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James Harden’s 30-point triple-double leads Nets past Celtics to win first round, 123-109

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Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game Five Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

On to the semi-finals!

The Nets closed out the first-round series in front of a sellout crowd of 14,993 fans, their biggest in 15 months, defeating the Celtics 123-109. With the win, Brooklyn advances to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals for the first time since 2014 and will face the Milwaukee Bucks. Brooklyn has home-court advantage again. The first game is scheduled for Saturday.

“The feeling is exciting to move on and to face a great challenge in Milwaukee, get prepared and go do it again,” said Steve Nash on the feeling after advancing to the second round. “We’re excited for the next step and the next challenge.”

The Nets left the door open for the undermanned Celtics heading into the fourth quarter, nursing a flimsy 86-79 lead, but Brooklyn’s “Big Three” had their eyes set on closing out the series. Offensive firepower followed.

This time it was James Harden’s turn. The Nets point guard splashed in a pair of stepback threes from the wing. With that, Harden tallied the Nets first 30-point triple-double in playoff history and the teams 11th triple-double in the postseason with 34 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in 39 minutes of play.

“James was great tonight. Another triple-double and [he] controlled the game, made shots and made his teammates better,” said Nash on Harden’s Game 5 performance. “He was terrific.”

The “Big Three” wasn’t done. Kevin Durant followed Harden’s three with one of his own. Durant, the playoffs’ highest scorer going into Tuesday’s game, finished with 24 points, four rebounds, and three assists on 8-of-16 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 from three. The barrage extended Brooklyn’s lead to 120-98 with 3:19 remaining.

The Celtics forged a late 9-0 run — capitalizing off Brooklyn’s careless turnovers late — but Joe Harris put the nail in the coffin with a straight away non-contested three to put Brooklyn up 123-107 with 1:05 remaining. Harris, who showed off his passing skills with six assists, had 10 points, hitting 2-of-5 from deep.

“It was nice to get that final bit of separation and effectively end the series. [I’m] proud of all the guys who put the effort in and made this go. The Big Three were sensational, but it really takes a team effort. I thought our complimentary players did a great job,” said Nash on the fourth quarter closing play.

Kyrie Irving had a solid performance of 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and 3-of-7 from deep to go along with three assists and three rebounds in 38 minutes of play.

The Nets bench played a role in the Game 5 win with two players emerging as x-factors. Bruce Brown giving Brooklyn great minutes on both ends, finishing with 10 points, five rebounds and three assists in 24 minutes of play while Nic Claxton had another impressive and giving a boost in the fourth. Claxton finished with six points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field to go with four rebounds and one block in 12 minutes of play.

For the Celtics — whose season is now a wrap — Jayson Tatum did his best with 32 points on 12-of-27 shooting from the field and 4-of-11 shooting from deep to go along with nine rebounds and five assists in 41 minutes of play. Evan Fournier followed with 18 points in 36 minutes while the team finished the season shooting 43.5 percent from the field and 27.5 percent from deep.

Although Boston was without many of their key players in different variations throughout the series — including Kemba Walker and Robert Williams for Game 5 — the Nets head coach takes it with a grain of salt knowing the state of their team.

“We look at ourselves We recognize that they were a team that was really banged up and gave it their best physically. We understand and accept that. We aren’t proclaiming that this isn’t anything to celebrate because they had so many injuries, but we did the job and we spent the time preparing, playing, competing and getting better. We can only play what’s in front of us.”

The Nets opened Game 5 hitting five of their first 10 shots with Harden aggressively driving to the cup to forge six of Brooklyn’s 10 points. While the Nets superstar got things going with physical drives, Irving got the Barclays Center crowd to erupt with a two-handed slam off a full-court feed from Harden to put Brooklyn up 12-10 in the opening minutes.

Brooklyn gained momentum in the final two minutes of play with the lineup of Harden, Irving, Tyler Johnson, Landry Shamet, and Durant. The floor was spaced with the small-ball unit and Brooklyn capitalized.

The Nets concluded the frame on an electric 12-3 run off the play of Irving — who finished the first with nine points after playing all 12 minutes — and Harden — who had 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field in nine minutes — to lead 31-24 after one.

Brooklyn continued to hold the momentum in the early minutes of the second, but Boston started to play more physical and trim down the deficit by attacking the paint. However, the Nets shooting flipped the script, and with their sharpshooting and an emphatic statement slam down Flatbush ave by Harden to put Brooklyn up 51-42 with 4:22 remaining with an energized crowd behind them.

The Nets closed out the first half on a small 5-2 scoring run to go up 59-51 at the break. Brooklyn’s ‘Big Three’ combined for 40 of the Nets 59 first-half points with Harden — 18 points, nine assists and seven rebounds — and Irving — 15 points, two rebounds and one assist — leading the way.

Brooklyn shot 48.8 percent (21-of-43) from the field and 46.7 percent (7-of-15) from three while Boston struggled shooting the ball in both areas — 36.5 percent from the field (19-of-52) and 23.1 percent from deep (6-of-26). Both teams took good care of the ball, recording four turnovers each, but Brooklyn converted five points off the turnovers compared to Boston’s two points to go along with advantages on the boards, assists, steals and blocks.

Brooklyn came out strong in the third quarter looking to pull away as Boston came out flat. Griffin opened the gates to the strong start with a left-handed baseline slam followed by a 27-foot three from Durant and a Bruce Brown six-foot floater to extend the Nets lead to 75-61, leaving Brad Steven’s to call a timeout with 6:55 remaining in the frame to regroup.

