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Nets have learned this lesson the hard way: No relaxing in Game 3 of playoff series

Mike James of the Brooklyn Nets handles the

Mike James of the Brooklyn Nets handles the ball against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 2 at Barclays Center on June 7, 2021. Credit: Steven Ryan

In the pressure cooker of the NBA playoffs the Nets have eased their way through while also learning and experimenting, finding lessons in the rare moments of struggle and self-correcting to become even more dangerous.

The only loss in the first seven games for the team came when the team went to Boston after a pair of one-sided wins over the Celtics in the first round and let down, allowing Boston to momentarily creep back into the series. That moment was followed by blowout wins to advance past the Celtics and two more at home over the Bucks.

But the Nets still look to that lone loss as a teaching moment, one more step forward on the learning curve.

"I think in Game 3 we were just tentative," Mike James said. "We didn’t really come out like ourselves. We kind of held back. In Game 4, we established our pace, our will. We attacked them, were the first to hit, and I think that’s how it’s been since that Game 3. We have been pushing our pace, playing our game and not letting them establish what they want to do."

It’s part of the lessons learned. James didn’t even get off the bench in that third game in Boston as James Harden was still in place, leading the Nets with 41 points. While it is impossible to replace Harden’s offensive dominance the Nets have adjusted on the fly. James has entered the rotation and Blake Griffin, who had just four points on five shots that night in Boston, has emerged as a key to this series.

Are the Nets better without Harden? No one would claim that. But are they learning from where they were at that point to now, just as they have made their way through every injury, absence and incarnation this season? That’s another story.

"Definitely different scenarios . . . but we can draw, take something from that situation," Griffin said Tuesday. "I think we did a great job the first two Boston games of executing our game plan and being focused on the little things and we kind of lost sight of [in Game 3 against Boston].

"That's going to be a big point of emphasis. For us, there's no relax. We've basically done what we're supposed to do. We've won at home. That was kind of the message in the locker room. What have we done? We haven't done anything. We played solid, but this is sort of how it's set up. I think that will be our mindset going in."

While the Nets make their adjustments and move forward though, it’s not so simple for the opposition. Asked what the Bucks might adjust defensively to try to slow the Nets offense after Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving had their way with them, James had a blunt assessment.

"I don’t know. I don’t know what you really can do different for Kevin and Ky, honestly," James said. "Maybe getting the ball out of their hands. But I think that’s up to them really. We have to try to adjust to whatever they throw at us and, hopefully, we’re ready.

"It’s hard to switch on Kevin and Ky because I think they’re two of the best one-on-one players we have in this league, especially when James [Harden] is here we probably have the three best. If they get the wrong matchup — or the right matchup, depending on which way you look at it — they’re hard to stop. I think you guys have watched, going one-on-one they’re pretty creative, they pretty much get whatever shot they want. So if you don’t have exactly who you want on them it makes it tough on the defense to get the help. How we move the ball and how we have shooters, it’s kind of problematic. Obviously, I’m not an NBA coach so I don’t really know what will work and what won’t, but that’s just how I feel about it."

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