For any team on the verge of finishing out a playoff series, there is no time like the present. If you can win in four, you want to do that. And maybe no team needs to finish off a series as soon as possible as the Nets right now.
The Nets went into Milwaukee Thursday night with a chance to close out the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Bucks in Game Six. And while a potential Game Seven would be home in the friendly confines of Barclays Center, for the Nets, who have been hanging on through injury setbacks to major players, there is no time like now.
A potential seventh game would be Saturday, but the much preferable option is to finish the series and get a moment to heal ahead of an Eastern Conference Finals with the 76ers and Hawks battling on the other side of the bracket. And it isn’t just the absence right now of Kyrie Irving, who suffered a sprained right ankle in Game Four.
James Harden came back from a hamstring injury suffered just 43 seconds into Game One of the series, returning in Game Five and playing 46 minutes, but still clearly hampered by the injury. Even Kevin Durant, the healthiest of the Nets’ big three, played all 48 minutes Tuesday and a bit of rest and relaxation might be a good thing.
"There’s a sense of urgency from the jump, from Game One," Nets guard Landry Shamet said. "You want to put a series away as quickly as possible. You don’t want teams hanging around. Whether they played five minutes or 48 minutes, that doesn’t change. The goal is still the same. Everybody knows that. Regardless of how many minutes we play, what we have to give up to try to get a win. That’s part of it. The urgency is there. We want to put a team away. That’s our plan."
Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer acknowledged, "Every playoff game has high priority, high importance. Game Six, down 3-2, a little more? Possibly."
It might have seemed unlikely that the Nets were in this position after two losses in Milwaukee and then a troublesome first half in Brooklyn Tuesday. But the Nets overcame the double-digit deficit behind a 49-point, 17-rebound, 10-assist effort from Durant. That type of performance saved the day as well as saved them the anxiety of facing elimination Thursday on the road.
Nets coach Steve Nash said that Harden and Durant came out of the heavy workload fine and would be ready for whatever Game Six brought – with, as much as he’d like to take care of his team, no minutes limit.
"I think we let it ride and try to be adaptable," Nash said. "If we can steal some minutes on the bench, perfect. If we can’t we’ll have to make some decisions. There is no perfect answer here. We’ve got to try to win the game. At the same time if you have the chance to give them some rest you want to do so. That chance may or may not come."
"We’ve been battle-tested this year, man," Shamet said. "Injuries, different lineups, different circumstances, who we had to rehab and wait to get back, everything. We’ve been put through the wringer. This is just another chapter to that and having Kevin on the floor, period, is huge for us. Having James on the floor, period, is huge for us. So it’s an adjustment obviously, having that wrench thrown in there and not having Kyrie, but it’s something that we can grow through and we’ll be fine."