NBA

NBA playoffs 2021: Nets pair Irving and Harden to miss Game 5 against Bucks

By Sports Desk June 14, 2021

Brooklyn Nets stars Kyrie Irving and James Harden will both miss Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Milwaukee Bucks due to injury.

Irving sprained his right ankle in the Nets' 107-96 loss in Game 4 on Sunday and underwent an MRI which confirmed he would not be available for Tuesday's clash, with the NBA playoff series in tied at 2-2.

Nets guard Irving joins former MVP Harden on the sidelines, with the latter still absence because of a hamstring he re-injured in Game 1.

Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash said the length of Irving's absence remains unknown.

"I have to wait and see how it progresses, I think," Nash said.

"And then the experts would have to wait and see how it progresses and give you a clearer picture on what the window would be for his return."

Nash added that Harden was "working out right now" but was unclear on his return to play timeframe.

The second-seeded Nets – eyeing their maiden championship – have battled injuries throughout the 2020-21 campaign, with Harden missing 21 games late in the regular season due to his troublesome hamstring.

"It's tough to lose great players but we've lost guys all season," Nash said. "If there's any silver linings, it's that we've continued to win games regardless of who's been available.

"We've been able to adapt on the fly which is difficult to do sometimes. That's something we have some experience with. We should have some comfort and belief."

The absence of two-thirds of the 'Big Three' puts a heavy burden on Kevin Durant, although Nash insisted it was not just about him.

"This does not fall on Kevin, this falls on the Nets," Nash said. "We've got to find a way together to play great basketball on both ends of the floor. We've proven we can do it.

"We try to stick to our principles and fundamentals, which is connectivity, competitive spirit, embracing the opportunity and playing together as a team."

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    Erik Spoelstra has no doubt the Miami Heat can inflict the sort of brutal defeat that the Boston Celtics doled out in Game 4 as the Eastern Conference Finals heads towards its climax.

    A 102-82 loss in Boston on Monday night came on the back of Miami scoring a trifling 11 points in the first quarter, with Jimmy Butler scoring just six points all night and no Heat starter reaching double figures.

    The visitors shot just 33.3 per cent from the field (30 of 90), with Boston's win squaring the series at 2-2 and setting up Game 5 in Miami on Wednesday evening as a pivotal occasion.

    Coach Spoelstra said: "More than anything, our offense really hurt us at the beginning. They weren't getting the sort of purposeful execution that you need to on the road. [Boston] were able to get some relief points from that and get to the free-throw line. They did a better job of getting into us and rotating guys into the paint."

    It was 57-33 by the halfway mark, and Spoelstra admitted the Heat simply failed to ignite. Yet he says Miami can swiftly set the game aside and dominate the next time the teams meet on court, saying it would not surprise him if the tables are turned.

    "We've got guys that love these kinds of moments, the playoffs. You've just got to stay together," Spoelstra said.

    "This is part of the playoffs. There are these extreme highs and lows, a lot of emotion. You just have to stay the course, stay together. What you're looking at is a great series. It's 2-2. You have to embrace that. Hopefully this competition beings out the absolute best in all of us.

    "They got the best of us tonight. We'll take this hit and then get to Miami and get ready for Game 5. Whatever they have done to us, we can do to them."

    Jayson Tatum led Boston with 31 points. The Celtics led by 32 points at one stage before Miami began to claw back the deficit late on.

    "We're not making any excuses. They outplayed us tonight, for sure," said Spoelstra.

  • Jayson Tatum shines for Celtics after saying he let team-mates down in Game 3 Jayson Tatum shines for Celtics after saying he let team-mates down in Game 3

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    The Celtics had their backs to the wall in the latest tussle of the Eastern Conference Finals, with the threat of heading back to Miami for Game 5 trailing 3-1, but they made sure it was not a nervous night for the Boston faithful.

    Derrick White – returning to the starting line-up after the birth of his son – started in place of the injured Marcus Smart and scored the first seven points, kick-starting a 26-4 run to open the game.

    The Celtics defense proved to be immense, holding the visitors to just 42 points with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

    Eleven first-quarter points also set a new record for the Heat's worst offensive first quarter in any playoff game in their history.

