Kevin Durant fired back at Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen's criticism following the Brooklyn Nets' Eastern Conference semi-finals exit in the NBA playoffs.

Chicago Bulls great and six-time NBA champion Pippen gave a blunt assessment of superstar Durant, who was unable to guide the Nets to the Conference Finals.

Durant averaged a career-high 34.3 points, a career-best 9.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists in this season's playoffs, but the second-seeded Nets fell to the Milwaukee Bucks after overtime in Game 7 in the second round.

His 48 points in the series decider were the most scored in a Game 7 in NBA history, but that did not spare him of criticism from Pippen – who referenced Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.

"He needs to learn how to utilise his teams," Pippen, who played alongside Michael Jordan in Chicago, told GQ. "He has to learn how to set up his team-mates to be better. That's it. As great as he is, there's a [cap] to his [talent].

"He could've easily made that three, killed them in regulation, and we wouldn't have been talking about this. But I knew going into overtime, he wasn't gonna make it. He was taking all the shots. You done played the whole game, bro! And they've got guys physically wearing you down. You gonna lose."

Pippen added: "KD can score better than LeBron, probably always have been able to. But has he surpassed LeBron? Naw. He tried to beat the Milwaukee Bucks instead of utilising his team. You see what I'm saying?

"LeBron James would've figured out how to beat them and he wouldn't have been exhausted and he may not have taken the last shot. But LeBron ain't KD, and KD ain't LeBron. KD is a shooter, a scorer. But he doesn't have what LeBron has."

Durant, who shouldered the load in the Nets-Bucks series as James Harden struggled with a hamstring injury and Kyrie Irving missed time due to an ankle problem, called out Pippen on social media.

A two-time champion, two-time Finals MVP and 2014 NBA MVP, Durant wrote via Twitter: "Didn't the great Scottie Pippen refuse to go in the game for the last second shot because he was in his feelings his coach drew up the play for a better shooter??

"This guy Scott also wanted to enjoy his summer so he chose to rehab during the season lol yo @ScottiePippen THEY FOLLOWED PHIL [JACKSON], NOT YOU!!!"

James Harden will not compete for the United States at the Olympic Games in Tokyo as he recovers from a hamstring injury, according to USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo.

Harden reportedly committed to playing for Team USA at next month's Tokyo Games after the Brooklyn Nets lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

But Colangelo told ESPN on Wednesday that Harden – who endured an injury-hit 2020-21 campaign – has withdrawn, instead focusing on his recovery over the offseason.

A hamstring injury limited Harden to 36 regular-season games for the Nets following his blockbuster trade from the Houston Rockets, before he played nine times in the playoffs, scoring an underwhelming 20.2 points per game.

Harden went to London in 2012 after his final season as a bench scorer for the Oklahoma City Thunder but not to Brazil four years later having established himself in Houston.

Defending champions Team USA are yet to announce their roster for the Olympics, but Gregg Popovich's team is currently headlined by Nets superstar Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, Washington Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal and the Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum.

Team USA are scheduled to open their gold medal bid against France on July 25 amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"Life is about relationships, and we've got relationships with all these players over the years," Colangelo told ESPN. "It's been a process, and it hasn't been easy."

Colangelo added: "Versatility and athleticism are trademarks of this group.

"Our staff feels this will be a very competitive group and we'll have shooting that we've been lacking. We're going to go into camp feeling confident we're going to perform well."

James Harden has followed Brooklyn Nets team-mate Kevin Durant in committing to play for Team USA at the Tokyo Games, according to reports.

The United States team is taking shape as they prepare to defend their gold medal at the delayed 2021 Olympics.

Reports at the weekend detailed the expectation Durant would join the team after the Nets exited the NBA playoffs.

Durant was on the victorious USA teams in 2012 and 2016 and this year averaged 26.9 points per game in the regular season and 34.3 in the postseason – the 25th-best mark of all time.

The 2014 MVP will not be the only Brooklyn player on the Olympic team, according to The Athletic.

