MILWAUKEE — Looking back on the Nets’ stirring Game 5 victory over the Bucks to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals Tuesday night at Barclays Center, James Harden wrapped up his 46-minute effort playing with a hamstring injury and Kevin Durant’s epic 49-point triple-double performance over all 48 minutes very succinctly.
"At this point, it’s by any means necessary," Harden said.
That could be the Nets’ mantra for a season in which their so-called "superteam" has overcome an unending litany of injuries. That certainly was the case for Game 5 when Harden played with right hamstring tightness that caused him to miss all but 43 seconds of Game 1 previously and with Kyrie Irving sidelined by a sprained right ankle suffered in Game 4.
Now they have a chance to clinch the series in Game 6 Thursday night at Fiserv Forum and at least are assured of hosting a potential Game 7 Saturday night. Despite the heavy workload for Durant and Harden, Nets coach Steve Nash on Wednesday said, "They both feel good and came out of the game fine. Kyrie is out [of Game 6], but James is available."
During a ragged first half, the Nets trailed by 17 points and struggled offensively because a scoreless Harden obviously was compromised. That changed in the second half when they made a decision that mirrored one in the regular season when Irving went to Harden and told him that he was the point guard and playmaker.
In this case, Harden ceded his duties as primary ballhandler and playmaker to Durant, who led the comeback with his 31-point second half.
Asked if he was impressed by Durant’s playmaking ability, Harden lit up. "Yes, yes," Harden said. "His scoring is unbelievable, and he shot pretty efficient. But 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. He’s one of a kind.
"He was unfazed the entire game, especially in that second half . . . I saw Kevin directing people to where he wanted them to be. Once Kevin gets that comfortable, he’s in the zone, and it’s pretty much hard to stop him. And we just fed off that."
Harden managed just five points on 1-for-10 shooting, but he added six rebounds and eight assists and his leadership. Durant admitted he was "nervous" for Harden pushing his physical limits and recognized the need to take over in the second half as he added 17 rebounds and 10 assists to go with his 49 points.
"We know he’s coming off of a tough injury and being out for so long," Durant said of Harden. "We probably put too much on him in the first half. I think he settled down in the second, got his legs, got his rhythm and I was able to help him a little bit as well to handle the ball."
Durant said his whole career prepared him for that moment. "Any team that I’ve played on, I’ve been asked to do pretty much everything — rebounding to defending to initiating to scoring," Durant said. "I do a little bit of everything, so I knew at some point coach would ask me to screen, rebound, defend, bring up the ball, score, shoot threes . . . I’ve just got to be ready to do anything, so tonight was one of those nights."
Durant told Nash he would be "cool" with it if Nash planned to take him out at some point, but Durant emphasized he fully was prepared to go wire-to-wire.
"Now’s the time where we’re taking a few risks here, to be honest," Nash said. "That’s part of what the playoffs are about, just finding a way to make it happen when things don’t look good. That was the wild card we threw out there. 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."