Brooklyn got James Harden back. Then they got an all-time historic performance from Kevin Durant.
And they got a victory that just might have saved their season.
With their title hopes on life support, the Nets pulled out a 114-108 come-from-behind win over Milwaukee in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Durant had 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists — the first player in NBA playoff history to record at least 45 points, 15 boards and 10 dimes. He all but put the Nets on his shoulders with a dominant triple-double Tuesday night that had the sellout crowd of 16,067 at Barclays Center chanting, “M-V-P! M-V-P!”
It wasn’t hyperbole, after his 31-point second half.
Jeff Green added 27 points on 8 of 11 shooting, 7 of 8 from deep. And Harden — despite looking static and borderline stationary at times — handed out eight assists, grabbed six rebounds and provided an emotional boost with his return.
The Nets rallied from multiple 17-point deficits to gut out a huge result and take a 3-2 series lead. A win in Thursday’s Game 6 in Milwaukee would put them in the Eastern Conference finals, something that seemed unlikely just Tuesday morning.
In their last trip to Fiserv Forum, they lost 107-96 on Sunday and lost Kyrie Irving to a sprained ankle. Milwaukee fans had taunted them with their unofficial mantra, “Bucks in six! Bucks in six!”
The Brooklyn Brigade returned the favor Tuesday, and the shoe could be on the other foot, thanks to this Game 5 comeback.
Harden played for the first time since suffering right hamstring tightness just 43 seconds into the June 5 series opener, desperate to return with Irving hurt.
“Yeah, that’s what’s driving James here,” coach Steve Nash said. “He wants to play, he wants to win a championship. He loves the playoffs and the ability to play this time of year. So I think it’s been really difficult on him [with] how much he cares, how much time he puts in, how much effort he’s put in to get to this position. That’s definitely the source of his motivation right now and I understand and respect it.
“James is driving this. We have to support him the best way we can, and be an aid for him to figure this out. But it’s a tricky situation, but one that we’re willing to go down with James. He’s just been unbelievable for us this year and we want to support him and see if he can do it. And if he can’t, he can’t. But if he can, we want to support him in his wish to play and to try to help his teammates.”
Harden helped despite the heavy tape on his hamstring and the heavy pressure put on by Jrue Holiday, who had little fear of getting blown by.
The Nets found themselves down 12-2 with 8:49 left in the opening quarter on Khris Middleton free throws. They opened the night 1 of 9 from the floor with a couple of turnovers, and that told the tale of the first half.
Just 15 seconds into the second quarter, the Nets found themselves already down 32-15 on a Middleton 3-pointer. And no Net other than Durant or Jeff Green even scored until Joe Harris finally got a 3-pointer to drop with 8:55 left in the half.
The Nets gave up 34 points to Giannis Antetokounmpo, and 25 to Middleton. But they eventually found their stride.
After shooting just 20 percent in the first quarter — and 2 of 13 from deep, they started to heat up in the second. They shot 50 percent in the quarter, and 4 of 9 from behind the arc but still trailed 59-43. But in the third they truly made their mark.
Brooklyn hit 66.7 percent overall and 6 of 13 from 3-point range. Trailing 71-54 with 7:46 left in the third on a Holiday 3, the Nets closed on an extended 27-16 run to cut the deficit to a half-dozen. It was within striking distance, and then Durant struck.
After scoring 11 in third, Durant took over early in the fourth. He sparked an 18-9 run to open the period to lift Brooklyn into the lead.
Durant had a dozen points in the spurt, then found Landry Shamet for a layup to put the Nets ahead 99-96 with 6:14 to play.
Brooklyn led 104-100 and wouldn’t trail again. After Milwaukee knotted it, it was fittingly Harden who untied it. He earned a foul from Brook Lopez, calmly sank both at the free-throw line and the Nets led the rest of the way.