Basketball is not a formula waiting to be solved. Incorporated into the sport is something ineffable, astute, and unpredictable that will always cease to be a final strategy that ensures success. Teams are constantly finding new ways to win, but it’s all temporary. Despite this, there have been teams that have seemed to understand basketball once and for all, mixing effectiveness with beauty in unexpected ways. It was the 2014 Spurs that the clinical ball movement opened up avenues of possibility for everyone on the Warriors team and teams over the next few years who took the same formula and added a few historically great shooters for a good measure. The Brooklyn Networks are now taking a simpler approach.
The second-round matchup between the Nets and Milwaukee Bucks appeared to be the best of the postseason so far. But even without James Harden, who played less than a minute into the first game before parting ways after recovering from his hamstring injury, the Nets defeated a Milwaukee team that appeared to be a legitimate contender just a week ago. On Monday night, Brooklyn put together the most dominant show of the playoffs, defeating Milwaukee 125-86, and that point somehow makes it seem closer than it actually was. By the end of the first quarter, Irving and Durant had more points than the Bucks in all and things have never improved for Milwaukee since then.
In these first two games against the Bucks, it seems Brooklyn has found a new way to solve the fundamental problem of basketball – not by coming up with a new inventive strategy, but by reducing the game to its essentials. If there is any trace of a coherent or consistent system that the Nets are using to deceive their opponents, it is too subtle for me to note. Instead, they carried the ball and attacked it while running an offense that looked no more complex than one of my friends and could be used in the local park. In theory, this should be simple to plant, but so far, they have rendered tactics irrelevant.
The Nets present what may be the best trio in NBA history. James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are three of the best scorers ever, and while coaches can find easier ways for them to open up or to their favorite places on the ground, when all else fails, they can do well on their own. . Think of James Harden isolating himself on the perimeter before stepping back and creating space for an open three or Kevin Durant pulling in the mid-range – his height and length giving him all the separation he needs – or Irving using a melange of fakes and hesitations before being kicked out by her man on the way to an open lay-up.
The two healthy Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are both strangely talented, capable of doing just about anything on a basketball court, but for all their other talents, they are both at their best as scorers. . While Harden may be the top scorer in terms of gross efficiency and occasionally useless, Durant is perhaps the most complete offensive weapon in NBA history. There is no place on the floor where he is anything but lethal. Then there’s Kyrie whose skillful handles leave the most capable defenders looking confused that no amount of training or tape could prepare them for the improvised brilliance he puts on display. What defense can be put in place to prevent Kyrie Irving from going to the basket? How could he know what he was going to do when he seemed so rarely to have planned it himself? What can be done when Kevin Durant pulls up and lets down an economical and smooth jumper?
Nets as a franchise may feel sterile – they often look more like a start-up tested in the market than a basketball team – but the team itself is a delight. There’s no reason why their stars should mix so well. All three have styles that are theoretically antithetical and require them to have the ball in their hands for long periods of time, yet this apparent lack of chemistry is completely inhaled by their talent and how much they enjoy playing together. Monday night, you could see the pleasure in Durant and Irving’s faces, almost as if they couldn’t believe how easy it was. And it’s not that they haven’t played on great teams before, but neither have they ever found themselves in a situation where they can play so freely. When you look at the Networks at their best, it feels like a rare opportunity to come in and watch them play basketball like they should when the game was still new to them, when they were just discovering how much they could be. Instead of having to adapt to a coach’s system – being asked to sand their rough edges like everyone else would in Golden State and Boston to varying degrees – they seem to have been granted an almost absolute license to trust the coaches. their instincts and go from there. The joy is palpable.
The Bucks, and any other team that could face the Nets this postseason, will be overwhelmed regardless of Harden’s availability. One thing is to have less stellar powers and to fight valiantly against an opponent despite the disparity of talent; it’s something different to be faced by a team that actually seems to personify inevitability. Opposing coaches can develop defensive schemes to slow down Brooklyn, but it seems unlikely that any strategy could counteract something so overwhelming, this elementary. It’s possible they’ll hit a string of games when the Nets ’shots stop falling or a moment when James Harden’s absence, if he isn’t able to return from injury, becomes too much to overcome. At this point though, Brooklyn seems to be getting on its roof at the right time – not doing anything new or noticeable, but only having two of the best creators and shot creators in the history of the sport. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that.