NBA

NBA playoffs 2021: Irving upbeat despite defeat in 'good old-fashioned' contest

By Sports Desk June 11, 2021

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."

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    Harden was initially ruled out alongside fellow All-Star Kyrie Irving (ankle) due to his troublesome hamstring, which had him sidelined after bowing out 43 seconds into the opening clash with the Bucks.

    But Harden's status was upgraded to doubtful and then questionable on Tuesday, before being cleared to play less than an hour prior to tip-off at Barclays Center, where the series is tied at 2-2.

    "I'm not sure the level of risk," Nets head coach Steve Nash said before the game. "I think it is James' decision. He wants to play. Ultimately, he wants to play. He's been pushing."

    Harden – averaging 23.2 points, a postseason career-high 8.8 assists and 6.2 rebounds in the playoffs in 2020-21 – has been managing a hamstring injury since the start of April.

    The former Houston Rockets guard, who had been making an MVP run prior to the initial setback, returned in the closing stages of the regular season.

    Harden then averaged 27.8 points per game in the first-round series against the Boston Celtics but suffered an injury in Game 1 at home to Giannis Antetokounmpo's Bucks.

    Having gone 2-0 up against Milwaukee without Harden, second-seeded Brooklyn lost both games on the road to level the series.

    The Nets have won three of four Game 5's at home in best-of-seven series all-time after being tied 2-2. Their only such loss came in the 2003 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs (93-83).

    Brooklyn are outscoring opponents by 8.7 points per 100 possessions when both Harden and Irving are on the court this season (regular and postseason). That differential drops to plus-2.8 when neither is in the game.

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    PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

    Tobias Harris – Philadelphia 76ers

    Harris is averaging 23.2 points per game in the playoffs, easily a career high. He is shooting at 40 per cent from deep too, becoming a consistent contributor for his team on offense. However, with Embiid not at full power, the 28-year-old may have to ease the strain on his ailing team-mate by taking on an even greater workload.

    Trae Young – Atlanta Hawks

    Young created NBA history in Game 4, becoming the youngest player to have 18 or more assists in a postseason game. He also scored 25 points, with his fifth double-double of the playoffs demonstrating his importance to this Hawks outfit. No individual had managed both 25 points and 18 assists in a playoff outing since Tim Hardaway back in May 1991.

    KEY BATTLE – Embiid against his ailing knee

    "I'm just trying to do the best I can," Embiid said when talking to the media after Game 4. The center – runner-up to fellow big Nikola Jokic in the MVP race – is having to deal with a partially torn meniscus at just the wrong time in the season.

    He sat out Game 5 against the Wizards as the 76ers sealed a semi-final spot, but with this series so delicately balanced there is little time to take a break.

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    This is the third playoff series between the teams, with the 76ers progressing in both 1980 and 1982. They also won two of the three meeting in the regular season, though the Hawks have already prevailed once in this series in Philadelphia.

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    Harden had initially been ruled out of Game 5 against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

    The former Houston Rockets star has been managing a hamstring injury since the start of April.

    Harden, who had been making an MVP run prior to the initial setback, returned in the closing stages of the regular season.

    He then averaged 27.8 points per game in the first-round series against the Boston Celtics but bowed out 43 seconds into Game 1 at home to the Bucks.

     

    The potential for Harden to feature in Game 5 lifts the Nets, who have also now lost Kyrie Irving to an ankle issue.

    Having gone 2-0 up against Milwaukee without Harden, Brooklyn lost both games on the road to level the series.

    Kevin Durant has led the team with 29.8 points per game in the series but was limited to nine-of-25 shooting in Game 4.

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