The Brooklyn Nets appeared to be in serious trouble heading into Game 5, and even more so when they went down by as many as 17 points in the second half. But even with Kyrie Irving out and James Harden hobbled, they still had Kevin Durant, and he led them all the way back for a 114-108 win to take a 3-2 series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks Tuesday night.
Durant was sensational, as he put together one of the best playoff performances in recent memory. Playing all 48 minutes, he finished with 49 points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists, two blocks and three steals on 16 of 23 from the field. His 3-pointer to beat the shot clock late in the fourth quarter was the biggest bucket of the night, and he hit some clutch free throws to secure the win. This was his highest-scoring game as a member of the Nets, and it could not have come at a better time.
CBS Sports HQ Newsletter
Your Ultimate Guide to Every Day in Sports
We bring sports news that matters to your inbox, to help you stay informed and get a winning edge.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 34 points, 12 rebounds and four assists, but it wasn't enough. Milwaukee's offense sputtered down the stretch, as they scored just 21 points in the fourth quarter. Now, they'll face a must-win Game 6 at home to keep their season alive. For now, here are the most important takeaways from Game 5.
1. What else can you say about Kevin Durant?
He's the best basketball player in the world. I'm tempted to end this subhead there. This was a complete and utter masterpiece, and the scoring was only a small part of it. The Nets needed all 49 of his points, but they also needed all 17 of his rebounds. They needed all 10 of his assists. They needed both of his blocks and all three of his steals.
They needed him on the floor doing everything for the entire game. I mean that quite literally. Durant played all 48 minutes, becoming the first player since 2018 LeBron James to do so in a playoff game. He didn't take a single breather, and he still managed to score 31 points in the second half alone. He was the first player in NBA history with 45 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a playoff game.
There is no "I" in team, but there is an "I" in Kevin. Perhaps never in basketball history has a playoff game been so singularly defined by one player. The Nets won this game because Kevin Durant was playing for them and not the Bucks. It's rarely that simple. When a player reaches the level that Durant did on Tuesday, it can be.
The Bucks made several tactical mistakes on the road to this loss. They didn't double Durant quickly enough, and they didn't give Giannis a chance to guard him late. They left the wrong shooters alone. Their offense devolved into an endless array of isolations. But the only reasons those mistakes even mattered in a game the Bucks once led by 18 is that Durant was capable of making them matter. He broke an entire team, one that has won more games than any other team over the past three seasons combined. Had the Bucks tried anything else, Durant would've had an answer for it. He's unguardable right now. He's the best player in the NBA.
2. Hard night for Harden, but does it matter?
The fact that James Harden scored five points on 1-of-10 shooting isn't necessarily what matters in the grand scheme of things. No, the fact that only two of his shots came from inside the 3-point line is what should concern Nets fans ahead of Game 6. Harden just couldn't move well enough to get into the lane. His lone bucket was a floater off the backboard. The Bucks found a good amount of their limited offensive success by either putting him on an island defensively or forcing him to move. He just isn't close to healthy.
Of course, he managed to contribute in other ways. His passing in particular was exemplary as usual, and it keyed the start of the third-quarter run that got the Nets back into the game before Durant took over. Harden's basketball IQ makes him a valuable player even when he's physically compromised. That will probably have to be the case for the Nets to make it out of this series despite the win. After playing a staggering 46 minutes (the most of his entire playoff career in a non-overtime game!), there's no telling how his body will recover in time for Game 6. There is a chance he looks like he did in Game 5 for the rest of the series.
"I didn't expect to play, so, 46 [minutes] is, it's a lot. But, you know, I'm built for it. So, just get some rest and get my proper treatment," Harden said after the win.
The Nets won Game 5 despite having a compromised Harden. They did so despite players not named Durant, Blake Griffin or Jeff Green shooting 2 of 20 from behind the arc. There's room for internal improvement here, and there's no telling how the Bucks bounce back from a loss like this one. Durant might be so good right now that the Nets can escape this series with a hobbled Harden, a fact that should terrify the rest of the playoff field, because in theory, he should only get better as the postseason progresses.
3. This might be it for Mike Budenholzer
Here's the most incredible thing about Harden's 46-minute night: He played more minutes than any Buck. That includes the healthy two-time MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Think about that for a moment. Harden hasn't played since Game 1 of this series. His performance on balance suggests he probably wasn't ready to play tonight, either. Yet he still spent more time on the floor than Milwaukee's best player.
It was just the latest in a series of inexplicable missteps from Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. We've covered some of them. He waited too long to double Durant. He waited too long to start attacking Harden defensively. He couldn't come up with any better offensive alternative than continuing to isolate against a defense that had clearly figured out how to stop them when doing so. He put Elijah Bryant, a rookie who gave the Bucks a grand total of 32 minutes during the regular season, into the competitive portion of this game for three whole minutes while DNP'ing one of his top reserves, Bobby Portis.
The Bucks can still win this series. Kyrie Irving remains out. Harden isn't himself. They'll play Game 6 at home. But if they indeed bow out against Brooklyn, it should be noted that the Bucks aren't exactly overflowing with options for improvement. Their big plan to swipe Bogdan Bogdanovic from the Kings ended with tampering charges. They dealt most of their draft capital for P.J. Tucker and Jrue Holiday. They're totally capped out. Changing coaches is the last card up their sleeve, and right now, Budenholzer isn't doing much to convince them he deserves another chance.