No James Harden?
And no contest, the biggest rout in Nets playoff history.
The Nets played without Harden, and didn’t even need him to roll to a dominant 125-86 Eastern Conference semifinal Game 2 rout of the Bucks before a delirious sellout crowd of 15,776 at Barclays Center.
“Great start. Guys were prepared and hungry and not only played well but battled and fought and scrapped, did the little things that it takes to win,” Steve Nash said. “The guys have worked hard all this year trying to find our best level defensively, what works for us, how we can refine and improve it. [It] was exceptional.”
A 49-point lead against the team projected to be their biggest threat in the East? A 39-point rout that was the biggest in team playoff history? All of it with Harden seated on the baseline in sweats and a white shirt?
Yes, exceptional might be an understatement.
How? A team many claimed either incapable of or uninterested in playing defense painted a defensive masterpiece.
“We’re capable of greatness every single night: Just depends on the approach we have coming in,” Kyrie Irving said.
“Throughout the regular season, we’d let our guard down playing against some of the teams in our league, and they would punch us in the mouth and we would come in and talk to you guys after the game about what happened. We just figured out the little things in terms of how to create separation within the game and just remain resilient throughout.”
The Nets’ much-maligned defense harassed Milwaukee into 44.0 percent shooting. And after holding the Bucks to 6 of 30 from 3-point range in Saturday’s Game 1, they backed that up and smothered them into 8 of 27 on Monday night.
Brooklyn forced 16 turnovers, getting out on the break and converting them into 23 points. As if its potent offense needed any help.
The Nets shot 52.1 percent overall and hit a team playoff record 21 of 42 from 3-point range.
Kevin Durant led the way with a game-high 32 points with six assists. Irving added 22 points, five rebounds and also handed out six of the Nets’ 27 assists, compared to just nine turnovers in a clean game by Brooklyn. The Bucks’ performance, on the other hand, was anything but.
The Nets held Giannis Antetokounmpo to 18 points on 0 of 3 from deep, after the two-time reigning MVP had averaged 39.7 points in leading Milwaukee to a 2-1 season-series win over Brooklyn.
“It’s tough to stop him so we gotta be physical and do our work early and make sure we’re contesting shots and not giving him anything easy,” Durant said.
Now the Nets take a 2-0 series lead into Thursday’s Game 3 in Milwaukee, with the expectation of getting Harden back at some point in the semis.
Brooklyn pulled away early, and never gave up that momentum.
The Nets were leading just 17-13 after a Bryn Forbes pull-up 3-pointer with 4:45 left in the first quartet, but they blew it open with an extended 26-8 run that spanned into the second.
After Blake Griffin hit a 3-pointer off a Landry Shamet drive-and-kick, it put the Nets ahead 43-21. The clock read 10:10 left in the first half, but the game was already over.
Frankly, even the Bucks seemed to know it, too.
By the time Durant found Mike James for a 3-pointer with 3:04 left in the half, Brooklyn had padded the cushion to 60-33.
The Nets led 65-41 at the break and it just got uglier from there.
Durant didn’t even play in the fourth. And Irving, Griffin and Joe Harris all checked out with 9:04 to play and Brooklyn ahead 103-70.
When little-used rookie Reggie Perry hit back-to-back 3s, it made it 118-74.
It got testy when Tyler Johnson got tossed to the court by Mamadi Diakite for a flagrant foul. Johnson hit both free throws, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot added a 3-pointer and the game got utterly out of hand at 123-74.
“Obviously, we feel pretty good after two super-sound efforts where we executed the game plan, we were sacrificing for one another, especially on the defensive end,” Harris said. “It was just a level of intensity and attention to detail, especially on the defensive end. Probably some of the best possessions, quarters that we’ve had all season.”