James Harden is confident he will have improved mobility for Game 7 of the Brooklyn Nets' Eastern Conference semi-final series after appearing limited in the 104-89 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Harden returned from a hamstring injury sustained in the series opener, playing both Game 5 and Game 6, but his mobility has visibly been restricted by the issue.

At one stage in Thursday's Game 6 defeat to the Bucks, former NBA MVP Harden swooped on a loose ball, offering up a fast-break opportunity but he instead held up play to ensure he did not need to sprint.

The Bucks levelled the series at 3-3, with forcing a deciding Game 7 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday.

Harden's return coincided with Kyrie Irving's absence after he injured his ankle in Game 4, triggering further doubts about his fitness but the former insisted he was improving.

"It's not even about rust. It's about being able to move," Harden said after finishing with 16 points, five rebounds and seven assists from 40 minutes on court.

"Day by day I continue to get better. Game 5 was the first time I did any movement since I got hurt. Tonight was no different.

"I'm out there to do whatever it takes to win. I've got to be better on both ends of the floor which I will be on Game 7."

Nets team-mate Kevin Durant, who scored 32 points and had 11 rebounds for second-seeded Brooklyn, felt Harden seemed to be on the improve.

"He was moving better today. That's a tough, tough injury," Durant said post-game.

"He's gutting it out for us. We're not expecting too much from him movement wise. He's going out there and giving it his all. You've got to respect that."

Durant was not happy with the way his side defended Khris Middleton, who had a game-high 38 points and 10 rebounds.

"I think we fouled him three times shooting threes, which got his rhythm going," Durant said.

"He's a shot maker. We gave him confidence. Every time it felt like they got an offensive rebound he hit a three. He made timely shots for them."

Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo starred as the Milwaukee Bucks forced a deciding Game 7 in their Eastern Conference semi-final thanks to a 104-89 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday.

Bucks forward Middleton top-scored with an NBA playoff career-high 38 points, including five-from-eight three-pointers, and had 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals, as Milwaukee levelled the series at 3-3.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo produced a more aggressive display inside the paint to stay alive in the playoffs, putting up 30 points and 17 rebounds in a double-double display at home to the Nets.

Antetokounmpo played a key role in 14-0 fourth-quarter run, including a strong offensive rebound and slam, which warded off Brooklyn's threat.

Milwaukee's Antetokounmpo did not attempt one three-point shot in a clear change of strategy after criticism for his shooting earlier in the series.

James Harden started again for the Nets after returning from a hamstring injury in Game 5, getting through 39 minutes but was visibly hampered, lacking power and finishing with 16 points, five rebounds and seven assists.

Kevin Durant had another busy shift, playing 40 of the 48 minutes, however he could not carry the second-seeded Nets, scoring 32 points with 11 rebounds following his monster triple-double last time out.

PJ Tucker and Jrue Holiday were strong defensively, with the latter having four steals, harassing Durant – who only shot at 50 per cent from the field and two-from-eight beyond the arc.

Milwaukee led 59-48 at half-time with Antetokounmpo having 18 points in the opening half, shooting eight of nine from the field.

The Nets rallied in the third quarter and put pressure on the Bucks early in the last period with a 10-0 run.

Milwaukee hit back with their 14-0 run which led to Brooklyn benching Durant and Harden late.

The Nets will welcome the Bucks to Brooklyn for Game 7 on Saturday.

 

76ers at Hawks

The east and west's top seeds – the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz – could be eliminated on Friday, with the Atlanta Hawks and the Los Angeles Clippers both looking to wrap up their Conference semi-final series on their home courts leading 3-2.

Steve Nash says Kevin Durant's "signature performance" in the Brooklyn Nets' 114-108 NBA playoff win over the Milwaukee Bucks showed why is one of the all-time greats.

Durant produced a masterclass in Game 5 at Barclays Center on Tuesday; scoring 49 points, claiming 17 rebounds and providing 10 assists as the Nets took a 3-2 series lead.

The two-time NBA champion became the first player to put up at least 45 points, 15 boards and 10 assists in a postseason game.

Durant stole the show as James Harden struggled on his return from a hamstring injury for a Nets side missing Kyrie Irving due to a sprained ankle.

