Brooklyn Nets

James Harden, Brooklyn Nets' supporting cast prove mettle in signature win

February 17

Steve Nash knows a thing or two about good vibes in Phoenix.

The Brooklyn Nets' head coach won back-to-back MVPs with the Phoenix Suns in the mid-2000s, and he marked his homecoming Tuesday with a signature win against his former team.

But at the half, it looked as though the shorthanded Nets were in for a thrashing. 

Down two members ⁠— Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving ⁠— of their Big 3, the James Harden-led Nets were down 75-54 heading into the break.

Meanwhile, the Suns, winners of six straight heading into Tuesday's game, were cruising behind Devin Booker's 18 points and 12 points from Chris Paul.

But much like Booker's offense ⁠— four points on 20% shooting after the break ⁠— Phoenix's defense vanished in the second half, and Brooklyn's skeleton crew capitalized.

With Harden as the anchor, the Nets outscored the Suns 34-25 in the third quarter to trim their deficit – which swelled to 24 points early in the game – to 12.

As the fourth quarter began, Brooklyn's unsung heroes got to work with Harden on the bench.

Jeff Green, Joe Harris, Tyler Johnson and Landry Shamet combined for 31 fourth-quarter points as the Nets shot a sizzling 63.6% from beyond the arc in the final frame.

Nash rewarded Brooklyn's "other" guys and allowed them to close the gap with Harden getting a breather. 

With the score 113-107 at the 5:33 mark, Harden checked back in and finished putting his imprint on the game.

"The Beard" dished out three assists and scored nine points, including the game-winning 3-pointer, in his final five minutes of work.

Harden finished with a game-high 38 points on 63% shooting, but Harris (22 points), Green (18 points), Johnson (17 points) and Shamet (13 points) drew extra acclaim for their efforts.

Each of the four outpaced his respective season average in points per game, with Johnson seeing a big uptick from his 4.5 points per game in his first start of the season. 

On Wednesday's "First Things First," former NBA All-Star Antoine Walker called the 24-point comeback a "confidence booster" for the Nets.

"As a person that was part of a championship team like myself ⁠— where [Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade] got all the individual accolades ⁠— it's always good throughout the season to have a game where the others step up and get you a big win, especially on the road." 

The win also revealed a potential ace for Brooklyn to keep up its sleeve, as Chris Broussard pointed out.

In addition to showing that they play up to their competition, boasting an impressive record against teams that are .500 or better, the Nets showed they can be effective playing small ball.

"Their small-ball lineup is dangerous, all right? It can give many teams problems. ... That is something that a lot of teams are going to have to deal with as well. So a lot of good positives to come out of last night for the Nets."

If there is an area of concern for Brooklyn, it lies in the uncertainty about what the team is.

In the 17 games since the Nets made the massive trade to bring Harden to the Big Apple, Brooklyn's Big 3 has suited up together for only seven games.

When the time comes for Durant, Irving and Harden to all be on the floor, the Nets won't look anything like they did against the Suns, Broussard said.

"All of those guys' roles will change. As will James Harden's. He's not gonna score 38 when those two are there."

For now, as Nash said after the game, the Nets' locker room is "All vibes in there right now. All vibes."

Nash and the Nets will hope they can carry those good vibes into a blockbuster matchup Thursday against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

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