NBA

NBA playoffs 2021: Nets star Harden returns for Game 5 showdown with Bucks

By Sports Desk June 15, 2021

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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    Bronzetti – 1/5

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