Nets coach Nash said of the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals MVP: "It's ridiculous what he's able to do.

"We knew he was capable of nights like this, but to do it tonight… We miss Ky, James obviously is soldiering through his ailments. We're down bodies, we're wounded. And for him to have the toughness, the mentality. That's what makes him one of the all-time greats.

"This is a performance that's a signature performance for Kevin, and it was beautiful to watch."

Durant is focused on trying to repeat his incredible exploits as the Nets go in search of NBA glory.

He said: "I didn't even think about anything but just each possession. I was trying to win each possession, and I didn't think about how many points I had or shot attempts or rebounds or assists.

"That's the approach I always take, and I was able to rack up some points. I did play every minute, so that did help with my point total."

Asked how he ranked his performance, he said: "Once they happen, I just move on and see if I can do it again. That was a fun game to be a part of, but there have been a lot of games in my career I feel have been just as fun."

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 34 points and took 12 assists but the Bucks lost despite moving into a 17-point lead in the third quarter.

James Harden stole the headlines pre-game, but it was Kevin Durant who dazzled with a monster triple-double to inspire the Brooklyn Nets to a 114-108 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA playoffs.

Harden was cleared to return for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, which was deadlocked at 2-2 upon the former MVP's comeback from a hamstring injury on Tuesday.

However, Harden struggled badly as team-mate Durant stole the show with 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists – almost singlehandedly reclaiming Brooklyn's series lead following back-to-back losses.

Durant did not miss a minute of the clash at Barclays Center, where the second-seeded Nets withstood Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks to move ahead 3-2 after being outscored 29-15 in the opening period.

According to Stats Perform, Durant became the first player to post 48-plus points while playing all 48 minutes in a regulation playoff game since Kobe Bryant in 2001.

Durant – a former MVP and two-time NBA champion – is the first player in NBA history with a 45/15/10 postseason game after moving the Nets within a win of the Conference Finals.

Back in the line-up, Harden played all but two minutes, however he was one-for-10 shooting for five points as Jeff Green (27) and Blake Griffin (17) were the only other Brooklyn players to finish with double-digit points.

Antetokounmpo put up a 34-point, 12-rebound double-double but it was not enough for the visiting Bucks.

Khris Middleton contributed 25 points for the third-seeded Bucks, who led 59-43 at half-time before the Nets rallied.

The series heads back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.

 

Hawks at 76ers

The top-ranked Philadelphia 76ers will look to bounce back at home to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. The second-round matchup in the east is level at 2-2.

The Phoenix Suns advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2009-10 after sweeping Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets 4-0 in the NBA playoffs.

Suns duo Devin Booker and Chris Paul flexed their muscles in a 125-118 victory over the Nuggets in Game 4 as MVP Jokic was ejected on Sunday.

Jokic (22 points and 11 rebounds), who earned his first MVP accolade on Tuesday, was assessed a flagrant two foul after his foul on Phoenix's Cameron Payne in the third quarter.

That made life difficult for the third-seeded Nuggets – already missing star Jamal Murray due to injury – as the Suns rolled into the Conference Finals for the first time in more than a decade.

Paul produced a vintage performance with a game-high 37 points, while Booker put up 34 points and 11 rebounds for the second-seeded Suns, who are the only team to knock out both the previous season's conference finalists in the opening two rounds since the NBA playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984 per Stats Perform.

The Eastern Conference semi-final matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets is deadlocked at 2-2 after Giannis Antetokounmpo starred.

Antetokounmpo posted a double-double to lead the Bucks past the second-seeded Nets 107-96 in Game 4.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo had a game-high 34 points and 12 rebounds as the Bucks topped the Nets, who lost All-Star Kyrie Irving to injury.

Irving – who had 11 points, five rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes of action – twisted his right ankle after coming down on Antetokounmpo's foot, having scored from close range in the second quarter.

The seven-time All-Star received treatment on the court before walking to the locker room. The Nets later ruled him out for the remainder of the contest as the third-ranked Bucks took advantage.

Kevin Durant led the way for the Nets with 28 points but was stifled by the Bucks' physical defensive play.

