The Beard was again. And he was brilliant.
After 5 weeks away, James Harden lastly returned to the courtroom and made his comeback a victorious one. He led the Nets to a 128-116 rout of the Spurs earlier than 1,773 at Barclays Center.
In his first motion since April 5, Harden had 18 factors, 11 assists and 7 rebounds. He missed 18 straight video games with a strained hamstring, however appeared like he by no means missed a beat.
“This is the longest I’ve ever been out in my career. It’s been frustrating,” Harden mentioned in an on-court TV interview. “This last month I just think about how much I cherish the game.”
Landry Shamet had a team-high 21 factors to steer eight Nets in double figures. They shot 60.8 % with Harden’s influence on the offense clear.
By the time Harden checked out with 1:12 left, the Nets had the sport effectively in hand. He performed simply 26 minutes and is being handled with child gloves, however simply having him again on the ground was an enormous raise for the Nets.
“He’ll be on a minutes restriction. We’ll monitor that and make sure that we can try to mitigate the risk as much as possible as he gets back into play,” coach Steve Nash mentioned. “But that’s the plan, similar to when Kevin [Durant] returned.”
Brooklyn improved to 28-7 when Harden performs this season, and is simply 11-11 when he doesn’t. That underscores his significance for the playoffs — with the Nets transferring 1 ½ video games forward of third-seeded Milwaukee in the chase for the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
“James just wants to play. He wants to get his rhythm and prepare for the playoffs,” Nash mentioned. “For us we are able to go both approach. We help him in that he’s cleared to play and he needs to play.
“There is importance in him finding his rhythm and his confidence and getting back to playing, and it’s difficult to do that without game time. These are the risks you have to take, and you take a deep breath. He’s done all the work and he’s cleared. He’s done his high-intensity loads and workouts and responded. People smarter than I would say this [is] safe.”
Brooklyn (46-24) has bounced again from a season-worst four-game shedding skid with a three-game profitable streak. The Nets acquired Wednesday’s victory with out Kyrie Irving, who sustained a facial contusion Tuesday evening in Chicago.
Nothing was going to smash Harden’s return.
After a withering defensive efficiency in the primary quarter, Brooklyn led 35-20 on a Shamet 3-pointer, snapping his string of 11 straight misses from deep stretching again to the second quarter of the May 4 loss in Milwaukee.
The Nets’ ball motion was spectacular, with 10 assists on 65.2 % taking pictures. Meanwhile, the disjointed-looking Spurs didn’t have a single help.
Mike James — whose second and remaining 10-day contract is about to run out — continued to state his case for being saved by way of the playoffs. He had 9 first-quarter factors to assist spot Brooklyn to that 15-point edge, and gave strategy to Harden.
The Nets’ MVP candidate checked in with 8:06 left in the second quarter to a standing ovation. And after seeing the lead minimize to 41-40, Harden helped the Nets regain their footing and open it again as much as 57-51 on the break.
Harden put a transfer on Devin Vassell — almost sending the San Antonio rookie stumbling backwards — drilling a stepback 3-pointer and incomes a foul in addition on Vassell’s futile try at a restoration.
Brooklyn led 96-81 after three, the one unfavorable Jeff Green taking a nasty spill on the baseline at finish of quarter, strolling off gingerly favoring his ankle. But he checked again in and noticed the lead swell to 19 in the fourth.
The protection was smothering at occasions, Nic Claxton (18 factors) really recovering time and again to contest three photographs in a single Spurs possession. And this got here towards a Spurs (33-36) staff that had lit up the Bucks for 146 factors in its earlier recreation on Monday.