Harden’s ‘setback’ dampens Nets victory
Ruled out indefinitely before Brooklyn beats New Orleans
Just when the Brooklyn Nets were licking their lips at the prospect of having Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden back in the mix, they got the plate pulled out from under their noses.
Harden suffered what the Nets are calling a “setback” in his rehab from a bothersome hamstring injury, further postponing his comeback and putting even more pressure on Kyrie Irving to perform with fellow superstar Kevin Durant sitting out with a left-thigh contusion.
On Tuesday night in front of a crowd of 3,700 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Irving proved himself more than capable of at least temporarily carrying the load.
The mercurial guard scored a team-high 32 points, handed out eight assists and made virtually every big play down the stretch as Brooklyn held on for a 134-129 win over the Pelicans to stay within one-half game of Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia.
Joe Harris poured in 24 points, Landry Shamet added 18 and Blake Griffin finished with 16 before fouling out in the final seconds for the Nets, who saw their fourth-quarter lead shaved to 124-122 when Zion Williamson made a layup for the Pelicans (25-33) with 1:49 to play.
Irving instantly responded with a tough jumper. He drove the lane through traffic for two more points and sank four clutch free throws down the stretch as Brooklyn won for the second time in its last three games.
Nets head coach Steve Nash was impressed not only with Irving’s virtuoso effort in crunch time after he scored 12 of Brooklyn’s 16 points over the final three minutes, but also watched proudly as the supporting cast fillled up the scoresheet.
“They were very difficult shots Ky made down the stretch tonight as well,” said Nash. “So, we talked it over and sometimes that’s just what you ask of your superstar players. We debate about it all the time: should we get him into some things, should we try to help him? But the reality is there’s times when you can overthink it, when a guy like that can just go and get a bucket.
“So making the defense guard him, making them space knowing that you have other shooters on the floor sometimes is all you need. But we still want to think it over, learn, grow. But I thought tonight they executed, made shots; but also at the end of the game with the fouling and making free throws we did a nice job. So it was another good experience for the guys.”
But it was also another bad news day on the injury front as Durant sat out an entire game for the first time since missing 23 with a hamstring injury of his own.
That paled in comparison to the report on Harden, who was ramping up activities in the hopes of rejoining the Nets (39-19) by the weekend before feeling the pain in his hamstring again Monday.
Following an MRI, Nash was left to give Brooklyn fans and the local and national media the harsh news.
“Back to square one,” he said when asked about Harden’s injury, which has kept him out since he logged four minutes against the New York Knicks on April 5.
“We’ll rehabilitate him and get him back whenever we can, and who knows when that will be. We’ll support James and our performance team in getting him back in as best condition as possible. And hopefully that comes sooner than later, but there’s no guarantee.”
With 14 regular-season games left in this COVID-abbreviated 72-game campaign, the Nets still have time to get Harden, Durant and Irving healthy for what our borough’s residents hope will be a long playoff run that results in this franchise’s first-ever NBA title.
“(Harden will) be back when he’s back,” Nash insisted. “That may not be until the playoffs. It may be sooner. I don’t know.”
The Nets will be back in action Wednesday night in Toronto before returning to Brooklyn to host Boston on Friday.
NOTHING BUT NET: With Durant and Harden out, the Nets had seven players score in double figures, including Jeff Green (15), Bruce Brown (11) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. “When you’re going into a game with nine men, you’re down a couple superstars, you definitely have guys that are playing with more responsibility and more minutes and if they don’t play well you can find yourself in a big hole,” Nash intimated. “But tonight they played really well. Like I’ve said all year, really proud of the way the guys have responded to adversity this year. Fought and had that connectivity to win games that maybe people didn’t think you could win. Really proud of the way the guys played from start to finish.” … The Nets will finish off their two-game homestand on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. vs. Phoenix.
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