Nets say Harden available to play in Game 5 vs Bucks

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Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden, who has been out with a hamstring injury, warms up on the court before Game 5 of the team's second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks, Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

NEW YORK – James Harden will play for the Brooklyn Nets in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, his first action since leaving with a hamstring injury less than a minute into the series opener.

The Nets upgraded the All-Star guard's status to available about 45 minutes before the game Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks.

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.”