to do. We're still going to play golf, and if they do end up doing that, that means we're doing something good." 

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