After rallying behind a monster performance by Kevin Durant for a home victory in Game 5 to take the lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal, the Brooklyn Nets will get the first chance to advance Thursday.
The Nets again will have to battle the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 – and likely beyond in the playoffs — without one of their big three.
Up three games to two, Nets coach Steve Nash said Wednesday guard Kyrie Irving would not travel with the team due to the sprained right ankle he sustained in Game 4 on Sunday.
Nash also said, however, that James Harden was doing well after his 45-minute effort Tuesday night when the Nets won 114-108. He will again be available Thursday after he was held out for almost all of the first four games of the series with a hamstring injury.
In a matchup in which the home team has won every game, the series returns to Milwaukee where the Bucks recorded 86-83 and 107-96 wins last week. Brooklyn didn’t have Harden for either of the two road games, then lost Irving during the Game 4 loss.
Should a seventh game be necessary, it would be played Saturday night in Brooklyn.
Nash said before Game 5 that he didn’t know whether Irving would be available for the remainder of the playoffs, and Wednesday noted that the seven-time NBA All-Star has yet to return to any on-court work.
Tuesday in Brooklyn, the Nets surged to victory behind Durant’s remarkable 49-point performance, and Harden’s gutsy performance.
Durant never left the court during a magical effort that included 17 rebounds and 10-assists. He made 16 of 23 shots, including 4 of 9 from 3-point range, and sank 13 of his 16 free throws.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo called Durant “the best player in the world right now” after the performance, one in which the Milwaukee defensive ace rarely found himself defending the Brooklyn standout.
Antetokounmpo, who fumbled away an opportunity to tie the game before Durant made two clinching free throws with 15.0 seconds left, insisted afterward he’d like to see a different defensive strategy employed in Game 6.
“I want to take the challenge,” he said of matching up with Durant. “Obviously, everybody’s gonna have a chance to guard him, but I would love to go into Game 6, to be able to guard him. If coach (Mike Budenholzer) wants me to do that, I’m ready for it.”
The fact that Brooklyn was still able to put up 114 points and shoot 49.4 percent against one of the NBA’s best defenses was testimony to how great Durant was.
Harden was on the floor for 45 minutes, 39 seconds of action — the third-most in his playoff career — and contributed eight assists and six rebounds to the win.
“I was a little nervous for him because he hasn’t played in a while and that’s a physical team and his hamstring is one of those injuries that takes a while to heal,” Durant said, “but he came out there and toughed it out.”
Harden shot just 1-for-10, including 0-for-8 on 3-pointers, and finished with five points.
“He missed some good looks,” Durant said. “I know his legs are going to get back under him as time (passes) the next few days or so. Hopefully, next game he’ll start to knock down some of those shots he usually makes.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us in Game 6, man. It’s going to be our toughest game of the year.”
–Field Level Media