A hamstring injury limited Harden to 36 regular season games for the Nets following his trade from the Houston Rockets, before he played nine times in the playoffs, scoring an underwhelming 20.2 points per game.

Harden went to London in 2012 after his final season as a bench scorer for the Oklahoma City Thunder but not to Brazil four years later having established himself in Houston.

 

Golden State Warriors great Stephen Curry was involved on neither occasion – although he won the World Cup in 2010 and 2014 – and will not make his Olympic bow this year either, the report added.

Curry almost single-handedly carried the undermanned Warriors to the brink of the playoffs this year, taking the NBA scoring title with 32.0 points per game.

Donovan Mitchell, who struggled with an injury as the Utah Jazz lost to the Los Angeles Clippers, has also declined an invite, ESPN revealed.

Bam Adebayo, the Miami Heat center, will join the 12-man roster, though, aiming to bounce back from a playoff sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks in which he scored just nine points on four-of-15 shooting in Game 1.

The matchups are set for the NBA's Conference Finals – and few would have predicted these four teams would still be in the running at the start of the year.

In the East, the Brooklyn Nets' superstars fell to the Milwaukee Bucks while the Atlanta Hawks stunned the Philadelphia 76ers.

Western Conference leaders the Utah Jazz became the latest team to give up a lead to the Los Angeles Clippers.

However, the Clippers on Sunday lost Game 1 of their series with the Phoenix Suns, who had been resting since sweeping the Denver Nuggets.

So, which big names were key to deciding these unpredictable battles? Stats Perform takes a look in the latest edition of NBA Heat Check...
 

RUNNING HOT...

Paul George

Clippers superstar George understandably took a lot of criticism for his playoff performances last season, when he shot 39.8 per cent from the field and scored 10 points or fewer as many times as he reached 30.

But just as Kawhi Leonard went down against the Jazz with a knee injury, for which he has no return date, George found his scoring touch again.

Across four straight wins over Utah – three were last week – George contributed 31, 31, 37 and 28 points. His 37, along with 16 rebounds, came on the road in Game 5, putting the Clippers up for the first time in the series while Leonard sat out.

Even as a surely tired LA team lost to Phoenix on Sunday, George kept them in contention with 34 points to end the week averaging 32.5 per outing, as well as 9.5 rebounds (up from 23.3 and 6.7 respectively in the regular season).

Khris Middleton

Middleton is another impressive regular season performer who has been scrutinised for his postseason displays – and far more recently than last season.

Across the first five games of the Nets series, the wildly inconsistent Bucks forward shot 38.1 per cent from the field. He had 35 points and 15 rebounds in Game 3 but had gone six-for-23 in Game 1, making none of his five three-point attempts.

Yet Middleton's 38 points won Game 6, as he and Giannis Antetokounmpo joined Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal as the only team-mates in NBA history to each have 30 points and 10 rebounds in the same game twice in the same playoff campaign.

With a key role again in the series decider, Middleton became the first player to record at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in consecutive postseason games since steals were first tracked in 1973-74.

Devin Booker

Booker played just once last week but put in a performance that cannot go unmentioned. Without veteran Chris Paul to help him, the sixth-year guard weighed in with a 40-point triple-double against the Clippers (also 13 rebounds and 11 assists).

Only Luka Doncic and Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson have achieved the feat at a younger age in the playoffs than the 24-year-old, while Steve Nash – another Hall of Famer – was the previous Suns player to score a postseason triple of any kind back in 2005.

Kevin Durant

Another player whose contributions must be highlighted, even with his team now out of the playoffs, is Durant. With 43.0 points per game last week, he showed the greatest improvement in the league from his regular season performances – up 16.1 on 26.9.

His 12.3 rebounds per game put the two-time Finals MVP second in improvement in that regard, too, but it was not quite enough.

A toe on the three-point line meant Durant's late leveller in Game 7 against the Bucks was not a game-winner, before the Nets lost in overtime despite his 48 points – one short of a heroic Game 5 tally and two shy of his career postseason best.
 

GOING COLD...

