They said he had something to prove.
They said Kevin Durant’s legacy was on the line, that he couldn’t really lay claim to being the greatest player in the game until he proved that he could win a big game without the help of superstar teammates.
Well, mission accomplished. With Kyrie Irving on the sidelines with a sprained ankle and James Harden a rusty offensive non-presence after missing four games, Durant turned in a legend-making performance when his team needed him most.
Durant, playing all 48 minutes, had the highest-scoring game in Nets playoff history, putting up 49 points, grabbing 17 rebounds and making 10 assists to lead the Nets to a crucial 114-108 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series.
The win gave the Nets a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 6 is Thursday in Milwaukee. It may have gone a long way in crushing the spirt of the Bucks, considering that at one point they led the Nets by 17 points.
"Historic, historic performance," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "He played the entire game. He barely missed . . . For him to have the toughness, this mentality. That’s what makes him one of the all-time greats. This is a signature performance for Kevin and it was beautiful to watch."
Durant scored 31 of his points in the second half as the Nets dug themselves out of an early 17-point hole. His 49 points were the second-most points ever scored in a playoff triple double. In 2017, his former teammate Russell Westbrook had 51 points in a triple-double for the Thunder.
"The world is witnessing once against who the best player in the world is," said teammate Jeff Green, who scored 27 points and hit 7 of 8 three-point attempts.
It was not only the Nets who took notice of Durant’s performance.
"He’s the best player in the world right now," said Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks’ two-time MVP. "We’ve got to beat him as a team, guard him as a team."
Added Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer: "Special performance by him. He made some tough shots."
Durant shot 16-for-23 overall. In the second half, he made 10 of 13 shots and was 3-for-5 from downtown. The game was Durant’s most dominating in an important game since he suffered an Achilles tear in Game 5 of the NBA Finals two years ago when he was playing with Golden State.
"I don’t even rank or look at performances once they happen," Durant said after the game. "I just try to move on and see if I can do it again. It was a fun game to be a part of. I feel like there were a lot of games in my career that were just as fun. For now, it was great that we got the W."
Durant came to the Nets to be a teammate, not a solo superstar.
The fact that Durant came here to form a super team bothers some people. It bothers them that Durant looked around the league, decided who he would have the most fun and success playing with and then made a choice that caused a seismic shift of power in both the Eastern and Western Conferences.
That Durant has so much power, that he is in pursuit of challenges and championships he has exercised his wandering eye, has apparently ticked off a lot of people. So much so, that there were quite a few suggesting that Durant’s legacy would be forever tarnished if the he couldn’t get the Nets to win two more games.
Now, the Nets need only one more win to get to the Eastern Conference finals, thanks to Durant.
Said Nash: "It’s ridiculous what he’s able to do."