The Brooklyn Nets Big 3 was one of the best NBA trios of all-time, on paper. In real life, the Nets dream team was a nightmare.
Left: Photo by Elsa/Getty Images, Center: Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images, Right: Photo by Michelle Farsi/Getty Images

Brooklyn’s Dismantled Big Three Balled Together for Barely Two Weeks

The Big Three. The triumvirate by which an NBA team's chances of realistically winning the championship are judged. When the Brooklyn Nets brought in James Harden in January of 2021 to join Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, prognosticators believed that they assembled the next trio to rule the association for the foreseeable future. The final embers of that once-bright flame of optimism were stamped out, as the Nets acquiesced to trade demands, first from Irving, who was shipped to Dallas, and then from Durant, who forced his way to Phoenix.

Harden had already forced his own trade to Philadelphia a year earlier, and, though the Nets have come away from this year's trade deadline with a host of draft picks, there are longer any allusions that they are on the path to an NBA crown.

Sixteen Candles? How About Just Sixteen Games

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving high-five during a Brooklyn Nets

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Despite conspiring amongst themselves to form this Super Team, the totality of the Big 3's contributions as a unit was just 16 games over the course of two seasons and one postseason. 

Consider some of the numbers if you break down their "contributions" to the Brooklyn Nets:

  • 13 - Total Number of wins, evidence that when they play together, they were pretty damn good (13-3)
  • 10 - The number of regular season games they played in together
  • 9 - the number of times that Durant, Harden, and Irving took the floor at Barclays together while playing for the Nets
  • 42% - if you don't count the 43 seconds before Harden got injured against Milwaukee, they played just 5 out of 12 playoff games during their one postseason together
  • 0 - Championships, or even NBA Finals trips, or even Eastern Conference Finals trips

The sixteen games played by this trio can be broken down into three distinct acts.

Act 1: The Group Comes Together

Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets and Kevin Durant #7 look on during the first quarter of Round 1 Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs

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Harden was traded to the Nets on January 14, 2021, and the trio made their first appearance together in a double overtime loss in Cleveland on January 20th.  Durant didn't dress for another game in Cleveland two nights later, but the Big Three debuted at Barclay's in a win over Miami and miraculously played together in each of the next two games as well, another home win over the Heat and an overtime win in Atlanta on January 27th. 

The group would play just one more set of consecutive games for the Nets, splitting a homestand against the Clippers and Raptors on February 2nd & 5th. 

In a win at Golden State on February 13th, Durant strained his hamstring and would miss the next 23 games. While he was out, Harden also strained his hammy, and would miss 18 games of his own. 

No matter. The Nets were 48-24 in the Covid-shortened season and headed into the playoffs as the No. 2 seed. If the Big Three were brought there to win championships, the road to a title was still ahead of them. 

Act 2: Playoffs? Playoffs?

Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets is congratulated by teammates Kevin Durant #7 and James Harden #13 after Irving drew the foul against the Boston Celtics during Game One of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series

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With everyone's hamstrings finally feeling better, the three superstars tuned up for the postseason in their penultimate game of the year, a home win over the Bulls, and then turned their attention to a first round matchup with the Boston Celtics.

The Big Three combined for 82 of Brooklyn's 104 points in a game 1 win over the Celtics, and the Nets overwhelmed Boston and their big three of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and...Marcus Smart? Harden dished out 18 assists in Game 4 and Irving and Durant went for 39 and 42, respectively, as the Nets scored 141 points and took a stranglehold on the series, eventually closing it out in five games.

It all seemed to be falling into place for Brooklyn. Despite a rocky regular season, the Big Three were healthy and dominating in what looked to be the first of many playoff series in 2021 and beyond.

In truth, the Big Three had just three games left together. And it was barely three.

Act 3: The Last Hurrah

Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden during a stoppage in play of a Brooklyn Nets game.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Forty-three seconds into Game 1 of Brooklyn's second round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, James Harden reinjured his ankle and would miss the rest of the game, as well as Games 2, 3, and 4 of the series.

In Game 4, with the Bucks on the verge of tying the series, Irving landed on Giannis Antetokounmpo's foot and sprained his right ankle. Though Harden returned for Game 5 and led Brooklyn to victory, Irving shut it down for the rest of the series as Brooklyn lost Game 6 in Milwaukee and Game 7 in overtime due, in part, to Kevin Durant's "big-ass feet".

Despite still being the odds-on favorites to win the championship in 2021-22, there would not be an opportunity for this trio of All-Stars to regroup and finish the job, as Lebron James and the Heat did when the first season of Miami's Big Three ended with an NBA Finals loss to Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks. 

Nor did Brooklyn's Big Three seem to care for one.

Kyrie Irving refused to get vaccinated against Covid-19 and was excused from the team for the 2021-22 season. It wasn't until January 5th, 36 games into the season, that the Nets were forced to bring back Irving as a part-time player due to injuries and the extended minutes piling up for Durant and Harden. 

Irving, Durant and Harden logged two more victories for the Nets, the January 5th game at Indiana and January 12th in Chicago.

The next game, Durant sprained his MCL and was ruled out for four to six weeks. By the time he was able to return in March, Harden had checked out and was shipped off to Philly for Ben Simmons. Simmons wouldn't play a single game for Brooklyn the rest of the series, or in the playoffs, when the Nets lost four straight to Boston. 

Go Home, The Party's Over

Ben Simmons #10 of the Brooklyn Nets in action against the Detroit Pistons at Barclays Center

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Frankly, it's embarrassing how little these guys actually played together for the Brooklyn Nets.

Sure there were major injuries that affected their potential impact as a threesome. But there were also random one-offs, guys taking games off for soreness or maintenance days or just dogging it through the regular season. There's half a season of Kyrie being suspended because he refused to get vaccinated, and times where these three superstars clearly shut it down because things weren't going their way.

Now, they've been scattered to different corners of the NBA. Unable to achieve as a team, each of them has globbed on to another superstar in the hopes that they will carry the load. Irving will team with Luka Doncic, until he doesn't feel like it anymore, while Durant (no stranger to joining super teams) plops himself down in the middle of the Phoenix Suns locker room, joining a team that is a year removed from an NBA Finals appearance and features an already Biggish Three in Chris Paul, Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton. 

James Harden has been grasping for glory alongside Joel Embiid, and now looks to have just the Celtics and Bucks to get past in the East. 

My money would be on Durant and the Suns if I had to pick which of the three would win a title, albeit another fraud ring for KD. 

It takes 16 postseason wins for a team to lift the Larry O'Brien trophy. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, 16 was all they got.

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