The Bucks made the first move, but Kevin Durant had the last laugh.
Durant put together a performance for the ages to lead the Nets to a 114–108 comeback victory against the Bucks in Game 5 on Tuesday. The Bucks opened the game as the more dominant team on both ends, picking up where they left off in Game 4, but the Nets were able to flip the script thanks to improved defense and Durant’s landmark game. Brooklyn outscored the Bucks 71–49 in the second half after falling into an early 17-point hole.
The Nets now hold a 3–2 lead as the series shifts to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday. Here are three thoughts as the Nets have the Bucks’ season on the brink.
Kevin Durant Answered the Call—and Then Some
Questions poured in entering Game 5 on whether Kevin Durant could step up for the Nets without Kyrie Irving and James Harden. Though Harden ended up a surprise starter, it was Durant who put up an all-time game—and the statement-making three-pointer that sealed the Nets’ comeback win.
Durant dropped 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists on the night, becoming the first player in NBA history to put up those numbers in a playoff game. From dagger threes to aggressive moves in the paint, Durant single-handedly put the Nets’ season on his back and put up a performance Nets fans dreamed of when he signed in Brooklyn. He not only created for himself, but he involved others among a struggling supporting cast to help boost Brooklyn back into contention while also dominating the boards.
Oh, and did I mention he played all 48 minutes just 24 months after suffering a torn Achilles?
In the face of skepticism, Durant delivered at the highest level with momentum in the series for the taking. The magnitude of Durant’s performance cannot be understated, and the Nets will need more of that magic to close out the series.
The Nets Got the Supporting Performance They Needed From Jeff Green
Nets fans received unexpected good news on Tuesday when Harden was surprisingly activated for Game 5, but it was Jeff Green who provided the supplemental offense the Nets had been missing in Games 3 and 4.
Green was locked in from the jump as his shot-making kept the Bucks from taking an even larger lead in the first half. With Harden and Joe Harris struggling from three-point range, Green provided a necessary threat from deep, shooting 7-of-8 from beyond the arc to power his 27 points off the bench. Green recently missed time with a torn plantar fascia, and he showed just what Brooklyn was without in that time—a physical presence on defense and reliable production on offense.
Though Harden struggled offensively with just five points, he still played an important role in giving the Nets their natural ball-handler as he grinded through 46 minutes while not at 100%. Having Harden at point gave Durant more freedom to play to his strengths, whether that be in isolation or conducting the offense in other areas of the court.
Harden’s status for Game 6 could still be in doubt after he spent big minutes on the court in Game 5. Still, the Nets are happy to have Harden back, and Green was the Nets’ secondary hero. Uncle Jeff just keeps producing.
Brooklyn’s Defense Out-Worked Milwaukee’s When it Mattered Most
Milwaukee’s defense was largely what helped the Bucks tie up the series, and it led them to a dominant start in Game 5. The Nets were held to just 15 points in the first quarter while shooting 20% from the field as the Bucks contested well both in the paint and at the perimeter.
It was the Nets’ defense, though, that shifted the series back in their favor.
Brooklyn’s defense has been in question throughout this season, even more so during Games 3 and 4 of this series. Though five Bucks registered double figures in scoring in Game 5, the Nets were able to string together stops in the second half as Durant picked apart the Bucks’ defense on the other end.
Most importantly, Brooklyn was able to shut down Milwaukee in the final minute as Giannis Antetokounmpo turned the ball over in the paint and Khris Middleton missed two three-pointers in the final 10 seconds. The Bucks have many questions to answer after squandering a 17-point lead, and their falloff defensively in the second half will be at the top of the list with their season on the line in Game 6.
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