The last little piece just dropped into James Harden’s hands, but he’d done more than enough to earn in at that point. With the game’s final rebound, Harden secured his 11th triple-double since joining the Brooklyn Nets in mid-January, and the Nets needed every bit of it in a 124-115 win over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night.
With the Nets playing without Kyrie Irving, and with Kevin Durant still sidelined, Harden stepped forward to play 42 minutes and score 40 points with 15 assists and 10 rebounds. It was just the second 40-point triple-double in the franchise’s NBA history, the only previous occurrence delivered by Vince Carter in April 2007.
In doing so, Harden scored 14 of Brooklyn’s final 30 points as the Nets pulled away in a game they once trailed by 16 points, winning for the 14th time in their last 15 games and moving into a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference with a 28-13 record as the Philadelphia 76ers lost to the Milwaukee Bucks.
“I’ll never take it for granted, but we’re getting used to it,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash of Harden’s performance. “That’s a quarter he had while they were double-teaming him a lot of the quarter. Remarkable performance, without Ky. He made some huge plays down the stretch, but overall it was just such demands on James to deliver. His teammates were great. Tyler (Johnson) was outstanding. Jeff Green was outstanding. All the other guys played their part, but James was the main guy as we’ve come to expect and we can’t take for granted. He made some of those tough floaters again down the stretch, made his free throws, got rebounds and quarterbacked the defense in stretches. Outstanding. Goes without saying pretty incredible performance from James.”
Just under three minutes into the fourth quarter, Harden’s runner in the lane tied the game at 96, getting the Nets even for the first time since the first quarter. That was part of a 13-2 run that left Brooklyn leading 105-98 midway through the quarter. Another floater in the lane — Harden was a recurring nightmare for the Pacers on penetration in the fourth quarter — made it a 10-point game. When Indiana got back with four points, Harden made a free throw, then beat the shot clock with — yes — another floater in the lane for a 118-11 lead with 35.7 seconds remaining.
Harden led seven Nets scoring in double-figures, with Joe Harris next with 19 points on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range.
Green had and Johnson had 15 points each, with Green grabbing nine rebounds as well. Nic Claxton and Bruce Brown had 11 each, with Claxton adding eight rebounds. DeAndre Jordan had 10 points.
Brooklyn outrebounded Indiana 50-34, with a season-high 15 offensive rebounds that they converted into 18 second-chance points.
“I just kept preaching to guys before the game that it’s the next man up,” said Harden. “Whoever has the opportunity to touch that floor be ready to go. Know your assignments, know what you’re supposed to be doing and stay locked in detail wise. We don’t make excuses. Guys are in and out of lineups but whoever’s in the lineup, whoever’s suiting up, be ready to go, be ready to perform and do whatever it takes to help our team get the win. That’s the kind of mindset we’ve been on so nothing fazes us at this point.”
Trailing by 16 points in the opening minute of the second quarter, the Nets got back to within three at halftime. They had given up 40 points in the first quarter and struggled for an offensive rhythm, shooting 34.8 percent in that opening quarter. After chopping that 16-point deficit down to nine, the Nets put together a 7-2 run to get within 49-45 midway through the quarter. Harden’s 3-pointer made it a 61-58 game at the break.
Indiana pushed its lead back up to nine points with an 87-78 advantage late in the third quarter before Brooklyn closed the quarter with an 11-4 run. Johnson finished a runner, Harden made two free throws and then scored in the lane. Green’s dunk made it 89-86, and then on the final possession of the quarter Green tapped out an offensive rebound right to Harris, who knocked down a top-of-the-key three to bring the Nets within 91-89 going into the fourth quarter.
“I thought we came out a little slow, and a little flat,” said Nash. “We told them it wasn’t gonna be easy. We had to really scrap. I mean, what a performance. Everyone took their turn, making plays for the team, putting in a good shift. It took a lot of guts to win that game, so I’m really proud overall for the effort but I think we did have a slow start and then were really good after that.”