James Harden

That Durant was asked to do so much was due to injuries to both the other members of Brooklyn's 'Big Three'. Kyrie Irving did not play after Game 4 against the Bucks due to an ankle sprain, while Harden returned in Game 5 after missing the previous three.

To anyone watching, though, it was clear Harden was not healthy.

One of the league's great scorers, he made one of 10 field goals in his first game back, with five points in 45 minutes. Harden had never previously scored as few as five in half an hour of play or more.

His form did improve slightly with returns of 16 and 22 points, but Milwaukee won both, with Harden shooting 29.4 per cent from the field as he proved more of a hindrance than a help to Durant with their season on the line.

Ben Simmons

When Harden moved to Brooklyn, Philadelphia was seen as the potential alternative destination, although that would likely have meant the 76ers reluctantly giving up Simmons. After the defeat to Atlanta, Simmons may now leave regardless.

An outstanding defender, the guard's offense has long been a concern and so it proved again as he averaged 7.5 points last week, significantly down on his modest regular season (14.3).

Simmons made single figures in three straight games, twice shooting only four times from the field despite being on the floor for 38 and 35 minutes respectively.

His eight-point effort on Wednesday included going four-of-14 when shooting from the foul line.

Rudy Gobert

This is the first time since 1994 that both top seeds have failed to make the Conference Finals. The Jazz, just like the Sixers, needed more from their second star.

Gobert is the Defensive Player of the Year but looked a liability as the Clippers went small in Game 6, when his plus/minus was a dismal -24.

The Frenchman's output was down in all three defeats last week as he averaged 9.3 rebounds per game, having put up 13.5 in the regular season.

Kevin Durant is expected to commit to playing for the United States at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo, reports said on Sunday. 

A short off-season means a number of NBA stars may steer away from representing the USA in Japan, but Durant appears set to make himself available.

Durant, who helped his country to gold medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, will join Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum and Draymond Green in the squad, according to The Athletic.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James ruled himself out of competing at the Olympics earlier this month, saying he would spend time promoting his new movie 'Space Jam: A New Legacy', which is scheduled to open in July.

Durant, 32, turned in the most productive Game 7 performance in NBA playoffs history on Saturday, but it was not enough to get the Brooklyn Nets through against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Brooklyn's 115-111 overtime loss in the Eastern Conference semi-finals decider saw the exhausted Nets give everything they had before the visitors prevailed in the end.

Durant scored a Game 7 record of 48 points but could not do it all as a Brooklyn team missing the injured Kyrie Irving did not have enough weapons in the end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo made clear there is still work to do for the Milwaukee Bucks after they survived a Kevin Durant onslaught to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Bucks came out on top 115-111 in Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets, albeit only after a dramatic finish in the fourth quarter that saw them escape by a matter of inches.

Durant hit a stunning turnaround jumper with one second remaining to tie the scores at 109-109, with Milwaukee relieved to see he had a foot on the three-point line as they narrowly avoided falling behind.

"Big, big shot," Antetokounmpo told the media about Durant's play that forced overtime. "That's KD – he makes shots like that."

However, the Nets were held to just two points in the extra period as the Bucks came through on the road, setting up a showdown with either the Philadelphia 76ers or the Atlanta Hawks – who meet in a Game 7 on Sunday – for a place in the NBA Finals.

Defeat was tough on Durant, who finished with 48 points – the most by any player in a Game 7 in NBA history – as he was on court for all 53 minutes. He went 0-for-6 in overtime, though, as the ailing Nets, minus the injured Kyrie Irving and with James Harden not at full fitness due to a hamstring issue, saw their season come to an end.

For the Bucks, however, the focus will have to quickly switch to their next assignment.

"We really wanted this as a team," said Antetokounmpo, who had 40 points and 13 rebounds.

"There were a lot of ups and downs during the series – there were a lot of ups and downs in just this game. We could have finished the game before overtime but weren't able to. We kept our composure."

He added: "At the end of the day, though, the job is not done. The job is not done. That's the message here and in the locker room, we’ve got to keep our heads in the game.

"We can't get too high, we can't get too low. It's a great step for our organisation and a great step for us, so we have got to enjoy this moment and then look at our next opponent.

