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Joe Harris has to step up.
Provided there is no Herculean effort from Kevin Durant, who scored 49 points in Game 5 at Barclays Center before returning back to Earth with a 32-point performance in the Nets’ Game 6 loss, it is the Nets’ easiest path to a Game 7 victory.
An appearance from “Hot Hand Harris” is the path of least resistance for the Nets to get out of the second round. Nets games tend to tilt in their direction once Harris, who finished the regular season as the league’s most efficient three-point shooter, gets into a groove.
Harris has largely been a no-show since shooting a combined 8-of-16 from three in Games 1 and 2 against the Bucks. He has shot 5-of-24 from downtown in Games 3 through 6 and shot just 1-of-4 from downtown in the Nets’ 104-89 loss to the Bucks on Thursday.
Harris said his cold shooting stretch is a mix of both the Bucks’ defense and his own cold hand.
“I’m not really the type of player where I facilitate my own shots, so they’ve done a good job taking stuff away and for the most part, just overall defensively, they’re very keyed-in and they don’t make a lot of mistakes,” Harris said after scoring 9 points in the 15-point loss. “But at the end of the day, I go through worse stretches in the regular season. It just happens to be obviously big games, big moments, but you have to continue to stay aggressive, continue to play with pace and shoot the ball with confidence whenever you have room and rhythm looks.”
But the Nets can’t afford another game where Harris goes cold. Their championship aspirations depend on his ability to space the floor for Durant and James Harden, and so might his future in Brooklyn should he prove incapable of delivering in high-pressure games. Nets head coach Steve Nash best summed each of his players’ sentiments about Harris’ cold shooting:
“I would say he’s due (for a big game). It’s interesting. Maybe I should talk to him, but I have all the confidence in the world in Joe,” Nash said after practice on Wednesday. “Every time he shoots the ball, I think it’s going in, and that hasn’t changed in the last 3 games and it won’t change tomorrow night. We all go through stages where the ball doesn’t go in the basket, and that happens, but that doesn’t diminish my kind of respect and confidence in Joe at all.”
That big game has yet to come, and now the Nets find themselves facing elimination at home against a Bucks team that has defended home court. Harden said he tries to give Harris confidence every time they speak
“Yesterday, today, shootaround, (I) told him he’s the best shooter in the world and just having the ultimate confidence,” Harden said. “And not just Joe, the entire team. Go out there and play with the ultimate confidence. For our shooters, every shot that you shoot, know it’s going in. For our screeners, and everybody that has a particular role on our team, go out there and do it with confidence because that’s gonna help our team ultimately.”
Harris averaged 14 points per game in the regular season and 13.4 points through five games against the Celtics in the first round. He is averaging 6.3 points through his last four games against the Bucks and is shooting 20.8% from three in that span.
HARDEN MAKING PROGRESS
After shooting 1-of-10 from the field in Game 5, including 0-of-8 from downtown, Harden looked a bit more spry in Game 6 and finished with 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field. He made three of his six attempts from deep. Despite the loss, his performance was encouraging given his hamstring injury.
“It’s not even about rust. It’s about being able to move, and I think as I go day-by-day, (I’ll) continue to get better,” he said. “The last game, Game 5, was the first day that I did any movement like that since I got hurt, so tonight was no different, you know? I’m out there to do whatever it takes to win. I’ve got to be better on both ends of the ball, which I will be in Game 7.”
Nash said Harden looked more comfortable but also noted how restricted the team’s point guard has been in his minutes on the floor.
“James was better tonight as far as what he was able to do, but you know, it’s tough,” he said. “He’s really limited and he can’t do a lot of things that he’s accustomed to doing. I’m grateful that it doesn’t appear that he has any setbacks, and if anything, he played a little bit better. But it’s a tough, tough position for James to be out there trying his best, trying to help this team and not be able to move the way he normally would.”
BUCKS’ MIDDLE MAN
The Nets need to come up with an answer for Khris Middleton, the Bucks’ All-Star who torched them for 38 points on only 16 shots in Game 6.
“Obviously, we kind of let him out of the bag tonight. We’ve just got to play better,” Nash said. “We put him on the line when we didn’t need to. We gave up a couple of open shots in transition and then offensive rebounds, things like that get someone going. We’ve got to take away some situations and just play a little better, a little harder, a little more concentration, and if we add it all up, I think we can do a better job.”