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The Age of the Superteam is just about dead.
LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t even make the play-in tournament. The lower-profile Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns finished first in the East and West, respectively.
And Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets are all but officially finished, falling to the Boston Celtics by a 109-103 count in Game 3 of their first-round series Saturday night. No one has ever overcome such a deficit in the NBA playoffs, and these Nets won’t either.
Yes, Ben Simmons is expected to make his season debut in Game 4, in Brooklyn, but it won’t matter. It’s almost silly to bring back Simmons at this point. Especially when you consider how poorly he played in his last stab at an elimination game — last season, as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Simmons is the Nets’ latest attempt at a “Big Three” as the other one — starring Durant, Irving and James Harden — also went nowhere.
But this series has mostly been about Durant. He used to have a really good thing going with the Golden State Warriors. But after two titles and three straight runs to the Finals, he bolted for Brooklyn to team with Irving. Why, no one really knows. Player empowerment or something.
Durant has mostly looked like a regular player in this series. A massive threat, clearly, and still one of the best in the game. But the Celtics are tormenting him with athletic, determined defenders such as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. Tatum and Brown are even better offensively, keeping Durant and the Nets on their heels at the other end.
“Clearly they’re loading up on him, sending bodies to him, being physical with him,” Nets coach Steve Nash of the Celtics’ approach to Durant. “I don’t think Kevin has to go off. We shot a good percentage, we moved the ball. It’s just the ones that we just gave up. Poor decision-making, not connecting, simple passes and they’re going the other way. That, to me, has been the difference in all three games.”
The bigger story here, though, is that teams with “homegrown” talent, with some decent additions, have been the way to go lately.
The Suns had a nice young core built mostly through the draft, then landed Chris Paul. The Heat compiled some draft picks and castoffs, then acquired Jimmy Butler, and later, Kyle Lowry. The defending champion Milwaukee Bucks stole Giannis Antetokounmpo with the No. 15 pick in the 2013 draft, then shaped the roster around him. The Bucks are the polar opposite of a Big Three. They’re a Big One.
Now, with the Nets soon to fail, a rising theory around the NBA is gaining even more momentum. And that would be the idea that going out and getting a bunch of big names no longer guarantees you will be winning big.
Or in the case of the Net, even able to get out of the first round.
Follow Sam Amico’s NBA coverage @AmicoHoops.