James Harden Gets Brooklyn Nets Going in Win over New York Knicks

Big first half powers Harden to 34 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists

The pregame chat was low-key but impactful. The third-quarter dunk was hellacious and — maybe? — unprecedented.

The in-between was vintage James Harden, with the Nets guard in takeover mode from the start of Brooklyn’s 112-110 win over the New York Knicks at Barclays Center on Tuesday night.

“Just being aggressive,” said Harden. “Being aggressive. That’s the only thing every night is my aggressiveness. I’ve just got to continue that.”

Harden finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, and three steals as the Nets won for the 13th time in their last 16 games to improve to 15-6 atop the Eastern Conference.

Last week, Harden — one of only seven players in NBA history to have led the league in both scoring and assists — was asked about the challenge of balancing the two and acknowledged he was sorting through it.

Prior to Tuesday night’s game, TNT analyst Reggie Miller connected with Harden and told him, basically, to just be himself. That’s been good enough for seven All-NBA selections and the 2017-18 MVP award.

“He got me going for sure,” said Harden. ‘But yeah, it was just ultimate confidence, the best-player-in-the-league type of mindset. That was motivation before the game, something I needed.”

It was similar to what Nets head coach Steve Nash said in his pregame media session.

“I always want James to attack,” said Nash. “I want him to attack and put pressure on the defense. If it ends in a shot more times than not, great. If it ends in a pass, more times than not that’s great too. For me, I don’t necessarily want to pigeonhole him into, you have to score, you have to playmake. I want him to be aggressive, be himself, and make plays.”

Harden did that from the start, scoring 15 of Brooklyn’s first 21 points in the game’s first eight minutes. At the 8:22 mark of the first quarter, Harden hit the 2,500th 3-pointer of his career, becoming just the fourth player in NBA history to do so. After making two more against the Knicks, he’s 58 away from tying Miller for third place on the list.

The rest of the first half was a Harden highlight reel. He scored 28 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range, and in attacking the rim, found his way to the foul line to make 9-of-10 free throws.

“I just went out there, and whether it was getting to the basket or getting my shot or finding the open man, just doing it and not thinking about it and the result of that looked good,” said Harden. “It felt good. There were a couple turnovers, just forcing passes, but other than that, it was straight get downhill and shoot your shot. Basically, that was it.”

Trailing 61-60 at halftime, the Nets opened up the second half with a 14-0 run. The basket that made it 12-0 to start the half came with Harden roaring down an open lane to catch and throw down a Patty Mills 3-point miss, followed by a roar and a shoulder shimmy as the Knicks went for a time-out.

“That might have been my first one of my career … so I had to let it out,” said Harden of the putback dunk. “It wasn’t that great when I looked at the highlight, but it felt great. That’s all that matters.”

After dominating the scoring in the early going, Harden had six of his eight assists and nine of his 10 rebounds in the second half.

“He started the game off scoring the basketball, and it just opens the game up for everybody, and tonight was one of those nights for him, and then you saw him in the second half start getting the rest of the team going,” said Kevin Durant. “So he put together a great game tonight, played 39 minutes, 11-of-20 is efficient and five turnovers but eight assists, trying to make stuff happen. He was great tonight.”

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