"We've got to put this in the past and focus on the moment, focus on our next opponent."

Durant's performance drew praise from Stephen Curry, who simply tweeted at his former Golden State Warriors team-mate after the fourth-quarter shot: "That is insane."

Even P.J. Tucker – the player who attempted to cover Durant on the play – was suitably impressed.

"When I cut him off, I thought he would one-foot it, or step back. When he spun, he threw me off. That shot was incredible," Tucker said. "People don't really appreciate the level of difficulty with that shot, it was incredible.

"I laughed, I just laughed when he made it. I appreciated it, as a fan of the game, when someone makes that shot."

Durant was one of just 11 different players to score, the fewest in any regular season or postseason game since the merger.

Kevin Durant turned in the most productive Game 7 performance in NBA playoffs history, but it was not enough to get the Brooklyn Nets through against the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Brooklyn's 115-111 overtime loss in the Eastern Conference semi-finals decider saw the exhausted Nets give everything they had before the visitors prevailed in the end. 

Durant scored a Game 7-record 48 points but could not do it all as a Brooklyn team missing the injured Kyrie Irving did not have enough weapons in the end. 

 "We've got to give credit to the Milwaukee Bucks," Durant told reporters. "They're a great, great team who've got a good chance to win a championship.

"The story should be about them and how well they played this series -- how well they played all year."

Though Milwaukee ultimately prevailed, few have performed better than Durant on the big stage. 

With little in the way of a supporting cast, he played all 53 minutes in defeat after carrying the hobbled Nets through the series as Irving missed the decider and James Harden played the entire game though he has not been fully healthy for some time. 

"I can't even speak about how much we missed Kyrie out on the floor and how much we missed James to start the series," Durant said.

"I could go for 40 minutes on both of those two and how much they care about us and how much they put their bodies on the line to help us out as a team.

"Kyrie had a gruesome ankle injury and he was thinking about when can he play next -- that shows that he cares about us so much.

"James, playing on one leg, came out there and gave it his all. ... There's nothing but respect and love for those two guys; we missed them out there. But we still had a chance to win."

The second-seeded Nets ultimately came up short, as head coach Steve Nash ran out of options to help ease the load on Durant. 

"We didn't have a lot of buttons to push at the end in this series," Nash said. "But we had a chance to win, so that's all you can ask for."

Now the Nets are left to look forward rather than back, as they can only hope they will be at full strength this time next year. 

"We want to win every game we play, we want to win a championship, just like every team," said Durant. 

"So the last game of the season, you lose ... but the beauty of our profession is, we get up and keep going.

"Everybody on this team works extremely hard, they care about the game, so we get ready for next year."

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks overcame a record-breaking performance from Kevin Durant to defeat the Brooklyn Nets 115-111 in overtime in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semi-final series. 

Antetokounmpo scored 40 points and Khris Middleton had 23, including what proved to be the game-winning shot, as the Bucks won a Game 7 for the first time in 20 years, stunning the Nets in Brooklyn. 

Durant finished with 48 points, the most ever scored in a Game 7, and for much of the game appeared ready to will the Nets through to the next round on his own. 

Brooklyn was playing without the injured Kyrie Irving and leaned on Durant to carry the load as he had throughout the series. He played 53 minutes, making 17 of 36 shots from the field and 10 of 11 from the line, but he did not get enough help in the end. 

James Harden was just five of 17 from the field, including two of 12 on three-point attempts, but every time the Nets needed a shot down the stretch they went to Durant. 

That worked for a while, most notably at the end of regulation when he hit a turnaround jumper with his foot on the three-point line to tie the game at 109-109 and force overtime. 

But the Bucks clamped down on Durant and everyone else in the extra session after Bruce Brown hit a jumper early in the period to put Brooklyn up by two.

The Nets would not score again the rest of the way, as Antetokounmpo tied the game with a shot over Durant with 1:12 to go before Middleton hit a jumper from the middle of the lane with 40.7 seconds remaining to take the lead and Brook Lopez added a pair of free throws with 0.3 seconds left for the final margin. 

