James Harden simply let it occur. Joe Harris was dwelling the catch-and-shoot man’s dream, raining down 3s on the Celtics, and Harden was more than pleased to feed him and watch in awe like everybody else.
It’s one factor to let Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving go off in a playoff recreation. It’s fairly one other, as a famous person, to assist Joe Harris rating 22 first-half factors in opposition to the Celtics by taking the postseason photographs designed for larger names to take.
Brooklyn embarrassed Boston in Game 2, and Harden’s 20 factors in 27 minutes had little impression on the consequence. It was the tone he set as the first ball-handler that made a distinction, because the Nets ran a ball-movement clinic that might have made Red Auerbach proud. Once considered the patron saint of the self-absorbed, iso-obsessed participant, Harden has all of a sudden developed right into a quarterback who scans the secondary, runs via his progressions, and eagerly distributes the ball to the open receiver.
If he keeps taking part in basketball this properly and this unselfishly, the Nets are going to win the entire thing.
“He can organize and make beautiful passes, but also simple passes that catch the defense off guard,” Nets coach Steve Nash mentioned. “That’s his role on our team to playmake, to orchestrate, to get guys opportunities.”
At the beginning of those playoffs, when Celtics coach Brad Stevens made these Nets out to be, properly, the ’86 Celtics, it appeared solely two issues — damage and ego — may derail Brooklyn’s bid for a championship. The Nets’ superstars have to remain wholesome, and so they have to remain humble. The well being half is out of their management, however the humble half will not be.
Believe it or not, Houston’s former franchise participant has been a examine in relative humility. The Nets took 26 photographs within the first quarter, together with none from Harden. The Nets scored 40 factors in that quarter, together with none from Harden. He did contribute 10 factors within the second quarter, if solely to remind folks that he’s nonetheless able to placing the ball within the basket. But it was his 5 assists and his ground generalship in a 71-point first half — heck, his ground generalship over his complete keep in Brooklyn — that has to make a Nets fan really feel fairly rattling good.
“It’s not about scoring for me,” Harden mentioned. “It’s about doing everything else. Ultimately we got the win so that’s all that matters. Joe had it going tonight, we all knew that. … Whatever it takes to win, we’re willing to do.”
Before he acquired an opportunity to teach him, Nash mentioned he knew James Harden, the participant. Everyone knew James Harden, the participant. The ball-stopping, ankle-breaking, step-back-shooting machine.
“I didn’t know the person,” Nash mentioned.
Who actually knew the particular person behind that beard of his? Or, higher but, who actually wished to? Before this sequence began, Harden acknowledged that “there’s always like a negative narrative when it comes to my name.”
He did have these noisy breakups with Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook and, finally the town of Houston, after main its basketball staff to eight straight playoff journeys with out a journey to the NBA Finals. On the opposite hand, in Brooklyn, Harden has been keen to be the Big 3’s third wheel like he was in Game 1.
Durant took 25 photographs and scored 32 factors that night time. Irving took 20 photographs and scored 29.
Harden took 13 photographs and settled for 21. He was additionally good for eight assists, seven greater than Irving’s complete. That field rating stands as one other instance why the Nets are 31-7 (together with Games 1 and a couple of) when Harden has performed, and 12-11 when he hasn’t.
“That’s been unbelievable, the type of leader he is,” the Nets coach mentioned.
Long earlier than he known as the Rockets’ state of affairs “crazy” and past restore, Harden was often called a diva with a league MVP and three straight scoring titles to his title. His arrival may have despatched a complete lot of intra-office relationships tumbling sideways.
Instead Harden, of all individuals, acted as a chilled affect on a franchise burdened by win-or-else stakes. He averaged 16.6 field-goal makes an attempt with Brooklyn, his lowest quantity since 2014. He averaged 10.9 assists with Brooklyn, the second-best passing efficiency of his profession. (Harden led the league in assists 4 years in the past at 11.2.)
“I don’t need to compete with [Durant and Irving],” he had mentioned. “My job is to make their lives a little bit easier, and if I can do that, then I’m doing my job.”
And doing it higher than anybody may have hoped. If James Harden is this James Harden for the remainder of the playoffs, the Nets are going to be the final males standing in July.