 

76ers at Hawks

The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers visit the Atlanta Hawks for Game 4 on Monday, leading the Eastern Conference semi-final series 2-1. Utah Jazz – the top seed in the west – are also in action against the Los Angeles Clippers in their Western Conference second-round Game 4.

Kyrie Irving will undergo further tests on the ankle injury he suffered in the Brooklyn Nets' defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday – a result that leaves the NBA playoff series all tied up at 2-2.

Irving twisted his right ankle after coming down on Giannis Antetokounmpo's foot after scoring from close range in the second quarter of Game 4 in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

The seven-time All-Star received treatment on the court before walking to the locker room. The Nets later ruled him out for the remainder of the contest, though head coach Steve Nash confirmed after the game that X-rays on the issue came back negative.

"I have no idea what is going to happen with Ky in the coming days," Nash said.

"We will cross our fingers and hope that it is better than I don't know – better than what – better than missing the next game?"

Already without James Harden, Brooklyn slipped to a 107-96 defeat on the road. They host Game 3 on Tuesday, having recorded both their wins at home at the start of the best-of-seven series.

Irving had 11 points, five rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes of action.

Kevin Durant led the way for the Nets with 28 points but was stifled by the Bucks' physical defensive play which, at times, Nash felt went a step too far.

"[Tucker's] playing extremely physical. And made it difficult. That's his role on their team," Nash said. "I thought it was borderline non-basketball physical at times. But that's the playoffs."

Harden has not featured since suffering a hamstring injury in the early stages of Game 1. It remains unclear when the former MVP will return, though there are positive signs in his recovery.

"I asked him and he says he's feeling better, doing better," Nash said. "I asked the staff, they say, 'Yeah, it's getting better'. 

"I think he's in that arena where he's got a little gap to make up. But he's getting closer, so it's been positive."

Antetokounmpo's 34-point haul helped Milwaukee make it two wins from two at home. He was helped out by 19 points from Khris Middleton, while P.J. Tucker added 13 to go along with his defensive work when tasked with slowing down Durant.

"We're very happy, but we've got to keep getting better, keep playing together and hopefully we can go into Brooklyn and take one," Antetokounmpo said.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer added: "At this stage, it's whatever it takes to win the game.

"It certainly helps to get more guys contributing, making shots. P.J. Tucker was phenomenal on both ends of the court."

Kyrie Irving enjoyed the battle of a "good old-fashioned playoff game" despite the Brooklyn Nets seeing a roaring comeback halted by the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks escaped with an 86-83 victory in Game 3 in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, with the Nets still leading the series 2-1.

Milwaukee had surrendered a 21-point lead before Jrue Holiday put the home team ahead for good with 11.4 seconds remaining.

Kevin Durant's 30 points and 11 rebounds were not enough for the Nets, who were again without injured superstar James Harden (hamstring).

Irving, however, was not too downbeat as he was able to appreciate the contest as a spectacle.

"Shoot, man, they did what they were supposed to do: come out aggressive, backs against the wall, and we had to weather that storm," he said.

"So that definitely kind of put us on our heels for the rest of the game, just playing catch-up, playing their style of basketball, and then they made some big timely shots which carried them forward.

"But we had our chances down the stretch. It was a possession-by-possession game. Both teams battling. So that's a good old-fashioned playoff game right there."

Durant highlighted how fine margins determined the outcome of a game that could have gone either way.

He said: "They played more physical, they were there at the rim and they just played their regular way, the way they've been playing the whole season.

"I think we got great looks, we need to knock them down, but they also did a good job of contesting and being physical and blocking shots at the rim.

"But for the most part we got back into the game, had plays down the stretch and they just ended up making a couple more shots."

Donovan Mitchell produced another monster performance as the top-seeded Utah Jazz took down the Los Angeles Clippers for a commanding 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semi-finals.

After going off for 45 points in the opener, All-Star Mitchell posted 37 points to lead the Jazz to a 117-111 victory at home to the Clippers in Game 2 in the NBA playoffs on Thursday.

Mitchell was supported by fellow All-Star and newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, who put up 13 points, 20 rebounds, three blocks and two steals in Utah.