Entering the game, home teams were 109-31 in Game 7s in NBA history, but Milwaukee bucked that trend to advance. 

They will await the winner of Sunday's Game 7 between the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Final.

 

Hawks at 76ers

The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers host the upset-minded Atlanta Hawks in Game 7, with Atlanta looking for their fifth road win of the playoffs so far. Earlier Sunday, the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns open their Western Conference Final series. 

Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving will not face the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, head coach Steve Nash confirmed.

Irving has been sidelined since spraining his right ankle in the Nets' Game 4 loss, missing Game 5 and 6 in the NBA playoffs.

With the second-round series set to be decided in Brooklyn on Saturday, the second-seeded Nets will be without Irving.

"Kai is still getting treatment ... he's got some miles to make up, but progressing and sticking to his rehab," Nash said. "He is officially out."

Kevin Durant has been carrying the load for the Nets, with fellow MVP winner James Harden far from his best since returning from a hamstring injury in Game 5.

"If we're able to advance, I think he'll [Irving] be back at some point," Nash said. "So I don't know if that's in a few days, in a week or beyond, but it's not a season-threatening situation."

Irving has been averaging 26.9 points, 6.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 2020-21, while boasting career highs in field-goal percentage (50.6) and free-throw percentage (92.2).

In this season's playoffs, Irving is averaging 22.7 points, a career-best 5.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists for the Nets, who are eyeing their first NBA championship.

Giannis Antetokounmpo acknowledged he was playing to his strengths in repeatedly attacking the rim in Game 6 against the Brooklyn Nets, ending without a three-point attempt.

The Milwaukee Bucks superstar came up with 30 points and 17 rebounds on Thursday to help keep his team alive in the postseason, levelling the Eastern Conference semi-finals series at 3-3.

While Khris Middleton led the Bucks in scoring with 38 points, Antetokounmpo was crucially more efficient than earlier in the playoffs.

In the 2020-21 postseason, the 'Greek Freak' is a 52.3 per cent shooter from the field, but that breaks down to 70.2 per cent at the rim, 39.3 per cent from midrange and a measly 17.1 per cent from three.

Antetokounmpo has averaged 4.1 attempts per game from beyond the arc – up on 3.2 in the regular season, which was an increase on a career average of 2.2.

Against Brooklyn, though, Antetokounmpo did not shoot once from deep.

It was only the fourth time this season the two-time MVP had zero three-point attempts, one of which came as he sprained his ankle at Houston after 46 seconds in April.

Meanwhile, Game 6 was the eighth occasion across Antetokounmpo's NBA career he had 20 field goal attempts and none from three – the first since 2018 and first in the playoffs since his home postseason debut in 2015.

"That was just how it went," he said. "I didn't shoot a three tonight, but I'm just trying to be aggressive. Get downhill, make the right play.

 

"I think there was maybe one or two plays I was open at the three-point line and maybe could have shot it.

"But what I know is that I enjoy the game when I'm aggressive and I can get downhill and I can get my team-mates involved, and when I play to my strengths.

"That's when I enjoy the game the most, and that's what I try to do."

Coach Mike Budenholzer added: "Giannis coming into the game was in a good place.

"Just get him where he's attacking and creating for his team-mates, creating for himself. He came in today in a good place, and we've got to stay there going into Game 7."

Game 7 is back on the road, with all six games to this point having been won by the home team.

Antetokounmpo, who has only once been beyond this round and never past the Eastern Conference Finals, said: "We knew what kind of game this was.

"There was only one option: win the game. We knew if we didn't win the game, our season would be over, and we've talked about it multiple times in the locker room among the guys that it's not going to be easy.

"As I've said all year long, we're built for this moment. Simple as that. No one said it was going to be easy. It might be hard. But we are capable of doing it.

"So, everybody had a great mindset, came to play, came to compete, and hopefully we can do that in Game 7."

