Nets pass the Bucks on Harden’s feed
Red-hot Durant hits game-winner off pass from 'The Beard'
Kevin Durant knew the basketball was in good hands with the game on the line Monday night.
But James Harden gave it back to him when it mattered most.
Harden’s feed to Durant in the game’s final minute resulted in the NBA’s reigning Player of the Week hitting the go-ahead basket as the Nets passed a big early season test with a titillating 125-123 victory over Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks at a still-fanless Barclays Center.
“You get your offensive rebound, you’re looking out for threes,” Durant said of what turned out to be the game-winning basket.
“James got a great look at the three and got a great rebound and I was there just trailing,” Durant added. “It could’ve been me, Joe (Harris), Bruce Brown, he’d have done the same thing. But that’s just normal basketball, just IQ, just knowing that if we get an offensive rebound, look for the 3-pointer first.”
Harden, making his second straight start for Brooklyn after last week’s epic four-team trade, missed his own 3-ball before ripping down the rebound.
The former NBA Most Valuable Player dribbled back out around the circle before finding his fellow ex-MVP for a 27-footer with 36.8 ticks left on the clock, erasing a 123-122 deficit.
“We shot the ball well, and James creates for his teammates and makes them better,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash after Brooklyn extended its season-high winning streak to four games, including a 2-0 mark since Harden’s arrival.
“Any way you slice it, he makes us a better team offensively for sure, and he is incredible reading the game with the ball in his hands. It’s a luxury to have, and we’ll get him into real shape and he’ll be even better.”
It’s hard to imagine that he could be.
Harden filled up the scoresheet for a second straight game against the Bucks, scoring a game-hig 34 points to go with a game-high 12 assists and two blocked shots.
He had 32 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds in his Nets debut Saturday at Barclays in a 122-115 win over the Orlando Magic.
“It’s a huge win for us. This is our second game together and we haven’t had one practice. We just watch film and go off our instincts,” Harden revealed.
“We just try to learn on the fly as I said before,” he added. “It was going to be a challenge for us tonight but I think we held our own and we came out aggressive.”
Durant, who received his 27th career Player of the Week honor earlier Monday, added 30 points, nine rebounds and six assists for the Nets, who measured themselves against a team expected to challenge for the Eastern Conference title.
“This is one of the top teams in the league over the last four, five years and they have a lot of continuity on their roster, so it was good to kind of play against a team that has an identity already,” said Durant.
“And for us, it was a good gauge for our guys, but we’re not too excited about it, we’ve gotta get back to work tomorrow.”
They may have to continue working without their talented third superstar, Kyrie Irving, who has paid upwards of $900,000 in fines and game pay lost for his ongoing absence from the team.
Irving has missed seven straight games, but could rejoin his teammates and play alongside Durant and Harden for the first time Wednesday when the Nets open a two-game series at Cleveland.
“As far as Ky, I’m excited to get him back,” noted Nash. “He’s an incredible basketball player, and to have him back in the (HSS Training Center) tomorrow will be exciting and we’ll start to integrate him and figure out a way to make this whole thing work.”
Frighteningly for other Eastern Conference opponents, Brooklyn has been operating on a high level without Irving.
With Monday’s win, the Nets (8-6) improved to 5-2 since the mercurial point guard decided to take off, pulling the game out after eight lead changes in the final five minutes despite 34 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Antetokounmpo.
“This is what they do. They wake up, come to the game and they score 30,” the third former MVP on the floor Monday said of Durant and Harden.
“If you’re not aggressive and you’re not locked in against them, they’re going to score 50.”
Joe Harris scored 20 points, Jeff Green had 14 and DeAndre Jordan added 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Nets, who had to wait for Khris Middleton’s potential game-winning 3-pointer to rim out before they could celebrate.
Harden was there for the rebound, cementing his status as someone the Nets can trust to come through in crunch time during his brief, but thus-far impressive stint here in our borough.
“Once we can clean up some things and get better as the season goes along we’ll be much better,” Harden said.
Nothing But Net: Durant averaged 34.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 1.3 blocks in 35.4 minutes per game over three games last week while shooting 61.3 percent from the field, 60 percent from 3-point range and 87.5 percent from the free-throw line. … Irving, who is reportedly in the league’s COVID-19 protocol after being caught on video maskless at his sister’s birthday party, will likely have to practice Tuesday in Sunset Park before Nash can make a decision regarding his status for Wednesday at Cleveland. … Following their visit to Ohio, the Nets will host defending Eastern Conference champion Miami here on Jan. 23 and 25.
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