The Brooklyn Nets lost James Harden to a hamstring injury in the opening minute of Game 1 of their best-of-seven series against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. While lesser teams may have rolled over and used that as an excuse for their performance from that point forward, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving led the Nets to a 115-107 victory at Barclays Center.
With Harden ruled out after an early hamstring injury, it was Irving, Durant and Blake Griffin who picked up the slack as the trio combined for 72 points, 29 rebounds and 14 assists to lead Brooklyn. In the end, their production coupled with what the Nets received from their supporting cast proved to be too much for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks to overcome.
With the win, Brooklyn jumps out to a 1-0 lead in the series. Game 2 will be played on Monday night with the opening tip scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET and TNT handling the broadcast.
Here are three key takeaways from the game:
1. Harden goes down with hamstring injury
On the Nets' first possession on Saturday night, James Harden drove to the basket and kicked the ball out to Joe Harris. It was a normal enough play, but unfortunately it didn't end well for the former MVP. Harden came up hobbling, and immediately left the game to head to the locker room.
A short time later, the Nets announced that Harden was out for the remainder of the game with a hamstring injury. Before the first half was even over, Harden had left the arena to go and get an MRI, which will determine the severity of the problem.
At this point it's still unclear how long Harden may be sidelined, but given his hamstring problems earlier in the season, it's easy to be concerned. Harden missed over a month with a hamstring strain, and only returned a few games before the end of the regular season. If he's going to miss any sort of significant time again, that's obviously bad news for the Nets, both for the rest of this series and potentially moving forward.
2. Griffin steps up with throwback performance
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were great in this game, as they combined for 54 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists. But by their elite standards, it was the type of typical performance that we've seen time and again, and which we don't really need to go in-depth about.
Instead, let's focus on Blake Griffin, who stepped up in a major way. Though he eventually fouled out late in the fourth, he finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and two steals. He went 4-for-9 from downtown to punish the Bucks' drop scheme in pick-and-rolls and made a couple of hustle plays that got the Brooklyn crowd on its feet.
When the Nets signed him earlier this season after his disastrous start with the Pistons, there were plenty of questions about how much the move would really matter come playoff time. Turns out, quite a bit -- especially with Jeff Green already injured and James Harden going down in the first quarter.
Griffin still has his issues on the defensive end, but if he's going to give the Nets this kind of all-around production, it's pretty much a best case scenario for them. He outplayed both Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday in this game, and if that happens again moving forward, the Bucks have no chance.
3. Giannis and Lopez dominate inside, rest of the Bucks struggle
Coming into this series, everyone assumed the Bucks were going to have a big advantage down low, and that was proven true immediately. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez absolutely feasted around the basket, shooting a combined 21-for-26 in the paint to lead the Bucks to a whopping 72 points in the paint.
All told, those two combined for 53 points on 24-for-35 from the field, and pretty much matched Durant and Irving. Unfortunately for the Bucks, almost no one else showed up on the offensive end. Everyone not named Antetokounmpo or Lopez shot 21-for-66 (31.8 percent) from the field, and the Bucks as a team went 6-for-30 from 3-point land. They were able to survive a rough shooting night in Game 1 against the Heat, but the Nets are another story.
In particular, it was a rough night for Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Those two did impact the game in other areas besides scoring, but against the Nets you simply need your best players to put the ball in the basket. Instead, they only scored 30 points on 13 of 42 from the field. That's just not good enough, especially given how weak the Bucks' bench is now that Donte DiVincenzo is out for the playoffs.