James Harden is confident he will have improved mobility for Game 7 of the Brooklyn Nets' Eastern Conference semi-final series after appearing limited in the 104-89 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Harden returned from a hamstring injury sustained in the series opener, playing both Game 5 and Game 6, but his mobility has visibly been restricted by the issue.

At one stage in Thursday's Game 6 defeat to the Bucks, former NBA MVP Harden swooped on a loose ball, offering up a fast-break opportunity but he instead held up play to ensure he did not need to sprint.

The Bucks levelled the series at 3-3, with forcing a deciding Game 7 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday.

Harden's return coincided with Kyrie Irving's absence after he injured his ankle in Game 4, triggering further doubts about his fitness but the former insisted he was improving.

"It's not even about rust. It's about being able to move," Harden said after finishing with 16 points, five rebounds and seven assists from 40 minutes on court.

"Day by day I continue to get better. Game 5 was the first time I did any movement since I got hurt. Tonight was no different.

"I'm out there to do whatever it takes to win. I've got to be better on both ends of the floor which I will be on Game 7."

Nets team-mate Kevin Durant, who scored 32 points and had 11 rebounds for second-seeded Brooklyn, felt Harden seemed to be on the improve.

"He was moving better today. That's a tough, tough injury," Durant said post-game.

"He's gutting it out for us. We're not expecting too much from him movement wise. He's going out there and giving it his all. You've got to respect that."

Durant was not happy with the way his side defended Khris Middleton, who had a game-high 38 points and 10 rebounds.

"I think we fouled him three times shooting threes, which got his rhythm going," Durant said.

"He's a shot maker. We gave him confidence. Every time it felt like they got an offensive rebound he hit a three. He made timely shots for them."

Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo starred as the Milwaukee Bucks forced a deciding Game 7 in their Eastern Conference semi-final thanks to a 104-89 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday.

Bucks forward Middleton top-scored with an NBA playoff career-high 38 points, including five-from-eight three-pointers, and had 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals, as Milwaukee levelled the series at 3-3.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo produced a more aggressive display inside the paint to stay alive in the playoffs, putting up 30 points and 17 rebounds in a double-double display at home to the Nets.

Antetokounmpo played a key role in 14-0 fourth-quarter run, including a strong offensive rebound and slam, which warded off Brooklyn's threat.

Milwaukee's Antetokounmpo did not attempt one three-point shot in a clear change of strategy after criticism for his shooting earlier in the series.

James Harden started again for the Nets after returning from a hamstring injury in Game 5, getting through 39 minutes but was visibly hampered, lacking power and finishing with 16 points, five rebounds and seven assists.

Kevin Durant had another busy shift, playing 40 of the 48 minutes, however he could not carry the second-seeded Nets, scoring 32 points with 11 rebounds following his monster triple-double last time out.

PJ Tucker and Jrue Holiday were strong defensively, with the latter having four steals, harassing Durant – who only shot at 50 per cent from the field and two-from-eight beyond the arc.

Milwaukee led 59-48 at half-time with Antetokounmpo having 18 points in the opening half, shooting eight of nine from the field.

The Nets rallied in the third quarter and put pressure on the Bucks early in the last period with a 10-0 run.

Milwaukee hit back with their 14-0 run which led to Brooklyn benching Durant and Harden late.

The Nets will welcome the Bucks to Brooklyn for Game 7 on Saturday.

 

76ers at Hawks

The east and west's top seeds – the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz – could be eliminated on Friday, with the Atlanta Hawks and the Los Angeles Clippers both looking to wrap up their Conference semi-final series on their home courts leading 3-2.

Steve Nash says Kevin Durant's "signature performance" in the Brooklyn Nets' 114-108 NBA playoff win over the Milwaukee Bucks showed why is one of the all-time greats.

Durant produced a masterclass in Game 5 at Barclays Center on Tuesday; scoring 49 points, claiming 17 rebounds and providing 10 assists as the Nets took a 3-2 series lead.

The two-time NBA champion became the first player to put up at least 45 points, 15 boards and 10 assists in a postseason game.

Durant stole the show as James Harden struggled on his return from a hamstring injury for a Nets side missing Kyrie Irving due to a sprained ankle.

