The Nets won’t have Kyrie Irving or James Harden for Tuesday’s tipping point Game 5 at Barclays Center. They may not get either player back during the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But that doesn’t mean the Nets can’t advance, says longtime NBA coach and ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy.
“You’d be making a mistake if you don’t think a Kevin Durant-led team with those complimentary players can’t win — they can,” the former Knicks coach told The Post in a phone interview Monday.
A few things will have to change for the Nets to win two of the final three games of the series, though. The Nets can’t turn the ball over like they did in Game 4, when they committed 17 turnovers. Their role players can’t struggle like they did in the two losses in Milwaukee, when only Kevin Durant (and Irving) reached double figures. That means Joe Harris finding his stroke after shooting 4-for-19 in those contests. It means Blake Griffin adjusting to being more of a focal point of the offense and getting more aggressive. He’s taken just 17 shots in the past three games. An unexpected source of offense may need to emerge.
“They’re going to need somebody who gets an opportunity to step forward and help bear some of the burden of offensive production,” Van Gundy said. “Let’s say you think Durant can get you 40, which he can in any game. You still have to get 65 more, 60 more to win most likely. The other complementary players are going to have to play well.”
Van Gundy knows what Steve Nash and the Nets are going through. Back in 1997 as the Knicks’ coach, he was suddenly without several core players at the end of the Eastern Conference semifinals following a Game 5 brawl with the Heat. The Knicks would lose the last two games of the series and blow a 3-1 lead.
“If you go in with the thought process you have more than enough to win with, then it sets the right tone,” he said. “The hardest part is you get that early emotional jolt, which Milwaukee got in Game 3 and I would suspect the Nets would have for Game 5. But it’s such a long game. You have to be able to sustain. Going to that game [in 1997], we just couldn’t sustain over the last six minutes. And I suspect if it’s close that will be the overriding theme for the Nets. If it’s close down the stretch, will they have enough?”
That’s now a question. Before the injuries, the Nets didn’t have to worry about their opponent if they were at their best. That’s no longer the case.
“Now you need to play well,” Van Gundy said, “and maybe hope somebody from Milwaukee doesn’t play as well or doesn’t shoot as well.”