Harden tweaks hammy in win over Knicks
Irving's 40 points enough to outlast rivals after star's injury
James Harden couldn’t wait to resume his MVP season and the Nets’ drive toward their first-ever NBA title.
Perhaps he should have waited just a bit longer.
Harden re-tweaked an injured right hamstring in the opening quarter, but Kyrie Irving’s 40-point night carried the Brooklyn Nets to a come-from-behind 114-112 victory over the New York Knicks in front of 1,773 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
“Very similar to last time, just an awareness of something’s not right in his hammy,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said of Harden’s injury, which first occurred during a 120-108 win over Houston here last Wednesday.
“His scan was clean as we reported,” Nash added. “His strength test when he came back in the locker room were normal. So it’s just something where we have to protect. Have to trust him. Very frustrating for James.”
And increasingly frustrating for the Nets as they fell behind by as many as 14 points before their only remaining superstar took over.
Irving, running solo with Durant still recovering from a hamstring injury of his own that has sidelined the two-time Finals MVP since 2013, helped the Nets (35-16) get within seven late in the third quarter before Brooklyn put together a 10-2 run to take an 89-88 lead entering the fourth.
The back and forth affair appeared to tip permanently in the Nets’ favor when Irving drilled a 3-pointer to give Brooklyn a 112-107 cushion with a minute remaining.
But the resilient Knicks (25-26), trying to avert a season sweep at the hands of their arch rivals, responded with two free throws from Julius Randle and a 3-pointer by Alec Burks to knot the contest at 112-112.
Joe Harris missed a short jumper on the Nets’ ensuing trip, but veteran forward Jeff Green was there for the rebound and was promptly fouled with 3.7 ticks to go.
Green buried both free throws and Randle, who finished with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists, missed an 18-footer at the buzzer to preserve Brooklyn’s eighth straight home win.
“Things happen, you learn from it, but I’m glad we came out with the win,” said Irving, who went 15-of-28 from the field, including five 3-pointers, and handed out seven assists with Harden on the bench.
“Like I said, it was a total team effort. The guys did a great job supporting each other and me.”
They’ve been doing so more often than not since Harden’s arrival in January as the Nets’ Big Three has only played seven games together thus far.
That often has left it to Brooklyn’s supporting cast to pick up the slack and they did so Monday as Green matched his season high with 23 points, Harris finished with 16 and Alize Johnson added 12 for the Nets, who will host New Orleans here on Wednesday.
“We have a positive attitude in our locker room, a winning mentality, and regardless of who’s out there or not, we’re going to go for it,” Nash insisted when pressed on the team’s ongoing injury issues.
“We’re going to find a way to come together and win. You can’t win every night, but you try to figure it out and solve problems every night and the guys were terrific tonight again at finding a way.”
With Nash hinting recently that Durant may be on his way back into the lineup and Irving proving himself capable of leading Brooklyn without either of his superstar brethren, the Nets may just keep finding ways to survive without the Big Three.
But advancing through four rounds of the playoffs, which begin next month, and hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy will likely take Durant, Irving and Harden to not only be there, but to be healthy as well.
NOTHING BUT NET: Durant shot around with his teammates before Monday night’s game, but wasn’t allowed to take the court for the first time in nearly two months. “But it’s definitely not set in stone,” Nash said of Durant’s possible return before the weekend is up. … After hosting the Pelicans here Wednesday, the Nets will get a few days off before welcoming the defending NBA champion Lakers to Barclays on Saturday. Brooklyn beat Los Angeles at Staples Center on Feb. 18, five days after Durant’s injury in Golden State. … Harden had three assists in four minutes before leaving Monday’s game. The reigning two-time Eastern Conference Player of the Month leads the NBA with 11.1 assists per game.
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