Even Kevin Durant couldn’t help but appreciate the long three-pointer he sank with 50 seconds left in regulation of Game 5 that gave the Nets a four-point advantage that they would see out to take a 3-2 second-round series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks.
With the shot clock winding down, Durant put up a heavily-contested three from straightaway which found twine, prompting the superstar to throw his head back and let out a sizable exhale as he helped close out a victory for Brooklyn.
It put the finishing touches on a historic 49-point, 17-rebound, 10-assist triple-double on Tuesday night — becoming the first player in NBA postseason history to put up a triple-double of at least 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists. More impressively, he played all 48 minutes to carry a team that was without Kyrie Irving while welcoming back a still-hobbled James Harden, who struggled after a surprising return from a hamstring injury.
“I didn’t even think about nothing but just each possession. I was trying to win each possession, and I didn’t think of how many points I had or shot attempts, rebounds, assists,” Durant said. “It was more so like, just let me do what I need to do each possession. That’s the approach I always take.
“I was able to play every minute, so that helped with my point total. But for the most part, I just tried to stay engaged on the defensive side of the ball the whole game.”
Most of Durant’s support came from veteran forward Jeff Green, who sunk 27 points with three-pointers to pick up the slack that Harden just wasn’t ready to hold. Making his first appearance since the opening minute of Game 1, Harden shot just 1-of-10 from the field to go with eight assists and six rebounds in 46 minutes.
His presence alone was enough for Durant.
“He played 46 minutes, I mean it just shows how much he loves to play,” he said. “I was a little nervous for him because he hasn’t played in a while and this is a physical team and this hamstring injury is one that takes a little while to heal. But he toughed it out… I know his legs are going to get back under him in the next few days and he’ll start knocking those shots down.”
Naturally, Durant downplayed such a performance, but without him, the Nets would not have been able to overturn a 17-point deficit in Game 5 to get back in the driver’s seat in the series. Head coach Steve Nash recognized that, wrapping Durant in a warm embrace on the bench at the final buzzer.
“Historic, historic performance,” Nash said. “He played the entire game, he barely missed… I mean, 49 points, I mean it’s ridiculous what he’s able to do. I think…we know he’s capable of nights like this, but to do it tonight, we lose Ky, James obviously is going through his ailments, we’re down bodies, we’re wounded. And for him to have the toughness, that mentality, that’s what makes him one of the all-time greats.
“And so this is a performance that’s a signature performance for Kevin, and it was beautiful to watch.”
While Tuesday night will go toward the top of Durant’s career highlight reel, there’s no time to dwell on it as the Nets head back to Milwaukee with a chance to close out the Bucks in Game 6 on Thursday night (8:30 p.m. ET).
“We got another game,” Durant said. “We have a Game 6. I can’t celebrate because we won a game, we have another game to try and finish it out… We have our work cut out for us in Game 6, it’s going to be our toughest game of the year.”