Nets Notes: James Harden's Return Inspired Kevin Durant

For James Harden, it wasn’t complicated. His team needed him in a crucial playoff game. It was, he said, “simple.”

“Game 5, woke up and was like, ‘You know what? Let’s go.’ I tried to go out there and do the best I can,” said Harden. “Hopefully I gave my teammates some encouragement, some life, obviously I wanted to score the basketball and do what I normally do, but it is what it is. We win, we watch film, get our rest and prepare for Game 6.”

That Game 6 has a whole different feel after Harden returned, Kevin Durant went supernova, and the Nets won Game 5 114-108 to take a 3-2 series lead after dropping consecutive games in Milwaukee and losing Kyrie Irving to an ankle sprain along the way.

“We know that there was gonna be times in the postseason where we hit adversity where things feel like they're up against us and they can't be done,” said Harden. “In reality they can be done. We just gotta find ways to get them done. We showed a little bit of that in the Boston series and then even in this series it's the same thing. Like it feels like just when things are going well something hits us. My approach to the guys is keep fighting. It's going to be great on the other side and we did that tonight. So, proud of the guys.”

Maybe Harden’s determination to play was really the only simple thing about it. Because 24 hours before tip-off, he was listed as out with the hamstring tightness that had sidelined him since the opening minute of the series. During the regular season he had missed essentially 21 straight games with tightness and then a strain in the same hamstring, briefly returning to play in one game for four minutes before leaving.

But on Tuesday morning, his status was updated to doubtful. That turned into questionable and then available, and then he was out there for tip-off.

“It inspired me this morning when he said he was giving it a go and he was thinking about giving it a go,” said Durant. “I think all of us felt like, first we wanted him to be healthy and make sure this is the right decision for him but once he got out there and tested it out we were all happy for him and we knew that would give us a extra spark. It was one of those performances from James, on the stat sheet it may not look like it was great but just his energy, his talk, his communication throughout the whole game was just on point.”

After all that, Harden went out and played 46 minutes. He finished with just five points, struggling to make shots, but had eight assists and six rebounds. On a night in which Nets head coach Steve Nash essentially cut his rotation to seven players, Harden nearly went the distance.

“I didn’t know at all what he could give us,” said Nash. “I really didn’t. It was a very unusual feeling to throw a player out there and not know how he’s gonna handle it physically or with his performance. That was tricky, but what we got was, I think we got confidence having him on the floor. We got some playmaking, decision-making, ball-handling. He made a few passes that only he could make and I think he was just; he played a lot of minutes. He was not James at 100 percent, clearly, but he’s still able to run the team, give us confidence, give us poise, and I thought he did an incredible job under the circumstances just playing the game and playing so many minutes, being able to manage himself and contribute was incredible.”