Utah's Mitchell is averaging 28.4 points in his playoff career, only behind LeBron James (28.7), Jerry West (29.1), Kevin Durant (29.2), Allen Iverson (29.7) and Michael Jordan (33.4).

The in-form Jazz extended their winning streak to six games – the team's longest unbeaten run in the playoffs since celebrating seven consecutive victories in 1998.

Kawhi Leonard and the fourth-ranked Clippers were looking to even the series by splitting Utah's homestand, but the visitors fell short in Game 2.

Reggie Jackson had a team-best 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting as Paul George (27 points and 10 rebounds) and Leonard (21 points) contributed.

In the Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Milwaukee Bucks escaped with an 86-83 victory against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3.

The Bucks had their backs against the wall after falling into a 2-0 hole against the second-seeded Nets, but responded on home court in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee surrendered a 21-point lead at home to the Nets before Jrue Holiday put the Bucks ahead for good with 11.4 seconds remaining.

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 33 points and 14 rebounds, while Khris Middleton top-scored with 35 points and 15 rebounds as Kevin Durant's buzzer-beating three-point attempt for the Nets bounced off the rim.

The Bucks are the only NBA team in the last 15 years to have two players (Antetokounmpo and Middleton) score 15-plus points in a quarter with no other team-mates posting a point (regular season or postseason), according to Stats Perform.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton combined for 68 points and 29 rebounds. Per Stats Perform, they are the first duo to combine for those numbers in a playoff game since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2001.

Durant's 30 points and 11 rebounds were not enough for the Nets, who were again without injured superstar James Harden (hamstring).

 

76ers at Hawks

The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers will visit the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semi-final matchup on Friday. The series is level at 1-1.

The most anticipated series of the 2020-21 NBA playoffs has not delivered quite as expected thus far.

The Milwaukee Bucks, having swept the Miami Heat, were backed to provide stern opposition to the Brooklyn Nets' array of superstars.

And when James Harden went down 43 seconds into Game 1, the Bucks must have thought their luck was in.

Instead, they head back home on Wednesday looking to belatedly get on the board, having fallen 2-0 behind in dismal fashion.

The first meeting was at least close, but a 125-86 Game 2 defeat in Brooklyn made unwanted history.

With Harden on the sidelines, the Nets became the first team ever to win a playoff game by 35 or more points while having a former MVP on their roster but missing.

Home comforts alone surely cannot bridge the gap for Milwaukee after such a humbling...
 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Khris Middleton – Milwaukee Bucks

Optimism around the Bucks centred on a trio of leading men. Only Giannis Antetokounmpo could realistically be compared to any one of the Nets' 'big three', but Middleton and Jrue Holiday each showed their worth against the Heat.

It has been a different story in this round.

After 20.4 points per game in the regular season and 21.5 in the Miami series, that mark has dropped to a mediocre 15.0 through two games on 30.2 per cent shooting.

Regardless of any improvement from Antetokounmpo, who is averaging a solid if unspectacular 26.0 points, the Bucks need the supporting cast to be better.

Blake Griffin – Brooklyn Nets

While the Bucks would have hoped for Middleton to offer more, Griffin is exceeding all expectations in Brooklyn. The six-time All-Star is rebuilding his career.

Griffin has started all seven playoff games this year, having seemingly initially been signed as a bench option, and he had 18 points and 14 rebounds in Game 1.

It appeared the versatile forward refound his mojo the moment he left the Detroit Pistons, though, ending a 25-game drought with a dunk on his debut – one of 18 across the remainder of the regular season.

Griffin has continued these show-stopping contributions into the playoffs, too, with seven more, including one particularly eye-catching effort over Antetokounmpo on Monday.
 

KEY BATTLE – Durant evading effective defense

Griffin was not the only Net to find joy against Antetokounmpo, with Durant too easily working room to shoot and punish the Bucks in typical fashion. His 61 points lead the series.

Antetokounmpo and Holiday – both previously named to the All-Defensive First Team – might have backed themselves to manage this three-headed monster. So far, they cannot get to grips with just the two.

