As the Brooklyn Nets, led by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, walked off the floor after beating the once considered, title-contending Milwaukee Bucks by a cool 39 points, responses nationwide were eerily similar. With these Nets, they have been all season long.
We all expected Brooklyn to be good, even dominant… but beating the Bucks in back-to-back games the way they did? That was downright frightening. For those of you not paying attention, in Game Two of this series, the Nets once led the Bucks by 50 points!
Not only are the Nets who we thought they were, or feared they might become, but so was Milwaukee, who as I wrote once Giannis signed his super max deal, still didn’t have enough for a title.
Say what you will about the NBA and the way these Brooklyn Nets came to pass, they are now ten wins away from a championship and appear to be the most talented team left in the playoffs, considerably.
Six months ago, when James Harden joined the Nets, I bet a friend a steak dinner they’d reach the NBA Finals. Logically, I pondered, how could anyone stop this team? With three of the most creative and prolific scorers, not just in the game today but that this game has ever seen, I wondered how opposing teams would draw up defenses designed to stop Kevin, Kyrie and James Harden from scoring.
Defense may win championships but those men are indefensible.
Another friend recently sent me a Yahoo article suggesting a Brooklyn championship might be “the least celebrated pro championship in American sports.” After all, they point out, New York – and yes, even Brooklyn – is still a Knicks town. And while the Nets have been around for a while (Remember, Dr. J played there), they left New Jersey for Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in 2012. That’s not exactly a lengthy history of suffering in the borough.
One could argue that the franchise is, as the article states, “a marketing idea” but let’s be honest, the franchise has paid its dues. Furthermore, they did what franchises are supposed to do. They rebranded, built a new arena and attracted top talent to compete for a championship. Of course, they haven’t won anything of merit yet but the haters are already piling on. Welcome to today’s NBA which is not as dissimilar to the old one as you might think.
It’s bad enough I get criticized for being the last NBA fan on the planet and even more so for cheering on this Nets experiment but a basketball fan, why would I not want to see the best basketball possible? If you watched Game Two against the Bucks, it’s hard to argue it wasn’t. Want further evidence of near flawless basketball? Take a look at James Harden’s stat line in Round One against Boston: 28 PPG, 7 RPG, 11 APG, 55 FG%, 47% 3PG. That’s straight out of a video game except, at least for Celtics fans, it was all too real.
I’ve tried comparing this current Big Three to others in relatively recent history: Miami’s James, Wade and Bosh; Golden State’s Curry, Durant and Thompson; Boston’s Pierce, Allen and Garnett; even Boston’s Bird, McHale and Parrish but this modern threesome is altogether different.
While it’s perhaps premature to compare them to the others I just mentioned, which include a handful of Hall of Famers, soon to be Hall of Famers and NBA champions, what these three bring that no other holy triumvirate has before them is the ability to score from anywhere on the floor at any given time as they see fit: off the dribble, mid-range jumpers, three-point range or the old-fashioned way by dunking in your face.
Purists and haters complain that today’s NBA player wields too much leverage, that they can determine where they play and with whom they play but this is revisionist history. Throughout the years, players have jumped ship for the opportunity to win a title. So why all the fuss? Critics also complain defenses are too lax, that the league allows for too much offense. I counter that argument by suggesting you try to defend a six-foot-eleven Kevin Durant (with a seven-foot-five wingspan) as he shoots the ball over your head with uncanny accuracy thirty feet from the basket.
Nets executives have done their job to the best of their ability. They landed what they thought was the finest talent available to compete for a championship. Whichever way it went down, the players decided they wanted to play together, to create their own legacy on their own terms. We still give Kyrie grief for his Cleveland (and Boston) years and blame Durant for taking the soft option in Golden State. Is that more honorable than spending your years in one place (i.e., Giannis in Milwaukee, Lillard in Portland) chasing a title with no assistance from a feeble front office?
These Nets make things look so effortless that we forget Kyrie Irving works incessantly on his game, that Kevin Durant worked tirelessly to come back from an Achilles injury, that James Harden must internally struggle with the fact that his hamstring won’t heal in time to contribute to this title the way he wants.
I understand why the modern NBA rubs people the wrong way. The league collectively took a stance for something it believed in at the risk of alienating a few but the rest of us watching are seeing the game evolve before our very eyes. Players are scoring from anywhere they want. As luck would have it, three of those players currently reside in Brooklyn. Take that for data!
We will see how long this team stays together and if they even win a title but one thing is undeniable. The talent on this team rivals anything we’ve seen in NBA history, not matter how it got there, no matter if you disagree with it, no matter if there’s a parade, which trust me, there will be if they win.
Let’s break this down to its simplest terms. If you have the opportunity to work for a successful organization and work alongside your friends in the pursuit of one common goal and make more money and do so on your own terms, wouldn’t you take that chance? Wouldn’t you even do so for less money?
Don’t hate the Nets for what they’ve done. They’re chasing a championship by any means necessary. Don’t hate the game for how it has evolved. We’re watching something we’ve never seen before.
I say embrace it. It’s a hell of a lot more enjoyable than watching that other team from New York.