Last night in Cleveland, basketball fans were treated to the debut of the league’s latest big three. After two games of the James Harden and Kevin Durant duo, Kyrie Irving made his return to the lineup to finish off the trifecta.
The game was fascinating to watch for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, seeing Harden be the one they played through down the stretch of the fourth quarter was surprising. It got even more surprising when the Nets got a stop and had the ball with a chance to win and Harden gave it up to Irving. Now, I’ve watched a ton of Harden in my day and can’t remember ever seeing him do that.
What’s most fun about this team is little things like that. You get these three unique and absurdly gifted hall of fame talents doing things they otherwise wouldn’t have if this team didn’t exist.
A great example is this play they called to open the first overtime. Harden screens for Irving after giving the ball to Durant in maybe his favourite spot on the court. Irving flies around the Harden screen and is wide open for a three which he obviously drains.
Seeing Durant in an offence where he and his playmaking can excel is a treat basketball fans thought we lost forever when he left Golden State. Now less than 15 games into his Nets career, he’s back playing with offensive genius players and a savant of a coach. Funny how life works sometimes.
It really is something I hope basketball fans don’t take for granted this time around.
I mean, just watch this play where Harden drives and dishes to Durant who then immediately is on attack mode. But, before pulling up for a jumper he makes contested in his sleep, he sticks a middle finger in the Cavs face by faking a pass in Irving’s direction and thus breaking the idea of being able to ever hope to defend this.
Beyond the simplistic minutia of saying it’s fun to watch great players play together (and boy is it ever), what I enjoy most about these teams is the random role players who become stars in their roles to make it work. Without them being willing to do the dirty work, championships and success just won’t happen so seeing one of these guys fly around and dive for loose balls is always fun.
Guys like David West in Golden State, JR Smith in Cleveland, Mario Chalmers in Miami and more redefined how we’d remember them and their teams by the extra effort they were willing to put in on a nightly basis. In Brooklyn, one of the guys who’ll have a chance to be that and more is Joe Harris.
Watch this play here where Harris flies in and wins an offensive rebound which ends up back in Irving’s hands for a three. Extra plays like this from unexpected sources are part of what makes this game special and I look forward to more of this from Harris.
Now that we’ve discussed the good, let’s look at the bad.
The Nets bench put up 10 points total and between the four of them was a combined minus -40. Although I think a guy like Reggie Perry has shown some potential as a small five, asking him to fill a ton of minutes in that role as a rookie is going to be tough. Luckily they have three roster spots left so hopefully they’ll bring in a couple guys who can help supplement the Perry’s and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot’s of the world so they aren’t asked to do too much.
However, let’s be honest. This team isn’t really worried about its depth and you’re not that worried about it either. What we’re all worried about is defence and oh boy, there is some stuff to work on.
Watch this inbounds play here for Collin Sexton which I think is emblematic of the whole night.
Irving does a good job competing to get around the Larry Nance Jr screen but is clearly a step behind and could’ve probably used help in the form of a switch. Harden doesn’t give it to him and Sexton gets to his spot easily.
What’s most troubling about this is for me is it feels like there’s a lack of a defined defensive plan. Harden barely makes any effort to help and Jeff Green gets caught in no mans land not contesting the shot and not really boxing out Andre Drummond either. Little things like this where people aren’t sure what they’re supposed to do leads to greater issues for all.
It’s how for example a team like the Cavs can shoot 20 of 40 from three with a two to one assist to turnover ratio of 29 and 14 respectively. They were never really uncomfortable and for a mediocre offensive team without Kevin Love or Darius Garland to drop 147 in granted two overtimes is far from ideal.
The good news on it I will say is all of Durant, Harden and Irving were pretty engaged defensively. Most of the issues came from a lack of scheme, communication and chemistry which is expected in a team’s first game. What’s worrisome though is just how much better they can get on that end.
Outside of Durant at his peak and Irving in spurts, this team lacks plus defenders in a big way so how much they can really fix their problems remains to be seen. However, I wouldn’t bet on it ever being great.
The reality is, this team is going to have to outscore people and boy do they ever have the personnel to do so. Them winning a championship just doing that would be essentially unprecedented so there’s that to conted with for sure.
But as first games go there was a ton to build off of. Offensively they look as special as advertised. Defensively there’s holes that aren’t really analyzable in night one. It’s a process and the Nets have begun theirs.
I’m not sure if they’ll win the championship they’re searching for. What I am sure of is the big three era is back like it never left and these guys are fun as hell to watch.