2021 Playoffs: East Semifinal | Nets (2) vs. Bucks (3)
James Harden available, Kyrie Irving out for Nets as they try to advance
The Nets will have the chance to close out the Bucks during Thursday's matchup in Milwaukee.
Steve Megargee | The Associated Press
(AP) — The Brooklyn Nets will continue to play without Kyrie Irving and don’t know exactly what kind of production they will get from James Harden as the star players deal with injuries.
None of that might make any difference if Kevin Durant keeps performing the way he has thus far in Brooklyn’s second-round playoff series with the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Nets own a 3-2 series lead thanks largely to Durant, who delivered a performance for the ages as Brooklyn rallied from a 17-point deficit in a 114-108 Game 5 victory Tuesday at Brooklyn.
That leaves the Nets facing a dilemma as the series returns to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday. After Durant played all 48 minutes and Harden played 46 minutes Tuesday, how long can they reasonably play in Game 6?
“I think that’s something that we have to feel out as we go,” Nets coach Steve Nash said Wednesday.
Nash would rather not drain his veteran team this early in the postseason as the Nets chase their first NBA championship. With all the injuries involving star players across the league, Nash acknowledged he thinks “the championship this year will be decided on health as much as anything.”
But he also wants to avoid a Game 7.
“There is no championship if you don’t get out of this series,” Nash said. “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. That’s just the nature of it.”
Nash said both Durant and Harden felt fine after their heavy workloads Tuesday.
Harden shot 1 of 10 and scored just five points but had eight assists and six rebounds in his first action since tightness in his right hamstring knocked him out in the opening minute of Game 1.
Irving missed all of Game 5 and won’t play Thursday after spraining his right ankle in Game 4.
Durant picked up the slack Tuesday by collecting 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists. He became the first player in NBA history to have at least 45 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a playoff game.
That continued an impressive postseason for Durant, who is averaging 33.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 2 steals and 1.4 blocks in this series.
“He’s the best player in the world right now,” Bucks forward and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said after Game 5.
The Bucks wasted a golden opportunity to take control of the series when they couldn’t hang on to their big lead in Game 5. Now they find themselves in a must-win situation.
“We’ve got to focus on ourselves and control what we can control,” Antetokounmpo said. “What we can control is our effort, and going into Game 6, hopefully we can bring it and put ourselves in position to win the game.”