For as much as the Bucks need more scoring, offense alone cannot beat a team as talented as Brooklyn. Milwaukee actually allowed marginally more points (114.2 per game) than the Nets (114.1) this season and must now find a way to slow them.
 

HEAD TO HEAD

Of course, very recent history is against the Bucks, even if they had a 2-1 regular-season record in this matchup. The omens are better at Fiserv Forum, where both of the 2020-21 wins came as the Bucks improved to 66-32 at home versus the Nets in the regular season and postseason combined.

Durant is 7-5 at Milwaukee, averaging 26.8 points per game – more than any Buck so far in this series.

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant attempted to play down the team's obliteration of the Milwaukee Bucks, insisting "we just did what we were supposed to do".

Durant put on a show in the absence of fellow former MVP James Harden (hamstring) with 32 points in three quarters as the merciless Nets earned a commanding 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Monday.

The second-seeded Nets – who defeated Milwaukee in three consecutive home games for the first time since 2006-09 – led by as much as 49 points in their most lopsided postseason victory in franchise history.

Brooklyn, eyeing a maiden championship, became the first team since the 1987 Los Angeles Lakers to score at least 115 points in each of their last six playoff games.

The Nets – who set a franchise postseason record with 21 three-pointers – became the first team in playoff history to have an MVP winner (Harden) miss the game and yet still win by 35-plus points, according to Stats Perform.

"I liked our attention to detail," Durant said afterwards. "We didn't get a lot of plays perfect, but we made second and third efforts.

"They didn't destroy us on offensive rebounds so that showed we were boxing out.

"For the most part, we just did what we were supposed to do at home. Now we have to see if this game can travel on the road for us, and we gotta stay locked in."

Game 3 will be in Milwaukee on Thursday and Durant added: "I feel like that's every team's mentality if you got home court.

"We know how important Game 3's are and we know that their crowd is going to be in it from the second we get on the floor for warm-ups and we know their guys they play better and more comfortable when they sleep in their own beds and got their same routines at home. So we got our work cut out for us but we're looking forward to it."

Kyrie Irving had 22 points of his own at home to the third-seeded Bucks in Brooklyn.

''I think we're capable of greatness every single night,'' Irving said.

On the offensive unselfishness of the Nets, Irving added: "That's how you play the game the right way. You know, we are very special individually but the selflessness which you're referring to is really what creates the difference.

"Defense is going to win us games down the stretch, but offensively playing the right way and trusting one another is — those little plays that make the difference towards the end of the game where we don't have to go for it all right then and there wherever the score is.

"So, like I said, this team, we've grown so much and we continue to do so. Obviously, we're missing James. You know, and we're just filling in the pieces for him."

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks had no answers as Kevin Durant guided the Brooklyn Nets to a brutal 125-186 victory in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Harden sat out due to hamstring tightness, but the star-studded Nets still made light work of the Bucks in Monday's blow-out win for a commanding 2-0 lead in the NBA playoffs.

Durant put on a show against two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo and the visiting Bucks, posting 32 points in three quarters while Kyrie Irving added 22 points.

The second-seeded Nets – who defeated Milwaukee in three consecutive home games for the first time since 2006-09 – led by as much as 49 points in their most lopsided postseason victory in franchise history.

Brooklyn, eyeing a maiden championship, became the first team since the 1987 Los Angeles Lakers to score at least 115 points in each of their last six playoff games.

The Nets – who set a franchise postseason record with 21 three-pointers – became the first team in playoff history to have an MVP winner (Harden) miss the game and yet still win by 35-plus points, according to Stats Perform.

Antetokounmpo had a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds for Milwaukee, but the Bucks superstar was far from efficient.

Milwaukee's Antetokounmpo was eight-for-15 shooting, while he missed all three of his attempts from beyond the arc and had three turnovers.

Khris Middleton finished with 17 points, however, he was seven-for-20 shooting from the field, having made only three of his eight three-pointers.

In the west, the Phoenix Suns opened their semi-final matchup with a 122-105 win at home to the Denver Nuggets.

