With a painful turn of an ankle, the Big 3 suddenly may be the Big 1.
The Nets’ super-team appears to have joined the rest of the NBA: They currently have one healthy MVP-caliber player and a bunch of complementary pieces.
Kevin Durant may have to find a way to do it without super-teammates James Harden and Kyrie Irving, both of whom have gone down in this tough Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Milwaukee Bucks.
With Harden watching in street clothes because of hamstring tightness, Irving became the most recent casualty after awkwardly stepping on Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo’s foot. He did not return and the Nets lost, 107-96, on Sunday to even the series at 2-2.
The X-rays were negative and the injury has been labeled a sprain. The Nets plan to run more tests when they return to Brooklyn but — playoffs or not — it’s a lot to expect a player to come back from a sprained ankle in 48 hours.
The Big 3 played together only eight times in the regular season. The Nets also weathered the loss of Harden in the first minute of Game 1 of this series and still managed to win that game and destroy the Bucks in Game 2 in Brooklyn.
However, losing Irving was just too difficult a blow for the Nets to absorb in the middle of a tight game in which they were having a hard time getting their game going offensively.
"We just didn’t execute very well, and that was the gut punch," coach Steve Nash said of Irving’s injury.
Another bit of a gut punch that doesn’t bode well for trying to win without Irving and Harden was the way the Bucks were able to defend Durant, who had a team-high 28 points but shot 1-for-8 from three-point range and 9-for-25 overall.
P.J. Tucker, the player who got into an altercation with Durant in Game 3 that brought Durant’s security guard out on the court, played like a man on a mission. Durant shot 3-for-12 when he was being guarded by Tucker as opposed to 6-for-13 when he was guarded by others.
Nash indicated that there have been times in the series when he thought Tucker stepped over the line.
"He played that way before they had their altercation," Nash said. "He’s playing extremely physical, and that made it difficult. That’s his role on their team and I thought it was borderline non-basketball at times, but that’s the playoffs. You have to adapt and adjust."
Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer dismissed any notion that Tucker had done anything overly physical. "He’s just guarding him," he said. "If that’s not basketball, I don’t know what is."
Either way, it’s a very different style of basketball from what the Nets thought they would be playing at the start of Game 1 of this series.
With Harden, Irving and Durant all healthy, the Nets had three of the four best players on the court, along with Antetokounmpo.
Now the tables have turned, with Durant and Antetokounmpo canceling each other out and the Bucks having the next two best players in Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.
It’s hard to believe that only a week ago, there was talk of the Nets sweeping the Bucks in this series.
Now the Nets return to Barclays Center after losing two in Milwaukee and will try to regroup.
"I hate to see anybody go down. It really sucked," Jeff Green said. "But it’s just next man up. We have to find a way to get momentum somewhere and get out there on the floor and communicate and play well together. Whoever is in, whatever body is in."
Superstar or not.