Nets Notes: James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant a Big Three for Big Moments

On Saturday night, it was Kyrie Irving carrying the Nets to the finish line. The Miami Heat had cut an 18-point Nets lead to one before Irving halted a 13-0 drought with a 3-pointer, going on to score 12 of Brooklyn’s next 16 points while putting up 18 in total in the fourth quarter of a 128-124 Nets win.

On Monday night, the Nets were again up a point in the fourth, and this time it was James Harden breaking out with 10 points in a 15-0 run that broke the game open and left the Nets with a comfortable few final minutes.

Since the Nets made their big trade to put Harden together with Irving and Kevin Durant, there’s been plenty of curiosity about how the trio will fit together. But it’s also clear that with three players of this caliber, there will be these individual, supernova takeover moments, and some nights, that might make all the difference.

“Whoever has the ball in their hands late in the game, we trust they're going to make the right play,” said Durant, who knocked down two 3-pointers earlier in the fourth quarter, the second breaking a 78-all tie. “So it might be Ky next game, it might be me next game. I think that makes us — like I said before — it makes us unpredictable.”

Through six games with Harden — Durant has played in five of those, and Irving in four — the trio is averaging a combined 85.0 points per game — 32.2 for Durant, 29.8 for Irving, and 23.0 for Harden.

“That’s the way this team is built,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “We went for it and have three great offensive players. Any given night it can be any one of them. It can be Joe Harris. It can be someone else. Those guys also make each other and their teammates better by the attention they draw, so it’s about trying to find that collective threat; ball-moving, lot of spatial awareness, understanding and making each other better collectively. On certain nights, our guys are so capable of getting hot, it could be any one of them. But the idea is that it’s not a, it’s his turn tonight. That emerges, and we welcome it, but we’re going to play good basketball, get good opportunities, step up and shoot the ball, and if we create good opportunities, more times than not we’ll be in a good position.”

Before Harden took over in Monday’s 98-85 win, he’d had a quiet night shooting the ball, with just five field goal attempts through three quarters. The game had been tight — 15 lead changes and eight ties, with Brooklyn’s biggest lead three points — as both teams struggled with their shooting in the lowest-scoring game the Nets have played in this season.

But with the Nets leading 81-80 as the clock hit five minutes to go, the next three-and-a-half minutes were right out of a vintage Harden highlight reel. His step-back three made it 84-80, and he followed up by sizing up Goran Dragic out at the 3-point line before breaking down a wide-open lane for a layup.

Irving scored inside, then drew a crowd of defenders at the elbow and kicked back out for Harden to beat the shot clock on a top-of-the-key 3-pointer.

The Nets were up 11 now with under three minutes to go, having turned a tight game to their full advantage. Joe Harris hit a three, and Harden pulled up for an elbow jumper and a 16-point lead, capping the 15-0 run. He scored half of his 20 points for the game this those three minutes and 30 seconds, making all four of his shots.

“Just being aggressive,” said Harden. “I think I wasn't very aggressive throughout the course of the game. That zone kind of shook us up a little bit in the sense of wanting to slow us down. They went man a few possessions and I got loose a little bit so my teammates are giving me confidence to shoot the basketball, be aggressive and that's it.”

“He can take over a game at any point and he did that for us last night late in the game when we needed him to,” said Joe Harris. “But just being able to have somebody like that, Ky’s capable of that, Kev’s capable of that, James in particular, his sort of savvy in terms of getting guys touches early on but being able to take over a game late is a huge luxury for us.”

Since the Irving/Durant/Harden trio came together in Harden’s third game as a Net, the three-time NBA scoring champion has been comfortable in a facilitator role, attempting just 19 shots in total over his last two games. He’s averaging 11.3 assists per game as a Net, and he’s now leading the league with 10.8 per game for the full season while starting and finishing alongside Durant and Irving, but also logging significant minutes as the ringleader for a second unit that is still finding its way.

“Feels like he just transferred to a new school and he's trying to figure out the curriculum, you know,” said Durant. “And it’s going to take some time to figure out who your teammates are, what your rotations are in the game, when to be aggressive, when to score, pass. You know, as a scorer and the focal point of your offense, sometimes the balance between score and pass -- you got to figure that out each night. And I think tonight was the perfect balance for him and we gonna need more going forward and myself missing open looks like I did tonight, I think when I'm knocking down shots and we all knocking down shots around each other, it's going to spread the floor — open the floor — for everybody. So we just need guys to take the shots that's there for them and be aggressive to get to the rim.”

“You know, that's the best part of it,” said Harden. “I was in a role for eight years, controlling the ball, dominating the ball. Now it’s a different experience for me, but it's still great. It's still basketball at the end of the day. And I'm lucky to be able to do more than just one thing on the basketball court. So, it's fun. Like I said before, it's a game within the game, you got to pick and choose when to be aggressive, when it gets your shooters going, when to let KD and Kyrie get going. Once we get a rhythm and flow and we kind of start to feel each other out more, it'll be a lot easier for us, and our team will have a lot more flow throughout the course of the game. Right now, we're trying to find it, and we show a really good glimpses of it, but it'll be more consistent.”