When the Nets had to have it in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series with the Bucks to keep their NBA title hopes alive, Kevin Durant played the game of his life, James Harden came off the injury list to play 46 minutes on an injured right hamstring and they found a way to win.
But after losing Game 6 in disheartening fashion with an offense that struggled to support Durant’s efforts, the Nets have to find a way to do it all over again. This time, they must do it in Game 7 Saturday night at Barclays Center, where they are 6-0 in these playoffs.
As coach Steve Nash said after Game 6, the Nets made a push at the end of the regular season to get the second seed and home-court advantage over the third-seeded Bucks for exactly this reason. Now, they must take advantage.
"That’s exactly correct," Harden said. "With everything we’ve been through, we have the second seed for this particular reason, and we’ve just got to go out there and hoop at home. One game."
In a tight series where the home team has won every game, it’s a significant advantage for the Nets. But Kyrie Irving has been ruled out of Game 7 because of the sprained right ankle he suffered in Game 4. Harden improved from his 1-for-10 shooting effort in Game 5 to score 16 points and shoot 5-for-9 in Game 6 to go along with seven assists and five rebounds, but he still can’t move and drive as aggressively as normal.
When asked if Game 6 helped him knock off the rust, Harden said, "It’s not even about rust. Game 5 was the first day I did any movement like that since I got hurt [43 seconds into Game 1]. I’m out there to do whatever it takes to win. I’ve got to be better on both ends of the ball, which I will be in Game 7 . . . That’s the plan."
The Nets’ physical problems have shifted an immense burden to carry the offense onto Durant’s shoulders. He had an epic 49-point triple-double that included 17 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 5, but he also got support from Jeff Green’s career playoff-high 27-point performance.
Durant had 32 points and 11 rebounds in Game 6, but the Nets averaged only 89.3 points in their three road losses compared to 118.0 points in their home wins. With Harden compromised, the offense runs primarily through Durant.
"James was moving better [in Game 6], but that’s a tough, tough injury," Durant said. "He’s gutting it out for us. We’re not expecting much from him movement-wise, but he’s going out there and giving it his all and we respect that."
One other player who has struggled lately is Joe Harris. Through the first seven playoff games, he shot 48.6% overall and 51.0% from three-point range. But over the past four games, those numbers have dropped to 25.6% (10-for-39) and 20.8% (5-for-24).
Describing the Nets’ problems in Game 6, Harris said the Bucks were exceptionally physical and took the Nets out of their favorite offensive actions. "For the most part, it was a little stagnant, the ball didn’t necessarily move, not enough pace, guys moving off the ball," Harris said. "Kevin has the ball in the high post, and we’ve got to do a better job creating space for him and moving off the ball.
"Going into Game 7, focus, preparation, all the stuff we’ve been doing up to this point has to remain the same. It’s been a dogfight this entire time, and you can’t let the emotional toll of losing [Game 6] affect how we play Game 7. We’ve got to come out with confidence and just let it rip."