Nets on the brink of making conference finals for first time since 2003

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Since the Nets joined the NBA in 1977, the franchise has only made it to the Eastern Conference Finals twice. But that could change with a victory Thursday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.

A Brooklyn win would propel the Nets to the conference finals for the first time since 2003 – when the Nets were still playing at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J. That season, the Nets made it to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive season only to run into the San Antonio Spurs.

The Nets have regained some of that excitement this season with the play of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and later James Harden. The Nets finished the 2020-21 season with the second-best record in the conference. Brooklyn made it out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Now, it appears a healthy Durant is poised to lead the franchise back to the conference finals. But the challenge of winning on the road stands in their way.

Brooklyn, so far in these playoffs, has lost three games on the road. Brooklyn lost twice in Milwaukee already this series. A third loss would send the series back to Brooklyn for a decisive Game 7.

“We’ve got a Game 6. I can’t celebrate. We’ve got another game to try to finish it out,” Durant said after his 49-point epic performance Tuesday night, via the New York Post. “To be honest, I don’t even rank or look at performances. Once they happen I just try to move on and see if I can do it again.”

Durant played every minute of Game 5, and a hobbled Harden played 46 minutes. Nash said Harden will be available for Game 6 but wouldn’t commit on how many minutes he would play with Irving rehabbing an ankle injury he suffered earlier in the series.

Nash said he believed the championship would be decided by health but knew that Brooklyn can’t compete for the title without defeating Milwaukee first.

“There is no championship if you don’t get out of this series,” Nash said. “There’s obviously a point where you have to go and you have to play like we did last night. If it presents itself that we don’t have to overburden them, we’d be happy not to. But if we have to, we have to. That’s just the nature of it.”

Milwaukee will have to face its own issues.

The Bucks led by as many 17 points in Game 5 only to allow Durant to go off and get the Nets back into the game and eventually win. Milwaukee hasn’t been to an NBA Finals since 1974 and has appeared in just two conference finals since 2001.

Giannis Antetokounmpo said he was up for the challenge of guarding Durant in the pivotal Game 6.

“He’s the best player in the world right now,” Antetokounpo said of Durant.

“We’ve got to focus on ourselves and control what we can control. What we can control is our effort, and going into Game 6, hopefully we can bring it and put ourselves in position to win the game.”

Game 6 is set to tip off at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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