photo credit: Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Against the former team of their most-valuable-player, James Harden, the Brooklyn Nets had an opportunity to grab sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference after the Philadelphia 76ers lost the previous night to the Denver Nuggets. Against a rebuilding but gritty Rockets team, Brooklyn knew that nothing would come easy. Not bringing their best or playing down to their opponent is never an option.
The Nets played arguably their worst half of basketball this season and failed to stop the Rockets, who were fantastic shooting and could barely miss a shot. Through twenty-minutes, James Harden had 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. Trailing 68-57 at the half, Brooklyn needed a huge second half to get themselves back in the game and potentially win it.
In the second set of twenty-four-minute play, Brooklyn showed their fans and the league something that should excite some folks and scare the rest. Wednesday night, it wasn’t Harden or Kyrie Irving that won it for the Nets; it was the role players that thoroughly executed their job. Nicolas Claxton played exceptional defense. As a teammate, person, and player, you won’t find anyone better than “Clax,” who singlehandedly shut Houston down on multiple possessions. The Nets went on to outscore the Rockets 29-19 in the third quarter and threw the knockout punch in the fourth.
Harden, Irving, Claxton, Joe Harris, Blake Griffin, and the rest of Steve Nash’s crew contributed in one way or another. Brooklyn posted thirty-four fourth-quarter points compared to Houston’s twenty-one. They won the game 120-108, with Harris hitting two clutch three-pointers in the final minutes. Brooklyn was also excellent from the free-throw-line.
Harden continues his strong case for MVP. He played a solid game, but by no means excellent compared to the magic he has displayed from the day Nets general manager Sean Marks acquired him from Houston. Even on an off-night, Harden posted 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists, close to yet another triple-double. Irving recorded 31 points, 6 rebounds, and 12 assists. Harris had 28 points and 6 rebounds, grabbing a critical one after a Rockets shot deep into the fourth. Claxton put up 12 points, 8 rebounds, and an assist. Griffin notched 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. The comeback and team effort were off the charts. Per Ian Eagle of YES Network, the Nets have sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time since April of 2003.
The first place Nets look to hold their ground and even create some separation in the standings and will take on the Charlotte Hornets in Brooklyn Thursday night. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM Eastern Time.