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If, in 5 ½ weeks, the cars begin to gather at Barclays Center, where Atlantic Avenue meets Flatbush Avenue, if the procession slowly heads toward the wide plaza of Borough Hall, not far from the Dodgers’ old headquarters on Montague Street, in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, if the speakers climb a rostrum celebrating the freshly-crowned NBA champions from the Borough of Churches …
Well, if all of that happens, one thing will be official.
The celebration will be for the Brooklyn Nets, a basketball team.
It will not be for the Big 3.
It will not be for a collection of mercenaries.
If the Nets survive to Thursday, July 22, which is when Game 7 of the Finals is scheduled, then they will officially have survived Tuesday, June 15. They will officially have gotten there because the supporting cast that played so much of this year in the stars’ shadows — even when the stars themselves were wearing street clothes — will have delivered an epic all-for-one-and-one-for-all classic at Barclays Center.
Kyrie Irving is out. James Harden is out. Kevin Durant can do a lot of things well, can do things about which most basketball players in this solar system can only dream, but he cannot work the room solo Tuesday night.
There was an infamous moment in the Nets’ prior history in New Jersey when Stephon Marbury, tired of one too many passes bouncing off teammates’ hands and heads, exhausted by the lousy basketball around him, scrawled “ALL ALONE” on his ankle tape. It would never occur to Durant to even think that, let alone write it. And on Tuesday he must be equal to his words of Monday.
“I trust in everyone on this team and they believe in each other,” Durant said, as the Nets and Bucks geared up to play Game 5 of these best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday night at Barclays Center. “Now we just have to go out and play together and make sure we can create stuff for each other.”
It can’t just be Durant. Joe Harris has to start hitting 3s the way he did from his nursery crib right up until Game 3 of this series. Thirty-two-year-old Blake Griffin has shown flashes of his former 22-year-old self; he needs a full throwback effort. Mike James was imported from Russia because he is fearless; Tuesday he must be fearsome.
It must come from everywhere Tuesday night. Durant will be brilliant, because he so often is when it’s most necessary, because he’s had nights in Oklahoma City and Oakland and Brooklyn when he was unmatched as a competitor. That will be a start. It won’t be enough. Jeff Green has to chip in. Bruce Brown has to chip in. Landry Shamet is shooting 46 percent from 3. He needs to catch fire.
And the Nets must find a way to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo from going berserk. That means Griffin and Nic Claxton have to make it hard on him. It might mean that DeAndre Jordan has to be plucked out of mothballs, let his 6-foot-11 frame and 265 pounds — and six fouls — have at the Greek Freak. Jordan, you may remember, was essentially the grout the Nets used to connect themselves with Irving and Durant. He was the third member of the Big 3 before Harden showed up to play Ringo to Jordan’s Pete Best.
“Let’s just go play,” Durant said.
“Tomorrow,” Nets coach Steve Nash said, “is a great opportunity to show what we’re made of and have out our best performance of the series. Try to stick with our principles and fundamentals. Embracing the opportunity of going out and playing as a team.”
“This doesn’t fall on Kevin,” Nash said. “This falls on the Nets.”
The Nets have to believe as Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) believed in “Apollo 13,” when the NASA Director blurts within earshot of Kranz that they are all about to witness an epic disaster: “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.”
The Nets must believe that, and they must show up in force. All year, the chorus has had to listen to the huzzahs aimed almost exclusively at the Big 3. Even on nights when they did more than their share — and there were plenty of them — everything about the Nets always reverted to the common denominator of the Big 3.
Which is a Big 1 now.
Which means the chorus will be the star Tuesday night if the Nets are to bring the series back to Milwaukee up 3-2. And it will be the chorus we remember at the end of July, the folks cheek-to-jowl at Borough Hall, if we happen to be there to salute the NBA champs. They’ll be remembered as a team then. Finally, and at last, and for real.
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