Nets coach Nash said of the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals MVP: "It's ridiculous what he's able to do.

"We knew he was capable of nights like this, but to do it tonight… We miss Ky, James obviously is soldiering through his ailments. We're down bodies, we're wounded. And for him to have the toughness, the mentality. That's what makes him one of the all-time greats.

"This is a performance that's a signature performance for Kevin, and it was beautiful to watch."

Durant is focused on trying to repeat his incredible exploits as the Nets go in search of NBA glory.

He said: "I didn't even think about anything but just each possession. I was trying to win each possession, and I didn't think about how many points I had or shot attempts or rebounds or assists.

"That's the approach I always take, and I was able to rack up some points. I did play every minute, so that did help with my point total."

Asked how he ranked his performance, he said: "Once they happen, I just move on and see if I can do it again. That was a fun game to be a part of, but there have been a lot of games in my career I feel have been just as fun."

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 34 points and took 12 assists but the Bucks lost despite moving into a 17-point lead in the third quarter.

James Harden stole the headlines pre-game, but it was Kevin Durant who dazzled with a monster triple-double to inspire the Brooklyn Nets to a 114-108 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA playoffs.

Harden was cleared to return for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, which was deadlocked at 2-2 upon the former MVP's comeback from a hamstring injury on Tuesday.

However, Harden struggled badly as team-mate Durant stole the show with 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists – almost singlehandedly reclaiming Brooklyn's series lead following back-to-back losses.

Durant did not miss a minute of the clash at Barclays Center, where the second-seeded Nets withstood Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks to move ahead 3-2 after being outscored 29-15 in the opening period.

According to Stats Perform, Durant became the first player to post 48-plus points while playing all 48 minutes in a regulation playoff game since Kobe Bryant in 2001.

Durant – a former MVP and two-time NBA champion – is the first player in NBA history with a 45/15/10 postseason game after moving the Nets within a win of the Conference Finals.

Back in the line-up, Harden played all but two minutes, however he was one-for-10 shooting for five points as Jeff Green (27) and Blake Griffin (17) were the only other Brooklyn players to finish with double-digit points.

Antetokounmpo put up a 34-point, 12-rebound double-double but it was not enough for the visiting Bucks.

Khris Middleton contributed 25 points for the third-seeded Bucks, who led 59-43 at half-time before the Nets rallied.

The series heads back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.

 

Hawks at 76ers

The top-ranked Philadelphia 76ers will look to bounce back at home to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. The second-round matchup in the east is level at 2-2.

Brooklyn Nets star James Harden has overcome a hamstring injury and will return for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Harden was initially ruled out alongside fellow All-Star Kyrie Irving (ankle) due to his troublesome hamstring, which had him sidelined after bowing out 43 seconds into the opening clash with the Bucks.

But Harden's status was upgraded to doubtful and then questionable on Tuesday, before being cleared to play less than an hour prior to tip-off at Barclays Center, where the series is tied at 2-2.

"I'm not sure the level of risk," Nets head coach Steve Nash said before the game. "I think it is James' decision. He wants to play. Ultimately, he wants to play. He's been pushing."

Harden – averaging 23.2 points, a postseason career-high 8.8 assists and 6.2 rebounds in the playoffs in 2020-21 – has been managing a hamstring injury since the start of April.

The former Houston Rockets guard, who had been making an MVP run prior to the initial setback, returned in the closing stages of the regular season.

Harden then averaged 27.8 points per game in the first-round series against the Boston Celtics but suffered an injury in Game 1 at home to Giannis Antetokounmpo's Bucks.

Having gone 2-0 up against Milwaukee without Harden, second-seeded Brooklyn lost both games on the road to level the series.

The Nets have won three of four Game 5's at home in best-of-seven series all-time after being tied 2-2. Their only such loss came in the 2003 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs (93-83).

Brooklyn are outscoring opponents by 8.7 points per 100 possessions when both Harden and Irving are on the court this season (regular and postseason). That differential drops to plus-2.8 when neither is in the game.

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