MILWAUKEE – The Brooklyn Nets will continue to play without Kyrie Irving and don’t know exactly what kind of production they will get from James Harden as the star players deal with injuries.
None of that might make any difference if Kevin Durant keeps performing the way he has thus far in Brooklyn’s second-round playoff series with the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Nets own a 3-2 series lead thanks largely to Durant, who delivered a performance for the ages as Brooklyn rallied from a 17-point deficit in a 114-108 Game 5 victory Tuesday at Brooklyn.
That leaves the Nets facing a dilemma as the series returns to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday. After Durant played all 48 minutes and Harden played 46 minutes Tuesday, how long can they reasonably play in Game 6?
“I think that’s something that we have to feel out as we go,” Nets coach Steve Nash said Wednesday.
Nash would rather not drain his veteran team this early in the postseason as the Nets chase their first NBA championship. With all the injuries involving star players across the league, Nash acknowledged he thinks “the championship this year will be decided on health as much as anything.”
But he also wants to avoid a Game 7.
“There is no championship if you don’t get out of this series,” Nash said. “There’s obviously a point where you have to go and you have to play like we did last night. If it presents itself that we don’t have to overburden them, we’d be happy not to. But if we have to, we have to. That’s just the nature of it.”
Nash said both Durant and Harden felt fine after their heavy workloads Tuesday.
Harden shot 1 of 10 and scored just five points but had eight assists and six rebounds in his first action since tightness in his right hamstring knocked him out in the opening minute of Game 1.
Irving missed all of Game 5 and won’t play Thursday after spraining his right ankle in Game 4.
Durant picked up the slack Tuesday by collecting 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists. He became the first player in NBA history to have at least 45 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a playoff game.
That continued an impressive postseason for Durant, who is averaging 33.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 2 steals and 1.4 blocks in this series.
“He’s the best player in the world right now,” Bucks forward and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said after Game 5.
The Bucks wasted a golden opportunity to take control of the series when they couldn’t hang on to their big lead in Game 5. Now they find themselves in a must-win situation.
“We’ve got to focus on ourselves and control what we can control,” Antetokounmpo said. “What we can control is our effort, and going into Game 6, hopefully we can bring it and put ourselves in position to win the game.”
NETS AT BUCKS
Game 6, 8:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN.
— NEED TO KNOW: A victory would send the Nets beyond the second round of the playoffs for the first time since they made back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003. The home team has won every game in this series and the Nets are 0-4 in Milwaukee this season.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Harden. The nine-time All-Star and 2018 MVP clearly isn’t at full strength, but perhaps his scoring totals might go up in Game 6 now that he’s shaken off the rust. “I think there are certain things that he’s going to feel more comfortable with just from the comfort having played more basketball, having a game under his belt, having felt it out there,” Nash said. “That can only make him more comfortable and improve if physically he’s OK, and so far he is.”
— INJURY WATCH: Nash says Harden is available but Irving won’t play Thursday. Bucks guard Donte DiVincenzo hasn’t played the entire series and is out for the rest of the season after tearing a ligament in his left ankle during Milwaukee’s first-round series with Miami.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. The Bucks have the NBA’s best regular-season record during Budenholzer’s three-year tenure, but they haven’t broken through in the postseason. They blew a 2-0 lead to Toronto in the 2019 Eastern Conference finals and got upset by the Miami Heat in the second round last year. If Milwaukee can’t get past a Brooklyn team dealing with injuries to two of its three top players, the Bucks may have to decide whether their quest for a title requires a coaching change.
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