NEW YORK — James Harden barely played in the first four games of the Eastern Conference semifinals, then barely sat down in Game 5.
Harden played 46 minutes on Tuesday night (Wednesday, Manila time) as the Brooklyn Nets beat the Milwaukee Bucks 114-108 to take a 3-2 lead in the series.
It was Harden's first action since leaving with a hamstring injury less than a minute into the series opener.
“I didn’t expect to play, so 46 is a lot. But I’m built for it, so just get some rest and get my proper treatment," Harden said. "Credit to our trainers. They’ve been doing an unbelievable job of preparing me. Get some rest and give it another shot Game 6.”
Harden finished with just five points, going 1 for 10 from the field and missing all eight 3-point attempts. But he had eight assists and six rebounds, providing a big lift to a Brooklyn team that was without Kyrie Irving after he sprained his right ankle in the Bucks' victory Sunday that tied the series.
“It inspired me this morning when he said he was getting ready to go and he was thinking about giving it a go," Kevin Durant said. "I think all of us felt, first of all, we want him to be healthy and make sure this is the right decision for him. But once he got out there and tested it out, we were all happy for him and knew it would give us an extra spark.”
Harden left 43 seconds into Game 1 with what the Nets called right hamstring tightness and they had ruled him out of Game 5 on Monday. But they upgraded him to doubtful Tuesday morning, then questionable.
“I woke up and was like, ‘You know what? Let’s go,’" Harden said. "I tried to go out there and do the best I can. Hopefully, I gave my teammates some encouragement and some life.”
He appeared to be moving well while going through a pregame workout, jogging off the floor into the tunnel toward the locker room after finishing. The Nets then announced he would be available to play.
Harden missed 20 of 21 games in the second half of the season with hamstring problems. Coach Steve Nash said before the game that the push to play Tuesday was coming from Harden, who has never won an NBA championship.
“He wants to play, he wants to win a championship. He loves the playoffs and the ability to play this time of year,” Nash said. "So I think it’s been really difficult on him for how much he cares, how much time and effort he’s put in to getting to this position, and that’s definitely a source of the motivation right now and I understand and respect it.
“So James is driving this. We have to try to support him the best way we can and be an aide for him to figure this out, but it’s a tricky situation but it’s one that we’re willing to go down with James.”