James Harden will play in Game 5 of the Brooklyn Nets' second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Nets announced. The star guard has missed all but 43 seconds of the first four games of this series due to a hamstring strain, but he progressed toward a return on Tuesday. After initially being ruled out for Game 5 against the Bucks, Harden was first upgraded to doubtful, and then upgraded again to questionable. Harden tested his hamstring prior to tipoff of Game 5 and ultimately decided to give it a go. Nets coach Steve Nash declined to comment on Harden's role or any possible minutes restriction and said that Harden himself would decide if he would play.
"I'm not sure the level of risk. It's not my expertise," Nash said. "I think it is James' decision. He's been pushing. He wants to play, but he's gotta go through his pregame routine and see if he's able. but ultimately it'll be James' decision and we'll support him."
Harden wasted little time ahead of Game 5 as he gets in some practice shots while testing out his hamstring:
After losing the past two games in the series -- and Kyrie Irving to an ankle injury in Game 4 -- Nash reiterated that the team would continue to play it extremely safe when it comes to bringing Harden back, and that Irving's injury wouldn't impact Harden's return timeline.
"James is an independent case. I don't want James to be rushed back," Nash said. "If he's able to play next game or the game after, that's fantastic. If he's not, I don't want to rush him back and jeopardize doing something worse or making this a long-term injury. So we'll see. We'll have to take all of these things into account, and evaluate them and try to make a smart decision." "I don't want James rushed back," Nash said after the Nets' Game 4 loss Sunday. "If he's able to play next game or the game after, that's fantastic. If he's not, I don't want to rush him back and jeopardize something worse."
Steve Nash: “I don’t want James (Harden) to be rushed back. If he’s able to play next game or the game after, that’s fantastic. If he’s not, I don’t want to rush him back and jeopardize doing something worse…So we’ll see.” Full quote: pic.twitter.com/2gAg1vA0We— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) June 13, 2021
Brooklyn had been very vague when it comes to a timeline for Harden's return, but Nash maintained throughout the series that the guard is "progressing" in his rehab. You can see the play where Harden's injury occurred below:
Through the first three games of the series, Irving and Durant had shouldered a bulk of the offensive workload for the Nets, but it was only Durant who was healthy to play the entirety of Game 4 after Irving left in the second quarter. The combination of Harden, Durant and Irving played only eight games and 202 minutes together during the regular season, but after a quick 4-1 series win over the Boston Celtics in the first round, it looked like the star trio was finally starting to coalesce. Unfortunately, the injury gods just won't leave the Nets alone. Harden will take the floor on Tuesday, but we don't yet know how healthy he'll look when he does.