Injuries are not an excuse for the Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets’ excuses began almost immediately and were entirely valid.

Kyrie Irving sprained his ankle and James Harden was playing on a bad hamstring, leaving Kevin Durant as the lone healthy member of the Nets’ “Big Three.”

“I’m not trying to be a hero out there,” Durant said after his dazzling 49-point Game 5 performance. “I know I can’t win a ballgame by myself.”

But to beat the Bucks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and avoid elimination, Durant needed to prove himself wrong and win entirely on his own. His failure to do so unmasked the one fatal flaw of an NBA superteam: injuries happen, and they are not an excuse for a loss.

Injuries are a part of sports. They are a challenge to overcome, not a narrative to fall back on. To say that a healthy Nets team would have beaten the Bucks is akin to saying that a higher-scoring Nets team would have beaten the Bucks. Sure, it’s almost certainly true. But what’s your point?

Like it or not, contrary to Durant’s opinion, basketball is all about winning on your own. Modern day greats like LeBron James and, yes, Giannis Antetokounmpo were their own superteams. Players so transcendent that the ability of their teammates was completely irrelevant.

The irony is that no recent superteam has proven capable of reaching that level of individual dominance, and Durant was involved both times. Stephen Curry could not will the Warriors to a 2019 Finals win with Durant and Klay Thompson sidelined. And now, even Durant’s 48 points in Game 7 were not enough to beat the well-rounded Bucks.

Make no mistake: Durant was nothing short of incredible during this series and was literally a big toe away from changing the outcome of the series. But to build long-term success, the Brooklyn Nets will need to find a better strategy than haphazardly stringing together All-Stars and hoping they are healthy for the playoffs.

The New York Knicks Are Just Getting Started

Deep down, New York Knicks fans knew that this would be the outcome.

They knew that Julius Randle was not good enough to be the No. 1 player on a championship team. They knew that R.J. Barrett would not suddenly blossom into a superstar come playoff time.

But briefly, for a fanbase ravaged by a brutal pandemic and by years of boring basketball, none of that mattered. The 2021 Knicks were, and will be remembered as, superhuman. A blowout loss to the Atlanta Hawks does not change that fact.

Everyone knows by now that Vegas oddsmakers projected the Knicks to win 21 games this year, a total they nearly matched in April and May alone. But what those outside New York might not realize is that most fans did not even bat an eye when they heard that prediction. There was no reason to expect anything besides mediocrity. 

Instead, a fairytale developed at Madison Square Garden. While Kevin Durant — who Knicks fans were once certain would be wearing blue and orange by now — lit up the scoreboard in Brooklyn, the Knicks hung with the league’s best using a ragtag group of second-tier players united only by the fact that they did not reject New York. They were the exact opposite of a superteam in an era where no other strategy has relevance. 

“There is no other place like this,” Tom Thibodeau said after yesterday’s season-ending loss. “It was great to experience, even when we had 2,000 fans it felt like 19,000. From the players to the coaches, we all felt it. … And hopefully we gave them something to be proud of.” 

That is why things will only get better for New York in the coming years. The most important thing about this season is that it reminded fans and players what the Knicks are supposed to represent. No other New York team has such a strong impact on the mood of the city. When the Knicks lose, New York City loses. And when they win — well, did you hear how loud Madison Square Garden was?

So as Randle was showered with cheers, not booing, while dribbling out the last seconds of blowout Game 5 loss, it was obvious that a rebirth had taken place. The Knicks are no longer a once-great franchise whose only virtue is playing in a famous arena. Instead, speculation about a potential Damian Lillard trade is already starting. (Without any factual basis, but that is not the point). Whatever happens this offseason, Knicks fans are done reminiscing on past glory.