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James Harden returns to Nets' starting lineup for Game 5 against Bucks

James Harden #13 of the Nets warms up

James Harden #13 of the Nets warms up prior to Game Five of the Second Round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks at Barclays Center on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Credit: Steven Ryan

The Nets went through their morning workout, most of the time spent in film sessions, which served the dual purpose of studying the mistakes and creating a plan to get back on track while also avoiding any sort of risk of more injuries to a team already beaten down by sprains and strains.

Approaching a pivotal Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks the Nets already knew they were without Kyrie Irving, who was sidelined by the sprained right ankle suffered Sunday in Game 4. But after a revolving series of updates to his status, James Harden made his way into the starting lineup for the Nets Tuesday night.

Harden, who had been out of action since suffering tightness in his right hamstring 43 seconds into Game 1, was declared out for this game Monday, but early Tuesday was upgraded to doubtful. Then later in the day, after completing some testing, Harden was shifted again, this time to questionable.

With stories leaking out that he had been cleared by team medical personnel and as long as there were no setbacks in pregame warm-ups he would be in the lineup for the game. He went out and lightly shot jumpers, kinesiology tape strapped to the back of his leg.

Harden, who had been out of action since suffering tightness in his right hamstring 43 seconds into Game 1, was declared out for Game 5

"He participates even when he’s been out because it’s mostly just walking through coaching stuff," Joe Harris said. ". . .   He’s on the court. He’s been on the court for the whole season, though, even when he’s been hurt."

Harris insisted he had been as much in the dark as anyone whether the help would arrive when the game began.

"All I know is that when we show up and 30 [minutes before game time are] on the clock and they put who’s matched up against who and who’s playing, that’s when I know who’s playing."

The Nets know they also need others to step up, a habit that was on display during the regular season.

Playing shorthanded is nothing new to the team with just eight regular-season games that included Kevin Durant, Irving and Harden all in action. But in losing the two games in Milwaukee to send the best-of-seven series back to Brooklyn tied at two games each, the Nets didn’t get the contributions from the next tier of talent that has carried them through so many of these situations.

Harris, next on the scoring chart behind the Big 3, should be the first option to back up Durant. but after averaging 14.1 points and shooting 48.6% overall and 51% from beyond the arc in the first seven postseason games, he has cratered in the past two.

Harris shot 1-for-11, including 1-for-7 from three-point range, in Game 3 and followed that with a 3-for-8 Game 4, connecting on 2-for-6 from three.

"You know, I think yeah, two games ago obviously was a struggle just in terms of offensive production kind of all the way around, but me individually, particularly, one of my worst shooting nights," Harris said following Tuesday’s morning workout. "But I thought the next game certainly better, continued to get good looks. And that’s the whole goal.

"My job is to be aggressive, hunting shots, facilitate offense with pace, allow guys to get room and rhythm looks themselves just by the movement, screening, whatever it might be on my end. It’s not necessarily about me scoring X amount of points. It’s about me just trying to initiate offense and helping put the ball in the hole regardless of who it is."

Harris isn’t alone. Blake Griffin struggled in Game 4 and so did many of the bench players.

New York Sports