Chris Paul (21 points and 11 assists) and Deandre Ayton (20 points and 10 rebounds) fuelled the second-seeded Suns, who saw all of their starters finish with double-digit points – Devin Booker (21), Mikal Bridges (23) and Jae Crowder (14).

The Suns took control in the second half, outscoring the third-ranked Nuggets 65-47 in Game 1.

MVP favourite and Nuggets star Nikola Jokic was limited to just 22 points on 10-for-23 shooting, nine rebounds and three assists on the road.

 

Clippers at Jazz

The Los Angeles Clippers and top-ranked Utah Jazz will open their Western Conference second-round series on Tuesday. In the east, the Philadelphia 76ers will be looking to bounce back in Game 2 at home to the Atlanta Hawks.

Kevin Durant says James Harden's fresh hamstring injury "sucks" as the Brooklyn Nets brace to lose their star guard for an extended period of time during the NBA playoffs.

Harden was forced out of Saturday's 115-107 Game 1 win over the Milwaukee Bucks after 43 seconds after re-injuring the same hamstring which kept him out of 21 games late in the regular season.

The 31-year-old former MVP was sent for scans on his right hamstring with the extent of the injury unclear at this stage, but Durant spoke like someone not expecting good news.

"It sucks. It sucks. I want him to be out there," Durant told the post-game news conference. "I know how much he cares. I know how much we wants to be in this moment. It sucks.

"I wish him a speedy recovery. We're going to keep him involved as much as possible. It's just a bad break."

The Nets rallied hard to bounce back from the early loss of Harden to overcome the Bucks, who had Giannis Antetokounmpo score 34 points.

Brooklyn's defense was a feature, applying pressure to force the Bucks to shoot at 20 per cent from beyond the arc, while Blake Griffin had 14 rebounds in a throwback game.

Offensively Durant and Irving starred with 29 and 25 points respectively, but the former admitted they had to overcome the emotional blow of Harden's injury.

"We try not to be too emotional out there but losing one of your leaders like that, the first play of the game, we had to re-group for a couple of minutes and figure out what was next," he said.

"The coaching staff did a great job of moving forward. Guys came in and tried to play extremely hard.

"We're going to be thinking about James. I'll definitely call him when I leave him. I hate that it had to happen right now."

Durant refused to look too far ahead about the prospect of a tough Conference semi-final series against the Bucks without Harden.

"I'm not even thinking like that," he said. "I'm taking it a day at a time, a second at a time. Get ready for practise tomorrow.

"We're not really thinking that far. We'll try take it a game at a time and see what happens."

Game 2 between the Nets and Bucks is on Monday.

The Brooklyn Nets overcame the early loss of James Harden to injury to win Game 1 of their Conference semi-final series against the Milwaukee Bucks 115-107 on Saturday.

Harden left the court after only 43 seconds after re-injuring his right hamstring, but Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving stepped up in his absence, along with Blake Griffin who had a throwback game.

Durant finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks while Irving had 25 points and eight assists including 20 points in the first half but it was a collective effort on both defense and offense for the Nets.

Griffin made four three-pointers, totalling 18 points and 14 rebounds, the latter being a season-high for him since joining the Nets.

In contrast, the Bucks struggled from beyond the arc, shooting six from 30 with the main culprits being Jrue Holiday with two from seven and Khris Middleton who shot none from five.

At one stage in the first half, Milwaukee missed 11 consecutive three-point attempts to leave them playing catch up.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was the Bucks' best with 34 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and four assists.

The Nets edged ahead in the first half where the Bucks rallied to finish the second quarter with a 14-3 stretch to trail by two points at the long break.

But Durant lifted Brooklyn in the third quarter, as the Nets piled on 35 points to open up a sizeable 14-point lead at the final change.

While the Bucks struggled from range, the Nets shot 15 from 40 beyond the arc, going at 37.5 per cent led by Joe Harris who made five from nine.

The series continues on Monday at Brooklyn's Barclays Center although the Nets will be sweating on Harden's status.

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.

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 its 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 3' 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 its 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 its 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 its 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 3-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 3-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 3-point range and 91.7 on free throws.

They are the first team since the advent of the 3-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 3 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 opens its Eastern Conference semifinal 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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