After a seven-game leave of absence, Kyrie returned to the Nets lineup. In his absence, Harden joined up with Durant and a shortened Nets bench, picking up wins against Orlando and Milwaukee.
The new Big Three era officially began in Cleveland, with Kyrie, Harden, and Durant in the starting lineup for the first time. In his return to the court and to the city he won his lone championship in, Irving was warmly welcomed by a limited crowd.
All three stars added another layer to the Nets offense, but each Brooklyn run was matched by the Cavs. Cleveland’s resilient team fought hard, led by young growing star Colin Sexton. Former Nets Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince broke Brooklyn hearts, slotting into the lineup nicely.
At the end of regulation, the score was tied at 113. Sexton took over in overtime, matching all three Brooklyn stars to force a second extra period. A string of five consecutive Sexton threes sealed a disappointing 147-135 double-overtime loss for Brooklyn.
Friday’s rematch didn’t fare much better, Brooklyn still unable to find a way to stop the Cavs. Durant sat, resting up with the heavy schedule continuing the next day back home.
Irving impressed with 38 and Harden put up a fourth double-double as a Net, but Cleveland still handed the Nets a second loss, 125-113.
The Nets returned home for two games against the Heat, last year’s shock Eastern Conference champs. Absent from the Heat lineup were two of their top scorers, Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro, but Bam Adebayo kept some starpower in the lineup.
After the lackluster set in Cleveland, the Nets came out hot against the Heat, opening the game with a quick 11-2 run and maintaining a lead through halftime. By the end of the third, the lead was its largest at 18.
Miami still fought back in the fourth to close the lead to just one. Adebayo finished with a career high 41 points, but despite his effort Brooklyn held on to win 128-124.
In the second game Brooklyn’s offense came out flat. Miami scored the first eight points of Monday’s game and held Brooklyn to 15 points in the first, their worst start of the year.
Brooklyn’s field goal attempts rattled off the rim, coming up empty in 10 three-pointers. Joe Harris finally hit Brooklyn’s 12th attempt, but the Nets shooting continued to falter, ending the half at 19 percent shooting.
Despite the poor half, the Nets coughed the ball up just four times and played tough defense, a big improvement on prior games. At halftime, the score was just 45-41, the game well within reach.
The stars were bright in the second half, led by Kyrie and Durant (in their newly changed shoes). A dominant third period gave the Nets their first lead, but a wild buzzer-beater by Adebayo reestablished a one-point deficit going into the fourth.
The Nets finally took over on both ends. In the final minutes, a 15-0 Nets run opened a 16-point lead and put the game to bed. The Nets clamped down defensively on Adebayo, limiting him to four points in the final quarter and 26 total. On offense, Harden and Durant delivered deadly threes to finish with 20 points each.
Despite the wins, the early struggles of the Big Three bring up big questions about the trade. It’s still early with ample time for growth, but the tremendous offensive potential of the Nets has left some big holes on defense and in depth.
Fatigue is setting in, with the Nets having played more than any other team in the league. Nash credited the constant string of games with some of the team’s struggles.
“We’re gonna see games like this through the season,” he said. “Crazy scores and crazy upsets. We have to be prepared to win some of these games, even if we’re not feeling it”
The NBA season will be long and tough, but the newest offensive powerhouse in the league can turn a tight game into a blowout in the blink of an eye. With plenty left to play and the true test of the postseason still to come, Brooklyn faces a big test to bring the franchise its first NBA championship.