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Harden guides Nets to epic comeback

Rally from 24-point deficit for fourth straight win

February 17, 2021 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle

With Kevin Durant nursing a hamstring strain and Kyrie Irving resting a tight lower back, the Brooklyn Nets were down to one superstar and in a 24-point, first-half hole in Phoenix, Arizona Tuesday night.

That only made it sweeter when James Harden led them to their biggest comeback win since the franchise joined the NBA in 1976.

“It’s the true definition of a team,” said Harden after putting up 38 points, handing out 11 assists and grabbing seven rebounds in Brooklyn’s stunning 128-124 victory over the Suns in front of 3,181 fans at PHX Arena.

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“Coming in two men down, it’s next man up. Tonight was the perfect example of that,” Harden added after the Nets matched their season high with a fourth straight win. “We got down 20-something at halftime and we didn’t give up, we didn’t quit.”

They certainly didn’t.

Even after overcoming a 21-point halftime deficit, the Nets were burned by Chris Paul’s personal 11-0 run that put them down 124-116 with 2:48 to play.

Veteran forward Jeff Green started what proved to be the game-winning rally by hitting a 3-pointer.

Harden sank a short jumper, Green followed with a layup and Harden put Brooklyn in front to stay, 126-124, on a long 3-ball from the top of the arc with 31.4 ticks remaining.

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Two Harden free throws settled matters as the Nets ended the contest on a 12-0 run and improved to 3-0 on their season-high five-game West Coast swing, which resumes Thursday night in Los Angeles against LeBron James and the reigning NBA champion Lakers.

“I thought our energy, our toughness, not allowing the game to get away was really important and it gave us a chance to take the momentum so to speak where now they’re trying to hang on and we’re trying to —we have nothing to lose, but to fight back,” said rookie head coach Steve Nash.

“Sometimes that’s such a typical position to play in front when you’re just trying to protect a lead, so we took advantage, we made some shots, we made it difficult on them. I thought everyone contributed, outstanding individual defense at the end, and also, James made some big shots.”

Steve Nash sat and watched as the Nets got into a 24-point hole and climbed out of it in Phoenix on Tuesday. AP Photo by Matt York

 

Harden has altered his prolific offensive game to fit into the Nets’ offense since arriving here last month. He has been more facilitator than scorer, leading the league with 11.3 assists per contest.

But with Durant and Irving both sidelined, Harden reverted to the form that saw him capture three scoring titles and a Most Valuable Player award during his time in Houston.

He went 14-of-22 from the field, including five 3-pointers, and picked up a steal in 37 scintillating minutes.

“At the end of the day, we all have one common goal and that is to win,” Harden noted.

“So, a lot of that was happening and we got it right. In the second half we were much better defensively, holding them to 25 or 24 points. And like I said, we got the stops we needed, we gang rebounded the basketball and made big shots when we needed to.”

Joe Harris poured in 22 points, Green finished with 18 and former Phoenix guard Tyler Johnson added 17, matching Harden with a team-best five 3-pointers, as the Nets tuned up for the Lakers by startling the previously red-hot Suns.

“I think the morale is gonna be great,” Nash said of the upcoming showdown.

“To get an unexpected win so to speak, when we’re down 24 and we’re missing guys – and on many nights in this scenario, teams in the NBA fade away and it’s over – so for us to find a way to win, regardless of the circumstances, I think it was important for our morale.”

Even more important is the likely return of Irving and possibly even Durant before the Nets hit the hardwood at Staples Center Thursday.

Just don’t tell Harden that.

“I don’t think it’s who we’re playing, I think it’s about us. We are trying to build something within ourselves and as a unit,” he insisted.

“Once you do your individual job, as a unit we’re great. So, I think no matter who we’re playing, no matter who is in the game for us or our opponent, we have to have that mindset and we’ve had it. And tonight was a clear example of it.”

The Nets will have to contend with LeBron James and the world champion Lakers in Los Angeles Thursday night. AP Photo by Jim Mone

 

NOTHING BUT NET: With the crowd at 18 percent capacity in Phoenix on Tuesday, Nets head coach Steve Nash received some love from Suns fans. Nash enjoyed the best years of his Hall of Fame career in Phoenix, winning back-to-back MVPs in 2005 and 2006. “This place means a lot to me, obviously,” he said. “Had some incredible years here, incredible teams, teammates, coaches, the organization was first class. And the fans here were fantastic. Lived here for 10 years and loved every minute of it.” … After visiting the Lakers on Thursday, the Nets will complete their extended sojourn at Staples Center on Sunday night against the L.A. Clippers. Thursday night’s Laker game will be televised nationally on TNT at 10 p.m.


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