    After only scoring 10 points in Game 3, Tatum responded in fine fashion, racking up a team-high 31 points on eight-of-16 shooting, hitting 14-of-16 free throws, while adding eight rebounds, five assists and two blocks.

    Speaking later, Tatum highlighted the confidence he has in his ability, despite how dark things can get immediately following a painful loss.

    "Right after it's tough," he said. "You're frustrated with how you played, knowing how important this time of year is, and feeling like you let your team-mates down.

    "But I think I do a really good job of sleeping it off – regardless of if I have 10 points or 46 points – the next day is the next day, and whatever happened, happened.

    "Obviously I was ready to get back to playing, but I didn't doubt myself – I know how to play basketball.

    "Regardless of how many points I score, [it's about] just trying to come out and help us get a win. That's most important."

    With the series now tied at 2-2, Tatum called it "a new series", but he stressed his side need to bring the same intensity after a win, as opposed to just after crushing losses.

    "It's 2-2 – it's kind of like a new series, a best-of-three," Tatum said.

    "Human nature plays a part in [the swings in the series]. When you win a game, you can relax a little bit, but obviously when we lose a game, we feel like the next game is do-or-die, and then we come out and play how we did.

    "We need to have that mindset going into Game 5 – it is a must-win game – and tonight was essentially something like that. Everybody knew it, we could all feel it, and I think it showed with the way we came out."

    When asked if he enjoyed sitting out the fourth quarter after clocking 117 minutes across the first three games of the series, Tatum said: "It was extremely nice – especially because we were winning."

    Celtics coach Ime Udoka made sure to highlight the efforts of White after he finished with 13 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals.

    "He checks so many boxes for us, it's not only things that show up on the stat sheet," Udoka said.

    "He's the guy that moves the ball very well, defends extremely well, multiple positions… I couldn't be more happy with him being here, and what he brings to this team."

    Udoka touched on what it will take to come out on top in this series, echoing Tatum's sentiments about bringing the same intensity after a win.

    "Our mindset was right coming out, we came out with the right physicality and focus," he said. "We've just got to muster that same energy when we're coming off a win, as well as a loss.

    "It wasn't our best offensive night, but defensively, obviously we were elite tonight, for the most part.

    "We've got room to grow still, that's the thing with us, and we can always rely on our defense. We've won several games doing that this year when our shots aren't falling.

    "To hold them in the 30s for basically three quarters, it's high-level defense.

    "We can do that even if our shots are not falling, it's mainly about taking care of the ball, not letting them get anything easy, and kind of wearing on them mentally."

    After Game 5 in Miami, Game 6 will head back to Boston, with a potential Game 7 to be played in Miami, if required.

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    The Boston Celtics smothered the Miami Heat all night on the way to a 102-82 victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

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    It all started on the defensive end for Boston, playing in front of their raucous home fans, as the Heat missed their first 14 field goal attempts.

    The Celtics led 29-11 at quarter time – after leading 26-4 at one stage – marking the fewest first-quarter points ever scored by a Heat team in the playoffs. They shot three-for-20 from the field.

    Victor Oladipo tried to ignite the Heat off the bench, scoring 18 of their first 28 points, but it was a historically bad showing from Miami's starting line-up, made even worse by the fact Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro was out injured.

    With three minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Heat trailed 73-42, leading to their starters getting benched for the final frame. Their five starters combined to score 18 points and shoot seven-for-38 (18 per cent) from the field.

    For Boston, Jayson Tatum was terrific, scoring 24 of his 31 points in the first half, finishing up with shooting figures of eight-of-16 from the field and 14-of-16 from the free throw line.

    The big-man combination of Al Horford and Robert Williams III was also game-changing, as the duo combined for 22 rebounds and six blocks, while Derrick White also shined in his first game since becoming a father.

    White missed Game 3 for the birth of his child, and after scoring no more than nine points since Game 4 of the Celtics series against the Milwaukee Bucks, he had 10 points in the first quarter as he started in the place of the injured Marcus Smart.

    He went on to finish with 13 points, eight rebounds, six assists, three steals and a blocked shot.

    Game 5 will head back to Miami with plenty on the line. Throughout NBA history, when a series has been tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 goes on to win the series 82 per cent of the time – although the Celtics bucked that trend last round.

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