It was one eventful day for James Harden Tuesday fueled by an immense love of the game.
The Nets ruled Harden out for Game 5 following Monday’s practice but a lot changed on Tuesday. The Nets superstar went from being ruled “out” to “doubtful” to “questionable” in the span of hours leading up to the pivotal playoff game. Then, after going through his pregame warmups cheered on by the fans at Barclays Center, he was officially “available” and ready to go ... if on one leg!
“Game 5, I woke up and was like, ‘let's go,’” Harden said. “I tried to go out there and do the best I can. Hopefully, I gave my teammates some encouragement, some life. Obviously, I wanted to score the basketball and do what I normally do, but it is what it is. We win and we watch film, get our rest and prepare for Game 6.”
He certainly did provide encouragement to his teammates, highlighted by Kevin Durant. KD carried Brooklyn to the victory with a masterful postseason performance for the ages, ending with an unprecedented stat line of 49 points, 17 rebounds, and 10 assists, carving out plenty of history along the way.
“He played 46 minutes. Just shows how much he loves to play,” said Durant after the Game 5 victory. “I was a little nervous for him because he hasn’t played in a while and this is a physical team and his hamstring is one of those injuries that takes a while to heal. He came out there and toughed it out,”
Jeff Green agreed.
“With James being on the floor, that gives us an added boost. He’s definitely a big threat to what we’re trying to accomplish and he draws a lot of attention. More than not, he’s scoring the ball but he can really pass the ball. He’s going to find a way to impact the game and I think he did a good job of that tonight,” said Green — who had his own masterpiece, a franchise-record 27 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field and 7-of-8 from 3-point range off the bench.
Although Harden certainly had Brooklyn take a high-risk, high-reward decision Tuesday night, he doesn’t want his return to be just about him. As he said repetitively all season, it’s about the Brooklyn Nets and hopes the team can nurse the same mindset.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the Brooklyn Nets and us as a team, as a whole. Individually, we all have to do something and bring something to the table to win and we did that tonight. It’s not about me but it’s about everyone else as well. It’s a total team effort and there’s going to be different guys every single game but as long as we have that right mindset and we’re all for each other, good things are going to happen for us, and tonight they did,” Harden said.
Prior to Game 5 — a game that might have well saved the Nets season and keep their elusive championship hopes alive — Steve Nash admitted Harden forced himself to play and it was his decision to take the hardwood on one leg. It was only a couple of days ago when the Nets head coach said his star will need to string together consecutive “high-intensity loads” before being cleared to play.
“It’s the playoffs and my team needed me. Simple,” said Harden after the Nets 114-108 come-from-behind win over Milwaukee in Game 5.
Harden stepped on the court with a roll of black kinesiology tape supporting his right hamstring and shrugged off the hamstring tightness. The final box score — five points, eight assists and six rebounds, shooting 1-of-10 from the field and 0-of-8 from three-point range — certainly doesn’t qualify as a Harden-like performance, but the Nets superstar left it all out on the court, spending only two minutes on the bench. Not bad for a player essentially playing on one leg.
Nobody expected him to play and the Nets guard admitted he didn’t expect to get the green light to return to the court either. Although playing 46 minutes in his first game since June 5, he said he’s determined to give it another go on Thursday night for Game 6 in Milwaukee — a place where he has yet to play this season!
“I didn’t expect to play so 46 [minutes] is a lot, but I’m built for it. Get some rest and get my proper treatment. Credit to our trainers. They have been doing an unbelievable job of preparing me so get some rest and give it another shot Game 6 and try to come up with the same results,” Harden said.
Harden did say he’s feeling great after playing 46 minutes in the Game 5 win and hopes the team can continue to rack up wins moving forward, beginning Thursday night under the Fiserv Forum lights.
“I feel great. We won. That’s all that matters. At this point, it’s by any means necessary. As long as there’s a W in that column and keep racking up wins, that’s all that matters,” Harden said.