Harden gets ‘aggressive’ in Brooklyn
NBA assists leader fills it up late for Nets in win over Heat
For the better part of his first five games as a Brooklyn Net, James Harden was more facilitator than scorer.
More passer than dead-eye shooter.
More generous teammate than ball hog.
That changed drastically in the fourth quarter Monday night at a still-fanless Barclays Center.
Harden scored 10 of his 20 points during a game-deciding 18-2 run in the final period as the Nets used a rare display of lock-down defense to stifle Miami, 98-85, and complete a two-game sweep of the defending Eastern Conference champion Heat.
“Just being aggressive,” said Harden of his late-game spurt after entering the contest averaging an NBA-best 11 assists.
He matched that number of helpers in the Nets’ last look at Brooklyn before a three-game road trip, but he also showed off the offensive form that has made him one of the league’s most prolific point producers.
“I think I wasn’t very aggressive throughout the course of the game,” the former three-time league scoring champion ceded.
Harden was more than aggressive when it mattered most for Brooklyn, which has won six of its last eight games, a run it hopes to continue Wednesday night in Atlanta.
But “The Beard” may have received a bit of a nudge from first-year Nets head coach Steve Nash when Brooklyn d itself deadlocked at 78-78 with just over seven minutes to play.
“Would I like James to be more aggressive? Yes. Will he be more aggressive in time? I think so,” Nash said prior to tip-off.
“I think once he gets more comfortable with his teammates, when he gets in better shape, when he’s adapted to this whole new environment, we’ll see an improved James scoring the ball.”
We saw more than a glimpse with the game on the line Monday.
Harden drilled one of his patented step-back 3-pointers to give Brooklyn an 84-80 lead with five minutes left, made a driving layup on the Nets’ ensuing trip and knocked down another 3-ball off a feed from fellow superstar Kyrie Irving with 3:14 remaining to give his team a 91-80 cushion.
Returning to his playmaking skills, Harden fed Joe Harris for a 25-footer with two minutes left and pumped in a mid-range jumper of his own to make it 96-80 with just under 90 ticks left on the clock.
Kevin Durant finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds and Irving had 16 points and eight boards for Brooklyn (11-8), which overcame a poor shooting night by both teams thanks to Harden’s big fourth quarter.
“It does a lot for us. You know, we rely on him to make plays for us and just be himself,” Durant said of his former and current teammate.
“You know, whatever the game presents you got to be prepared for it and I think tonight he came with that scoring effort late in the game and he also created stuff for us from his penetration, so any given night it could be anybody and tonight James is great for us.”
Harden also pulled down four rebounds, blocked a shot and picked up a steal for the Nets, who will visit his and Durant’s old home in Oklahoma City Friday and Washington D.C., on Saturday before hosting the Los Angeles Clippers in Downtown Brooklyn next Tuesday.
Joe Harris scored 12 points and DeAndre Jordan added 11 for Brooklyn, which outlasted the Heat, 128-124, on Saturday before Harden and the defense took over Monday night.
“Huge for us, you know,” Harden said of Brooklyn’s fourth quarter.
“We didn’t have the best scoring night offensively, defensively we just stuck with it, made it very very difficult for them.”
With Harden finding his groove offensively, the Nets will be making life tough on virtually every team they face.
And if he can’t do it on a particular night, Durant and Irving certainly can.
“Our guys are so capable of getting hot, it could be any one of them,” Nash noted.
Nothing But Net: Brooklyn is yielding nearly 117 points per game, ranking fourth worst in the league in points allowed. … The Nets managed a season-low 15 points in the first quarter Monday while going 0-for-10 from 3-point range. Durant misfired on his first six 3s before finishing 3-for-12 from beyond the arc. … Though they haven’t exactly burst out of the gate with their revamped roster and the formation of Brooklyn’s Big Three, Nash believes the Nets are simply a product of what has thus-far been a very uneven and unpredictable season throughout the league. “We’re seeing all sorts of crazy scores, crazy upsets, a lot of people hovering around .500,” he said. “That’s the nature of the season, and we have to be prepared to win some of these games when you’re not feeling well.”
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