Kevin Durant already had three double-doubles through the first four games of the Eastern Conference semifinals and they all came on points/rebounds combinations. To record his second career playoff triple-double — the greatest triple-double in NBA playoff history — he elevated his playmaking and lifted the Nets to a 114-108 Game 5 win.
Durant’s all-time performance gave Brooklyn a 3-2 series lead and a chance to clinch a berth in the Eastern Conference finals in Thursday night’s Game 6 in Milwaukee.
“I didn’t plan on doing that,” said Durant of some first-half facilitating. “I always try to be aggressive to get to my spots to score and settle my teammates down. But this team does a lot of helping and a lot of swarming in the paint. In previous games, I may have forced a couple shots over two people where I threw out for a hockey assist tonight. So keep watching film, keep reading where the defense is coming from. At the end of the day, I’ve got to be aggressive.”
“His playmaking, once he got to his spots, and the second defender came over and helped he made the right decision the majority of the time, if not every time,” said James Harden. “That��s an improvement in his game right there. He’s not just a scorer. He’s gonna make plays and let the game come to him. He’s one of a kind.”
Durant finished with 10 assists to go with 49 points and 17 rebounds. Seven of those assists came in the second half — as did 31 of his points — as Nets head coach Steve Nash opted to put the ball in Durant’s hands more to run the offense with Harden playing for the first time since Game 1.
“I know the perception of me is that I can score the basketball well but any team that I’ve played on I’ve been asked to do pretty much everything — rebounding to defending to initiating to scoring,” said Durant. “I might not do it all the time but I do a little bit of everything out there so I knew at some point coach would ask me to screen, rebound, defend, bring the ball up, score, shoot threes, so I just work on everything I can in practice and when the game comes around I just gotta be ready to do anything so tonight was one of those nights.”
“He's always been well rounded,” said Jeff Green, who began his NBA career alongside Durant as rookie teammates in Seattle in 2007. “I think people just notice the scoring because he makes it look easy. He's always been somebody who makes the extra pass. He's a hooper. He plays basketball. He makes the right play. His offensive skill set just overshadows everything he does because he can do pretty much everything on the floor. He's a well-rounded player, a guy who makes the right pass. He reads the game well and he showcased that tonight.”
ROUNDING INTO RHYTHM
Putting the ball in Kevin Durant’s hands was just part of the Nets finding their way through Game 5 on the offensive end. They made just 4-of-20 shots in the first quarter but eventually scored 71 points in the second half while shooting 64.9 percent overall and 47.6 percent from 3-point range.
“They were doing more of the things we've been preaching, and it took a while to get there,” said Steve Nash. “But I think it was difficult for everyone just to feel out the new dynamic: Without Ky, with James, James not being the James we know but wanting to help his teammates and soldier through it. I think it took us a moment…longer than a moment. But it took us a while before we could find a cohesion. So, just another thing that's been thrown at us in the game tonight, and we've we were fortunate enough to have the toughness to stick with it. And we kept telling stick with it. And they found a little bit of cohesion at the right time.”
GAME 6 STATUS
Kyrie Irving will again be out after suffering a sprained ankle in Game 4, but Steve Nash said James Harden was feeling good on Wednesday morning after playing 46 minutes in his return in Game 5 and was ready to go.
“I don’t know at all what James will look like for the next game compared to last night,” said Nash. “But, you know, I think there are certain things that he will feel more comfortable with just from a comfort of having played more basketball, from having a game under his belt, having felt it out there — that can only make him more comfortable and improve if physically he’s okay, and so far, he is. I don’t know. Maybe they will try to target him more. It’s not really what they do, it would be a departure in some ways. But they may, they may. And we will be ready for that as well.”
THE ROTATION TIGHTENS
A Game 5 loss would have meant going to Milwaukee for Game 6 facing elimination and the stakes were reflected in Steve Nash’s personnel choices. Kevin Durant played 48 minutes and James Harden played 46. Mike James and Nic Claxton played a combined five minutes, all in the first quarter, leaving the Nets with essentially a seven-man rotation for the rest of the game. Bruce Brown started the game, played five minutes in the first quarter, then sat all but 30 seconds of the second and third quarters before coming back for seven minutes in the fourth.
What does the rotation look like for Game 6 and how far is Nash willing to push Durant and Harden again?
“I think that’s something that we have to feel out as we go,” said Nash. “There is no championship if you don’t get out of this series. There’s obviously a point where you have to go and you have to play like we did last night. If it presents itself that we don’t have to overburden them we’d be happy not to but if we have to, we have to and that’s just the nature of it.”