They were dead — and then they weren’t. They were sunk — and then they weren’t. They were about to travel to a lion’s den in Milwaukee with their backs against the abyss and their season on the line. And then they weren’t.
Then Kevin Durant simply said, “No.”
And it was so.
We will talk about this one for years around here. We will talk about how Durant nearly dropped 50 on the Bucks, how he was an unstoppable phenomenon down the stretch, how he helped drag the Nets back from a 17-point deficit, how he helped engineer what must be considered the single biggest game in the Brooklyn-based history of the Nets.
If James Harden (46 minutes on a bum hamstring) provided the inspiration, it was Durant who delivered the goods. The Bucks got in his face. They tried being physical. They tried everything. It didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter when Durant plays a game like this one, a game that honors every ounce of his extraordinary talent.
This was the full line: 48 minutes, 49 points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals, two blocks.
Look at that again. Because you may never see a line like that again.
Well, unless the Nets require a Game 7 Saturday night.
“Historic, historic performance,” Nets coach Steve Nash said, searching for the right adjectives, sifting through his emotions. “He played the entire game. He barely missed. It’s ridiculous what he’s able to do.
“We know he’s capable of nights like this but to do it tonight … we lose Ky [Irving], James is soldiering through his ailments, we’re down bodies, we’re wounded. That’s what makes him one of the all-time greats.”
There were others who stepped up, yes. There was Green, whose 27 points might have been even more damaging to Milwaukee’s psyche than Durant. There was Blake Griffim who chipped in 17, and Landry Shamet, who made a couple of big shots. Harden, 1-for-10 from the floor, looking obviously uncomfortable, still managed eight assists on one good leg.
All of them get a piece of this one. All of them will remember this game, this comeback, the part they played in keeping the Nets afloat. All of them deserved the din that filled Barclays all night.
And all of them will be able to tell their grandkids: I was there.
I was there the night Kevin Durant lifted the Nets on his shoulders, carried them back, carried them home, carried them to Milwaukee with a chance to close out this best-of-seven and maximize their time off between now and the conference finals (while rooting for a couple of triple-overtime games in the Sixers-Hawks series, of course).
Yes. We will talk about this one. We will remember Green, not exactly 100 percent himself, who splashed his first seven 3s of the night. We will remember how the Barclays Center crowd seemed to get in the head of mighty Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, howling at him as he bricked a couple of key free throws, wailing at him as he fumbled away a pass that would’ve almost surely led to a game-tying dunk in the final seconds.
And Durant. Make no mistake, we will talk about Durant.
“It was beautiful to watch,” Nash said.
It was horrifying for the Bucks, who seized the day immediately, who fell behind 2-0 then didn’t trail again until the fourth quarter. It’s hard to say they even gagged away that big lead; it was like they ran into a force of nature that no team could stop.
Because that’s what happened.
Because if there was ever a doubt Durant deserves his lofty status as one of the game’s signature players — even after that Achilles injury, even after a year off, even after all the nights this year when he was forced to take games off and reduce his minutes — there are none now. He is every bit of that. Tuesday, he was even more.
“We got our work cut out for us in Game 6,” Durant said. “It’s going to be the toughest game of the year.”
They’ll worry about that Thursday night. For now the Nets are allowed to savor this. They are allowed to marvel at what they did. And they were able to shake their heads at watching their teammate etch one of the unforgettable games in basketball history.
“We got the job done,” Durant said.
Yes. Yes he — er, they — did.