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Momentum’s a funny thing, isn’t it?
Two games into their Eastern Conference semifinals series, the Brooklyn Nets were up 2-0 and weren’t even in their final form. Despite missing James Harden, the Nets had steamrolled the Milwaukee Bucks twice, and looked like the NBA’s presumptive champion.
Two and a half games later, they were well into a downward spiral, down 16 at the half despite the return of Harden and on the verge of a 3-2 series deficit.
And now, thanks to Kevin Durant's best game since tearing his Achilles in the 2019 playoffs, they're one game away from their first Eastern Conference finals since 2003.
Kevin Durant plays every minute, seemingly scores every bucket
The Nets defeated the Bucks 114-108 in Game 5 on Tuesday to take a 3-2 series lead, erasing a deficit as large as 17 points in the process.
Durant putting the Nets on his back was basically the expectation, with Harden still getting up to speed in his return from a hamstring injury. and Kyrie Irving still out. That obviously came to pass, with Durant posting 49 points on 16-of-23 shooting (4-of-9 from deep), 17 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals and two blocks.
Durant playing literally every minute of the game in his first season back from an Achilles tear though, that was a surprise.
Another surprise was Jeff Green — the 34-year-old journeyman who had missed six of the Nets' nine playoff games with a foot injury — supplying a playoff career-high 27 points.
After a moribund first half in which Harden missed all six shots from the field, the Nets launched a 10-1 run midway through the third quarter to cut the lead to single digits and breathe some life into the Barclays Center crowd.
By the end of the third quarter, the lead was down to six points. Three minutes into the fourth quarter the game was tied. And then Durant really got going.
Here's how the Nets opened the fourth quarter, scoring-wise:
Landry Shamet 2-pointer
Bruce Brown 2-pointer (Durant assist)
Durant free throw
Durant free throw
Landry Shamet 2-pointer (Durant assist)
Minutes later, he did this to put the Nets firmly in control:
That ended up being the ballgame for Brooklyn, and sealed Durant's best game in a Nets uniform.
Plenty of variables still remain for the Nets. Will Durant be able to play heavy minutes again in Game 6? Will Harden overcome a brutal 1-of-10 night with four turnovers? Will Irvin return? We'll see in Game 6, scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET on Thursday in Milwaukee.
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