Nets missed James Harden’s leadership in loss to Bucks

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The Nets got by without James Harden in Games 1 and 2 in Barclays Center, cruising to a pair of home wins in the Eastern Conference semifinals. But in their first road test against a tough defense, their offense went off the rails.

Without Harden’s can’t-be-sped-up demeanor on the court to settle things down, the Nets struggled to execute in an 86-83 loss in Milwaukee. They shot just 36.2 percent overall and hit just 3 of 11 down the stretch in the last half of the fourth quarter.

But Steve Nash said there is more to be learned from Thursday’s Game 3 loss than there would’ve been if Bruce Brown’s last-ditch runner had gone down and they’d stolen a win they frankly didn’t deserve.

“I definitely think it’s much easier to learn from losses,” Nash said. “I think wins sometimes you can sweep things under the rug. You know I think we just got to look at the way we executed, I thought we didn’t make shots.

Steve Nash
Steve Nash

“We had some looks that we just didn’t make that we normally make, but I thought our execution could have been better throughout. Great experience for our guys, like we said a new group, they’re still learning, they’re still figuring things out together and so it’s a great experience for us even if it was a painful one.”

One lesson to be learned is the ball has to move better, and quicker. Kyrie Irving has reassumed the point guard spot with Harden hamstrung. He had 22 points and five rebounds but just one lone assist.

The Nets had just 15 assists for the game.

Brown appeared to take a shot and be doubled over in discomfort near the end of the game. But both he and Nash said the guard wasn’t seriously hurt.

“No, I’m good,” Brown said.

In a contrast of coaching calls, when the Nets botched an inbounds it led to a mad scramble just to keep possession. They didn’t call a timeout and Brown got — and missed — the last attempt with just over six seconds left.

Seconds earlier, the Nets had expected Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer to call a timeout. But the two-time NBA Coach of the Year let the action go, and Jrue Holiday hit what became the eventual game-winner with 11 seconds to play.

“Just shows you that it could go either way. In those final was in less than 24 seconds I thought Bud was gonna call the timeout. I’m sure other guys on the floor did too,” Irving said. “And they went for the quick two that put them up one. It took pressure off them to come down and get into an organized set.”

Harden (right hamstring tightness), Jeff Green (left plantar fascia strain) and Spencer Dinwiddie (partially torn ACL, right knee) were all out for the Nets. Green is making progress and hasn’t been ruled out of Sunday’s Game 4 yet.

Brown has announced he’s donating $50 to @SCOfamily for every playoff rebound he gets. That’s usually not much for a guard, but his 11 boards Thursday give him 49.

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