Kevin Durant wasn’t interested in ranking his epic Game 5 performance among his all-time best — maybe down the road sometime — but it says something about the legend he’s built that Jeff Green, his teammate dating back to their rookie season in Seattle and a fellow product of Prince George’s County, Maryland would call Durant’s extraordinary night “routine.”
“Big-time players show up in big-time moments, and that's what he did,” said Green. “He made big-time plays for us at the end of the game and he's the reason we won. He put us on his back and he carried us throughout the whole game. So that's what he's been doing and that's the Kevin I know.”
Just KD being KD.
Plenty of other superlatives flowed after Brooklyn’s 114-108 Game 5 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
“Historic,” said Steve Nash.
“Unbelievable,” said James Harden.
It was indeed a show that had never been seen before in an NBA playoff game. Durant’s triple-double included 49 points, 17 rebounds, and 10 assists, the first time any player had recorded at least 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists in a playoff game.
It was also spectacularly efficient. Durant shot 16-for-23 overall and 4-of-9 from 3-point range and made 13-of-16 free throws.
“He was unfazed the entire game,” said Harden. “He was poised, especially in that second half. He started to take his time, he started to get to his spots and kind of like, I seen Kevin directing people to where he wanted them to be. Once Kevin gets that, he's comfortable, he's in the zone and it's pretty much hard to stop him. And just we fed off that.”
“I didn’t even think about nothing but just each possession,” said Durant. “I was trying to win each possession, and I didn’t think of how many points I had or shot attempts, rebounds, assists. It was more so like, just let me do what I need to do each possession. That’s the approach I always take. I was able to play every minute, so that helped with my point total. But for the most part, I just tried to stay engaged on the defensive side of the ball the whole game.”
The stakes were enormous. The Nets came in after losing two games in Milwaukee as the Bucks evened the series at two games apiece. Along the way, they lost Kyrie Irving to a sprained ankle in Game 4. And it wasn’t until the hours before game time that they learned they would have Harden back in the lineup after hamstring tightness had kept him out of all but the first minute of the series.
All the variables contributed to a shaky start. The Nets shot 35 percent in the first half in falling behind by 16 points at halftime. Durant and Green put some life into the offense in combining for 18 second-quarter points to keep the game from getting away from them.
But Durant and the Nets closed in a rush over the final 18 minutes, outscoring the Bucks by 22 points from the middle of the third quarter to the end in turning a 16-point deficit into a six-point win. Durant scored 31 points in the second half and 20 in the fourth quarter alone.
Start with Durant scoring Brooklyn’s final seven points of the third quarter as they cut the lead to five. Then Durant had six points in the 10-2 run that tied the game at 91 after his two free throws. His 3-pointer gave the Nets their first lead since 2-0. After Khris Middleton answered with a three for the Bucks, Durant connected again from deep for a 97-96 lead and the Nets never trailed again.
“I didn't necessarily see a different demeanor from Kevin,” said Nash of those final 18 minutes. “He was locked-in from the start. It’s just we were trying to figure out how to play with James back in the lineup, but him not feeling himself and trying to feel his way back into the game and our guys trying to feel their way. And so, it took us a period of time I think to find some freedom out there as a group. And you’ve got to feel some freedom.
“I mean, I know it's the playoffs and it's pressure and the stakes are heightened and all that, but you’ve got to enjoy it and you’ve got to feel free and you’ve got to play together. And I think it took us a while to get there. But I don't think Kevin's demeanor changed. He just got; we got there. And we started to make some plays and find some space, and when he got to his spots obviously he is what he is: He's one of the all-time greats. And so tonight and it took a while before we can really get him some momentum. But he took it.”
The one other remarkable number? Durant’s 48 minutes. He went the distance, checking in with Nash and assistant coach Jacque Vaughn along the way to let them know he was good to go whether they wanted to leave him in all the way.
“If we didn’t play him 48 we probably wouldn’t win tonight,” said Nash. “It’s a tough decision. It’s an easy decision that’s very tough to make. I hate to put him in that position. But we talked through the game with him. We tried to find different times to get timeouts and give him a spell. We’ve just had so much stuff thrown at us, so many injuries, so many changes throughout the year. Now’s the time where we’re taking a few risks here, to be honest. Hopefully we can settle some things down and not have to play him the whole game the next night.
“But that’s part of what the playoffs about. Just finding a way to make it happen when things don’t look good. That’s was kinda the wild card we threw out there tonight was keeping him out there. Just checking in with him, making sure he was okay. He was unbelievable to handle that load, especially given his history. It’s not a great feeling putting him in that position. But it’s one that he wanted. And it was one that we needed.”
When those 48 minutes were done, if Durant wasn’t ready yet to mark it as one that stood above the others, Nash was.
“This is a performance that’s a signature performance for Kevin,” said Nash, “and it was beautiful to watch.”