The Celtics answered with a 7-0 run sealed by a 26-foot three from Tatum to cut the deficit to seven. After the three, Nash called timeout with 5:21 remaining with Tatum heating up. As their opportunities began to shrink and the Nets hit their shots, the Celtics struggled to find a rhythm — aside from Tatum drilling a nifty 22-foot stepback jumper at the buzzer. The Celtics ended the third frame down 86-79.

Nic Claxton provided a boost to Brooklyn to begin the fourth quarter on both ends of the court. The Nets young big swatted Smart’s layup attempt and followed his defensive stop with a slam off a nifty feed from Harris and a dominant alley-oop from the hands of Durant. Brooklyn piled on more momentum after back-to-back threes from Durant and Irving —same spot— on turnovers by Boston to grow their lead to 103-89.

The Film Room

James Harden looks fresh. Like, brand-new-all-white-pair-of-Nike-Air-Force-1s-out-the-box fresh. He mentioned it just before the playoffs; this is the healthiest he’s ever been entering the postseason and it’s all because of an injury that cost him a month of time (and subsequently, a month of rest!). Funny how life works out.

We detailed Brooklyn’s drives and paint touches in the last game recap, and Harden carried over that downhill tenacity into Tuesday’s Game 5. He’s been on an absolute mission when given an opportunity to get to the rim in the playoffs and he’s nailed 89% of those opportunities once he gets there.

Another James Harden statistic: He’s shooting 50% on stepback threes in the postseason on a healthy sample of 22 hoists. Jabari Parker gets a hand up after Harden puts him in a blender with a flurry of crossovers but it doesn’t matter.

When he merges those two skills, leveraging the threat of his stepback three into a bullrush to the basket, there just isn’t much you can do.

Savor this, Nets fans. This guy is a spectacular talent.

Milestone Watch

  • The Nets have advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the eighth time in the franchise’s NBA history and the first time since 2014. The Nets are now 34-3 when scoring 120 points.
  • James Harden (34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) has recorded the first 30-point triple-double in Nets Playoff history. Harden is second player in this year’s postseason with a 30-point triple-double (also: Luka Doncic). Harden also had two blocks and two steals.
  • With his first six points tonight, James Harden (3,120 points) has moved past Dennis Johnson (3,116) into 22nd in NBA Playoff history in points scored. Next up: Paul Pierce (3,180).
  • Despite James Harden missing one free throw and Kyrie Irving two (!), Harden (91.5 percent) and Irving (93.9 percent) are still shooting above 90 percent for the playoffs. Kevin Durant didn’t miss and is now at 93.3 percent. The Big 3 finished the series with some absolutely nutty statlines:

Kyrie Irving gives thanks to the city of Boston

Though Brooklyn’s journey is just beginning, the series against the Celtics represented a sense of finality, a sendoff, a closing chapter in Kyrie Irving’s basketball career — and life.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity that I had in Boston. I’m grateful for a lot of the support that I had post-leaving there,” said Irving. “You know obviously, it wasn’t the easiest transition to deal with. There was a lot going on personally while I was there in Boston that I let people know about. So to see the emotions that were lingering on for the past year and half, I’m happy that it’s settled.”

He gave shoutouts to Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart as well — two of his former Boston teammates — for their fight, grit, and growth since he last played with them.

“That boy Jayson Tatum, in the time that I’ve played with him, has grown tremendously,” said Irving. “Nothing short of proud of him, nothing short of proud of Smart, all the guys.”

Harden pays tribute to Jason Kidd after playoff triple double

James Harden became the second player in Nets history to put up a triple-double in the post-season, a 34-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist masterpiece. Jason Kidd, of course was the first, doing it ten times (but never with 30 points.)

Harden was asked post-game about Kidd and responded with high praise and respect.

“J-Kidd is one of them ones. He’s one of the elite point guards that this league has ever seen obviously with his playmaking ability,” Harden said, relishing the achievement postgame. “He’s a big guard. He just did so many things at the time in New Jersey that us young guys looked at. So shoutout to J-Kidd. I just came here to make an impact on the game, whether it’s scoring, whether it’s rebounding, whether it’s my ability to pass the basketball, whatever the case may be. Every game is a little bit different, but I just take what the defense gives me and I play basketball. I try to play basketball the right way each possession.”

Farewell to the best

All good things must end and as with the first round complete, YES coverage of the Nets season is at an end. The Nets ratings this year were up 70 percent over last year, according to Sports Business Journal, the biggest rise in the NBA. And of course they are the best, as the Nets noted in a post-game tweet.

Sarah Kustok offered her thanks.

Joe Tsai spoke for all Nets fans two nights back with this tweet...

Similarly, he offered praise for Chris Carrino and Tim Capstraw of Nets Radio.

No fan incidents

Mercifully, there were no incidents of bad behavior by fans on Tuesday night, a refreshing departure from incidents in Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

Cole Buckley, the 21-year-old Celtic fan who tossed a water bottle at Kyrie Irving Sunday, will be arraigned on assault charges Wednesday morning in Boston Municipal Court. The Boston authorities released a mugshot of the Braintree, MA, resident Tuesday.

What’s next

The Nets will face the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals on Saturday, June 1. The game time has not been released.

For a different perspective on Tuesday’s Game 5, check out CelticsBlog - our sister site covering the Celtics.