James Harden’s debut with the Nets was much like the past 7 years of his Rockets career: a 30 point triple double.
Just moments before tip-off, Harden as part of he pre-game ritual, ran and leaped into the hoops stanchion.
Harden’s leap represented the one the Nets hope to take after trading away homegrown standouts Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen as well as a bounty of draft picks, with the hopes that Harden would help lead the franchise to its first championship.
Although Brooklyn was far from a finished product in Harden’s first game, a 122-115 win, his debut showed what a new environment and clear head can do for a player of his talent.
Harden’s debut was historic. He finished with a triple-double — the 47th of his career — with 32 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds, marking him the first player in franchise history to debut with a triple double. His performance also made him the first player in NBA history to post a 30-point triple-double in a debut with a team.
Harden also gave us a glimpse into how the Brooklyn offense will look with him playing alongside Durant and Irving, despite all three players being ball-dominant.
Harden’s addition will make it difficult for opposing teams to double-team or blitz the Nets because of the looks that will be created for others. Harden’s presence, for example, made Harris’ life easier. The guard, one of the best shooters in the league, finished with 17 points, most coming off wide open looks.
Having both Harden and Durant, and eventually Irving, forces defenses to help off certain players. Shooters such as Harris can get freed up as a result.
“If you double James, then it’s going to be hard to double Kevin if he catches the ball or go and double Kyrie if he catches the ball,” Harris explained. “Or if you leave me or another guy that’s a shooter out there, it’s just very much like a pick-your-poison scenario.”
Maybe more important than his historic stat line, and the offense, Harden’s positive vibes and focus on being a part of the team, not the team, is what stood out.
Things ended with a sour taste in everyones mouth in Houston. His private frustrations boiled over Tuesday, and teammates called his comments and actions disrespectful. Harden said Friday that he wished he handled parts of it differently.
And to his credit it appears that he wants to leave the negativity in Houston and become a better teammate.
With the Nets, he looked like a completely different person — at least for one game.
“It felt unbelievable,” Harden said afterward. “I hope that you can tell by my smile and my play.”
Nets sharpshooter Joe Harris said Harden came into practice Friday telling the team that he wants to play the right way.
The first time Harden took the court as a member of the Brooklyn Nets amazed Harris as much as his energy at practice.
“This is the first time that he was able to take the court with us,” Harris said. “He was coming down, and he’s calling some of the actions that we’ve been running. And he’s literally just been with us for today.”
Harden’s offense will make the highlight reels, but it was his defense that stood out to me.
Harden was a pest on defense and finished with four steals, giving Magic rookie point guard Cole Anthony a difficult homecoming. Anthony, a Queens native, finished with 15 points on 6-for-15 shooting and struggled to shake off Harden all game.
Even when Harden was on the bench, he was full of life. Every time the YES camera panned over to the bench, Harden was seen clapping, dancing, and motivating.
It had been 9 long years since Harden and Durant shared the court in a NBA game. Yet the two gelled as if they had just been playing with each other in OKC a week ago.
Durant finished with 42 points on 16-for-26 shooting, and the two stars regularly deferred to one another on the court and prioritized playmaking, which led to easy baskets for the Nets.
The duo combined for 74 points, the most they’ve ever totaled as teammates.
“Man, it was incredible,” Durant said of Harden’s performance. “You could see him trying to figure out the best way to play. Early on, I felt like we were all overpassing. Trying to make everybody comfortable. And then he just got into his mode of being aggressive to score, and that opened up the whole game for all of us.”
Harden’s debut was gigantic for the Nets but still showed how far Brooklyn is from a finished product. The Magic hung with the Nets until the very end, with Brooklyn’s turnovers and inconsistent defense allowing Orlando to stay in the game. On Monday, the Nets face Milwaukee, perhaps their biggest obstacle to reaching the NBA Finals.
The presence of Harden and Durant makes the Nets a contender already, but thriving with Irving on the court is what could vault them into being regarded as championship favorites.
“The chemistry, the sooner we can build that,” Harden said, “the sooner we can be on the court together, it’s going to be scary.”