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Kevin Durant’s sensational performance sends Nets to 3-2 lead

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant shoots as Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton defends during the fourth quarter of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series today in New York.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant shoots as Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton defends during the fourth quarter of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series today in New York.

NEW YORK >> Kevin Durant had 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists in one of the most spectacular performances in postseason history, sending the Brooklyn Nets back into the lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 114-108 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 tonight.

With James Harden returning but delivering little offense and Kyrie Irving out, Durant played all 48 minutes and shot 16-for-23 from the field. He scored 20 points in the fourth quarter, perhaps the biggest shot a 3-pointer with 50 seconds left and the Nets protecting a one-point lead.

“He put us on his back and he carried us throughout the whole game,” forward Jeff Green said.

The two-time NBA Finals MVP became the first player in NBA history to have at least 45 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a playoff game.

“Historic, historic performance,” Nets coach Steve Nash said.

Harden played for the first time since leaving 43 seconds into the series opener with right hamstring tightness. He shot just 1-for-10 and missed all eight 3-pointers, but had eight assists and six rebounds while playing 46 minutes.

Green made seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points for the Nets, who fell into a 17-point hole in this one after two losses in Milwaukee before Durant carried them back. Blake Griffin added 17 points.

Game 6 is Thursday in Milwaukee, where the Bucks are 4-0 against the Nets this season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 34 points and 12 rebounds, while Khris Middleton added 25 points.

The Bucks had all the momentum after winning the two games in Milwaukee, with Irving spraining his ankle in the second quarter of Game 4. It appeared Durant would be the only one of the three superstars to play today — which given the way he played, may have been enough anyway.

The Nets originally ruled Harden out on Monday, then upgraded him today first to doubtful and then questionable. He worked out before the game and seemed to be moving well, jogging off the court into the tunnel after his warmup before being cleared to play.

But he didn’t appear to have full strength in his leg, leaving jumpers short and rarely beating anyone on the dribble.

Durant made sure it didn’t matter.

“Special performance by him,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Credit to him, some tough shots, so we’ve got to look at it, figure out getting better.”

The Nets were 4-for-20 in the first quarter, 2-for-13 on 3-pointers, and Middleton’s three-point play with 33 seconds left gave Milwaukee a 29-15 lead after one.

Durant’s basket got it down to 42-33 before Antetokounmpo rattled in a 3-pointer and follow with two more baskets to push the lead to 16, which is where it still was when the Bucks took a 59-43 lead to the half.

The Bucks still led by 16 midway through the third quarter, answering every time the Nets seemed to have any momentum. But Durant then got hot and never really cooled off.

He made all four shots and scored 11 points in the final 6:18 of the third as the Nets pulled to 87-81 on his three-point play with 31 seconds left.

Durant kept right on going to open the fourth, with his 3-pointer with 8:36 to play making it 94-93, Brooklyn’s first lead since it was 2-0.

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