With the Nets trailing by 16 at halftime in Game 5 of their second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, it was going to take a historic type of performance to lift Brooklyn from its deep hole.
Kevin Durant delivered.
With the other two members of Brooklyn’s Big Three battered by injury — James Harden played but wasn’t 100 percent as he fought through nagging hamstring tightness, and Kyrie Irving sat with a sprained ankle — Tuesday was all on Durant. He finished the Nets’ 114-108 win with 49 points (on 16-of-23 shooting), 17 rebounds and 10 assists. In every sense, Durant led Brooklyn to victory.
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Nash and Durant Share Hug
After it was over and Durant had set an NBA record by becoming the first player to ever have 45 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a playoff game, he met up with Brooklyn coach Steve Nash on the sideline. And they hugged, Nash really making sure it was a firm one — as if to say, thanks for willing us to victory.
Durant was at his best late, scoring 20 of his points in the fourth quarter after he and the rest of his teammates had a slow first half at Barclays Center. But Nash said Durant was “locked in from the start,” per nba.com.
“It’s just we were trying to figure out how to play with James (Harden) back in the lineup, but him not feeling himself and trying to feel his way back into the game and our guys trying to feel their way,” Nash said. “And so, it took us a period of time I think to find some freedom out there as a group. And you’ve got to feel some freedom. I mean, I know it’s the playoffs and it’s pressure and the stakes are heightened and all that, but you’ve got to enjoy it and you’ve got to feel free and you’ve got to play together. And I think it took us a while to get there. But I don’t think Kevin’s demeanor changed. He just got there. And we started to make some plays and find some space, and when he got to his spots obviously he is what he is: He’s one of the all-time greats. And so tonight it took a while before we can really get him some momentum. But he took it.”
Harden was just as impressed with Durant’s scoring as he was his distribution.
“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,” Harden said, via nba.com. “That’s an improvement in his game right there. He’s not just a scorer. He’s gonna make plays and let the game come to him. He’s one of a kind.”
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Durant the Workhorse
Not including games that went into overtime, the longest Durant played in a game during the 2020-21 regular season was 40 minutes and 38 seconds. On Tuesday, with his team in dire straights, Durant played all 48 minutes.
“I didn’t even think about nothing but just each possession,” Durant said when asked about playing the entire game. “I was trying to win each possession, and I didn’t think of how many points I had or shot attempts, rebounds, assists. It was more so like, just let me do what I need to do each possession. That’s the approach I always take. I was able to play every minute, so that helped with my point total. But for the most part, I just tried to stay engaged on the defensive side of the ball the whole game.”