Kevin Durant's historic game rescues undermanned Nets: 'That's what makes him one of the all-time greats'

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Kevin Durant clenched first against Bucks Game 5 2021 playoffs
Kevin Durant clenched first against Bucks Game 5 2021 playoffs

Most of the basketball world was stunned by Kevin Durant’s performance on Tuesday.

Jeff Green wasn’t.

“It’s routine,” said Green, who grew up near Durant in Maryland. “Big-time players show up in big-time moments, and that’s what he did.”

Durant willed the Nets to a win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 with a record-setting triple-double (49 points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists). He played all 48 minutes and scored 20 points in the fourth quarter. Durant’s 3-pointer from 27 feet out with 50 seconds to play put Brooklyn up four and put an exclamation point on one of the great postseason performances in NBA history.

“The world is witnessing, once again, who the best player in the world is,” Green said.

Durant’s Game 5 numbers alone are remarkable. He was the first player in NBA history to have a triple double in the playoffs of at least 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists. He made 16 of his 23 shot attempts (13 of 16 from the free-throw line). He also had three steals and two blocks.

But the context of the game takes Durant’s performance to another level.

The Nets were without Kyrie Irving (ankle injury). James Harden was nowhere near fully healthy. He admirably pushed to play in the game after being ruled out less than 24 hours earlier due to a hamstring injury. He was cleared to play shortly before tipoff but, understandably, wasn’t himself on the floor (Harden missed nine of 10 shots and had four turnovers).

So instead of a Big Three, the Nets were playing with a Big 1 1/3 on Tuesday.

Jun 15, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets power forward Kevin Durant (7) drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) during the third quarter of game five of the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Barclays Center.
Jun 15, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets power forward Kevin Durant (7) drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) during the third quarter of game five of the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Barclays Center.

And they trailed Milwaukee by as many as 16 points in the third quarter.

But none of it mattered once Durant got going. The two-time Finals MVP scored or assisted on 43 of the Nets’ final 52 points, per Stat Muse. He did so while playing the entire game, just two years removed from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles.

“Just a historic, historic performance,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said afterward. “… 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, James obviously is soldiering through his ailments, we're down bodies, we're wounded, and for him to have the toughness, the mentality, that's what makes him one of the all-time greats. So, this is a signature performance for Kevin, and it was beautiful to watch.”

It also probably saved the Nets from an early postseason exit. They’ll play Game 6 in Milwaukee on Thursday night with a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

A loss on Tuesday would have moved the Nets one step closer to a disappointing result in a year that began with championship expectations.

Irving and Durant didn’t sign with Brooklyn in 2019 with the hope of losing in the second round of the playoffs. The club didn’t trade for Harden with that result in mind.

Thanks to Durant, the Nets won’t be facing that kind of early exit when they take the court for Game 6. They may not have Irving on the floor Thursday night. Harden may not be close to 100 percent healthy.

But as long as Durant is in uniform, the Nets should feel good about their chances.

“He’s the best player in the world right now,” Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo said late Tuesday night. “… We’ve just got to keep doing our job and hopefully he’s going to miss.”