- Isaac Brendel
Nets Notes: Harden brilliant in return to Houston, Nets collect 7th straight victory
(PHOTO CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
To say James Harden and Mike D’Antoni achieved a lot in Houston and meant a great deal to the city is an understatement. The two former Rockets franchise pieces are now Brooklyn Nets and returned to their longtime home of Houston, Texas, on Wednesday night to take on the now hapless Rockets.
With Harden and D’Antoni, the Rockets never won a title or even made a final. However, they became perennial contenders, put Houston on the map, and are now with a superteam destined for an NBA title. With a rocky end to Harden’s relationship with the Rockets, he and his Nets teammates looked to send a message loud and clear to not only the Rockets organization and fanbase, but the Nets one as well. Going back home and putting on a show and proving (even more) to Nets general manager Sean Marks that this move couldn’t have been any better for Brooklyn seemed to be Harden’s goal.
Though his relationship at the end was rocky, his time in Houston was mightily successful, and he has helped their community greatly over the last few weeks. He also admitted to still calling Houston home, and his number will undoubtedly be retired, as announced at the end of tonight’s game.
The Nets didn’t go into the game with as big a bang as Steve Nash, or D’Antoni would have liked, but they did what was needed. The Nets came out strong offensively but did not play the defense needed to create comfortable separation in the score. They outscored Houston 30-27 in the first quarter and were far from happy about that.
In the next quarter, Brooklyn dominated. Despite still not playing the most beautiful defense, they outscored the Rockets by 10-points (37-27). As usual, their excellent offensive showing made up for defensive hiccups.
Harden went into the second half just three rebounds, and an assist away from a triple-double. He recorded 14 first-half points. In the first half, Kyrie Irving had 11 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. Bruce Brown had 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists. In just seven minutes, Nicolas Claxton had 12 points and 5 rebounds. The kid is on fire!
Looking to back and support (one of) their superstars and longtime Rocket, Brooklyn sought to have a huge second-half display on both sides of the court and pick up their tenth win in their last 11 games.
They did just that. Bruce Brown continued to put on a show, and Harden incrementally moved closer and closer to his triple-double. Irving and Joe Harris also played great ball.
But after a dominant run, the Nets took their foot off the gas; the Pistons pulled within 10-points at one point. Playing down to opponents is no longer a concern, but taking their foot off the gas when up many points must stop. The Nets put their foot back on the gas and grew their lead, but this still doesn’t take away from the scare of blowing a lead. Irving hit a buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter, where Brooklyn outscored Houston 34-31 and had a 101-85 lead. Heading into the fourth and final quarter, the Nets knew their job and looked to execute it thoroughly.
Houston would not go away, though, and was within 15-points of Brooklyn for most of the quarter. But with 6:48 to go, Harden continued his dominance and hit a wild three-pointer to give the Nets a 16 point lead (113-97). This led Rockets head coach Stephen Silas to call a timeout. Houston responded like they had the entire half and hit a three-pointer, clinching their 100th point of the night and narrowing Brooklyn’s lead to 13-points. On Brooklyn’s ensuing possession, Harden was fouled. The play was reviewed, but the call stood. “Beard” knocked down both shots and gave the Nets back a 15-point lead. In bonus, Brooklyn knew they had to capitalize from the free-throw line.
From that point on, the Nets sealed the game. After a stop, Irving knocked down a two-pointer and gave the Nets a 17-point lead. They shut down Houston and never looked back. James Harden picked up his 54th career triple-double and his eighth as a Net. Brooklyn surrendered nothing and took advantage of a tired Rockets team turning the ball over on what seemed to be every other possession.
Brooklyn won the game 132-114. Harden finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 14 assists. Irving had 24 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists. Brown had 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists. Joe Harris had 19 points and 2 rebounds. DeAndre Jordan had 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists. Claxton finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds, and an assist. Landry Shamet had 11 points, 3 rebounds, and an assist. Tyler Johnson had 6 points and 4 rebounds.
The Nets picked up their seventh straight road win, a franchise record. They are also 10-1 in their last eleven games.
Given this type of basketball the Nets are playing right now, what should the Nets faithful and front office expect when another member of “The Big 3” Kevin Durant returns from his hamstring injury? Yeah, remember that guy? Number 7 on the court? Claxton is already a stud, but what will he be when he becomes more conditioned and seasoned after missing a long stretch of play due to an unexpectedly long recovery. While still playing elite defense, Bruce Brown has found extraordinary offensive upside, something his former team (the Detroit Pistons) traded him because of a lack of. The Nets have established their brand of basketball that is nothing short of scary. The Nets’ success extends far longer than just Irving, Durant, and Harden. For example, seven Nets players put up double digits in points Wednesday night. Wasn’t this the team that wasn’t going to share the ball after acquiring Harden? The team full of individuals?
Well, the critics got it wrong once again. The Nets are heavy championship favorites and only improve as they get healthier and more conditioned. We are witnessing a team that is more than generational. We are witnessing a team that is making history, and the case that they are the greatest offensive juggernaut ever to set foot on the court is becoming more and more valid by the game. Can they do what Golden State did just a few years ago (a dynasty Kevin Durant was involved in)? They have the experience and pieces. Only time will tell what the future holds. All we know now is, the future is so bright sunglasses are needed to look into it. Starting in a few months, history can and will be made. Frankly, it already is being made, and the Nets will do anything in their power to make sure they are on the right side of it.
The Nets are red hot heading into the All-Star break, and “The Big 3” will all be at the game itself. Harden and Irving will play, and Durant (despite his injury) will be a team captain and draft his team. Nothing would be better than seeing Irving and Harden on Durant’s team, taking the league by storm on national television once again.
After the respite, Brooklyn begins a three-game homestand, which will feature matches against the Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, and cross-town foe New York Knicks.