Brooklyn Nets: How James Harden forced a Game 7

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 18: James Harden #13 of the Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 18: James Harden #13 of the Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

The Brooklyn Nets have had an eventful seven-game series against the Milwaukee Bucks. Through two games, it looked like the Nets were going to roll right through Milwaukee and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Then the Nets went to Milwaukee for Games 3 and 4, which included two losing efforts and the loss of Kyrie Irving for the rest of the series. Game 5 included a historical performance from Kevin Durant to give the Nets a 3-2 series lead before losing in Milwaukee, which forced a final contest.

Durant has been fantastic, especially since Irving went down with the sprained ankle. Unfortunately, Irving has already been ruled out for Game 7.

As good as Durant has been, James Harden also deserves a lot of credit to getting the Nets to a Game 7 in this series.

James Harden deserves credit for getting the Brooklyn Nets to Game 7.

In the opening minute of Game 1 against Bucks, Harden re-injured the hamstring that has given him issues throughout the season. Hamstrings are traditionally tricky, as they have high rate of re-injury. Most assumed that Harden would be a long shot to even return in the series, but once Irving went down, Harden pushed the Nets organization to have him play in Game 5.

Looking at his stats, Harden’s Game 5 performance was uninspiring. Harden scored five points and added six rebounds and eight assists on 1-10 shooting, but his stats don’t tell the whole story.

Think back to Game 4, after Irving went down, Durant struggled to get his shot going and his Nets teammates looked lost. In the second half of that game, Durant shot 5-15 and always seemed to have pressure on him or face a double team. Oftentimes, PJ Tucker or another Bucks defender was picking him up full court, not scared of the Nets beating their full court press.

That’s where Harden comes in.

Harden took a lot of pressure off of Durant in Game 5 and that allowed him to thrive. Harden became the primary ball handler in that game, which allowed Durant to focus on scoring and being a secondary playmaker. Even a banged up Harden posed as a threat from the perimeter. That is something the Bucks didn’t have to deal with in the previous four games of the series. As a direct result, that allowed Durant to see fewer double teams and more favorable matchups.

Durant may be the only healthy star on the Nets right now, but it takes more than stars to win championships. Even if an injured Harden is a glorified role player, he’s the glorified role player the Nets need to win this series.