NEW YORK – Kevin Durant scored 29 points, Kyrie Irving had 25 and the two superstars led the Brooklyn Nets after James Harden’s initial injury in a 115-107 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night in Game 1 of the semifinals of the Eastern Conference.
Harden didn’t even spend a minute before leaving with a right hamstring injury, an injury that forced him to miss two losses to the Bucks in May.
But the Nets beat Milwaukee when it mattered most without him, getting 19 points from Joe Harris and 18 points and 14 rebounds from Blake Griffin.
And they got a solid defensive effort despite giving up a lot of size, limiting the Bucks to 13 points below their NBA-leading average.
Durant grabbed 10 rebounds and Irving had eight assists, throwing some spectacular passes as the Nets moved the ball quickly and held the Bucks a step or more behind all night.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 34 points and 11 rebounds, but the Bucks were just 6 of 30 from 3-point range and lost for the first time in the playoffs after beating Miami on a first-round sweep.
Brook Lopez scored 19 points for the Bucks and Jrue Holiday had 17 points and nine rebounds. Khris Middleton finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds, but was 6-of-23, missing all five 3-pointers.
Game 2 is Monday night.
A series that was talented across the rosters started on a negative note when Harden had to exit the game after just 43 seconds, walking back after the nets called a timeout before they had scored.
Harden predicted a day before that this series would be a showdown.
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The Bucks led 32-30 after one, but the Nets outscored them with an 8-0 run for a 47-42 lead. Another eight-straight streak pushed him to 59-48 on Irving’s layup with 3:22 left at the half, but Milwaukee closed well to go 63-61 at the break.
The two highest-scoring teams in the NBA played at a breakneck pace, where they are looking down after a basket and may already be shooting at the other end when you look up.
The rhythm favored the Nets, who walked away definitively in the third quarter.
Durant made his fourth foul with 1:36 left in the period, and he quickly signaled with his hands at Nets coach Steve Nash that he didn’t want to get out of the game. Lopez made both free throws to bring it down to nine, but Durant then scored seven straight points, his 3-pointer to 98-82 with 5.1 seconds to go.
Bucks: Milwaukee gave PJ Tucker his first playoff start. It had seven points. … Milwaukee was 4 of 19 against 3 in the first half. Bryn Forbes missed all four of his attempts before making one late in the game.
Nets: Brooklyn was left without F Jeff Green for the fourth straight game due to a left foot injury. Nash said Friday they would consider it day-to-day after Game 1.… The Nets announced a total sale of 15,750, with Beyonce and Jay-Z, 98% fully vaccinated. … Mike James scored 12 points after playing less than 10 minutes in the first round against Boston.
His right hamstring forced him to stiffen to miss 18 straight games and 20 of 21 games at the end of the season. He missed games on April 1 and 4 for what was called tension, then came back on April 5, but managed to go only four minutes before leaving again, with that injury called a strain. He did not play again until May 12.