Harden available to play in Game 5 for Nets

Brooklyn Nets' James Harden looks to pass during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks Monday, April 5, 2021, in New York.

Brooklyn Nets’ James Harden looks to pass during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Knicks Monday, April 5, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

BROOKLYN — In a move that may surprise some, the Brooklyn Nets have declared James Harden available for Game 5 of their second round series against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Harden hasn’t played since the opening minute of Game 1 because of right hamstring tightness. When he returned from the same injury in April, he promptly strained it minutes into his return and missed the next 18 games, so the Nets are being cautious with him.

Down to Kevin Durant as their lone healthy superstar with Kyrie Irving injured, the Nets limped home to host Game 5 on Tuesday, a team that once piled up points with ease suddenly struggling to cobble together much offense at all. The best-of-7 series is tied at two wins a piece.

Harden had been upgraded from “out” to “doubtful” to “questionable” between Games 4 and 5.

Harden’s availability is a huge boost for the Nets, who are without Kyrie Irving after he sprained his right ankle in the Bucks’ victory Sunday that tied the series.

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 pending his pregame workout.

He appeared to be moving well while going through that, jogging off the floor into the tunnel toward the locker room after finishing.

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.”

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