With less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 5 and four seconds on the shot clock, Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant looks ready to receive a dribble handoff from James Harden. He drifts to his left, taking Bucks defender Khris Middleton with him. Middleton’s eyes fix on the basketball in Harden’s hands for half a second, and Durant sees his window. Durant plants his left foot in the ground and darts to center court as Harden floats a pass over Middleton’s head. Taking three bounding steps toward the basket, Durant stops on a dime four feet behind the arc and elevates for a 3-pointer. Middleton tries the best he can to stop his momentum and contest the shot, but it’s no use. The 26-footer falls, and the Nets jump ahead by four.
These five out of 2,880 possible seconds in Game 5 are a microcosm of Durant’s legendary performance: 49 points, 17 rebounds, and 10 assists, plus three steals and two blocks. The Nets and Bucks were locked in a 2-2 tie entering the game. With Kyrie Irving sidelined by a sprained ankle and James Harden hampered by a strained hamstring, Durant knew that it was on him if the Nets wanted to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. And he delivered.
In terms of pure statistical output, on the biggest stage, Durant was on another level. He became the first player in NBA history to record 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists in a playoff game.
Durant became the first player since LeBron James in 2018 to play all 48 minutes in a postseason game. Almost every time you looked at a Nets possession on Tuesday night, it was the Slim Reaper with the ball in his hands. He shredded the Bucks defense to pieces, completely altering the complexion of the series. Brooklyn will try to finish the job in Milwaukee tonight, spearheaded by Durant’s lethal scoring prowess.
If you were Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer, who would you have guard the best scorer in the NBA: 6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker, or 6-foot-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo (the 2019-20 Defensive Player of the Year)? I’m sure Bud agrees with you, so he picked… Tucker. So far in this series, in 39 minutes and 44 seconds as his primary defender, Tucker has allowed Durant to convert almost half of his field goal attempts (24-for-49). In comparison, in four minutes and 19 seconds, Antetokounmpo has allowed just three makes in eight attempts.
There is a significant difference in sample size, but Antetokounmpo has more established success defending elite scorers. While he may not typically guard primary offensive threats, the Greek Freak is one of the most elite rim protectors and help defenders in the league. His 7-foot-3 wingspan should allow him to contest Durant’s pull-up jumpers and clog the Nets’ passing lanes.
Durant’s electric Game 5 will forever be remembered as one of the best performances of his career and cemented in NBA postseason lore. Despite difficult injuries to Brooklyn’s core, their path to the Finals is looking brighter than ever. A third ring for Durant would cast away any doubts about the validity of his two prior championships. Perhaps this is the year that every fan of the NBA respects the greatness of Kevin Durant.