With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving out, James Harden became an MVP to lead the Nets to victory.
It also led them to the top of the Eastern Conference.
After sleepwalking early and digging a big hole, the Nets refused to rest on their laurels and came back for a 124-115 victory over the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. And Harden was at the heart of the rally.
The big 3 were down to a big 1, but that was Harden, who had 40 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds, just the second 40-point triple-double in team history (joining Vince Carter in 2007). The Nets needed all of that as they rallied from a 16-point hole and a 96-92 deficit in the fourth quarter to move to a tie for first with the 76ers in the East.
“It’s not even about triple-double, it’s about our effort. Especially in the second half we did an incredible job defensively, just chasing after him. That’s it, ”Harden said. “Being 15 points down and on the road, it’s a pretty solid team, we keep fighting, we show resistance. So it’s a great team win for us. “
The only other Nets win with Harden playing and both Durant and Irving was at Phoenix. On that one, Harden dumped 38 out of a 24-point hole. He did an encore on Wednesday.
“I don’t want to go down 15. I don’t want to go down,” Harden said. “They are a good team. We turned the ball over, we didn’t bounce the ball in that first half. In the second part we did the opposite, we gave ourselves a chance.
“Obviously we don’t want to get used to having KD and Kyrie out of the lineup, but if we do, then the guys should be ready to step up.”
Despite being small at first, the Nets really beat Indiana 15-4 on the offensive glass, and Nic Claxton (11 points, eight rebounds, plus 24) had something to do with it.
After trailing 43-27 in the second quarter, the Nets were still trailing 96-92 after a jump shot by TJ McConnell with 10:27 to play. It was then that Harden and Claxton took over in a decisive 17-4 run for the next five minutes.
It was the first time Claxton had been trusted to close out an NBA game, and the second-year big man restored coach Steve Nash’s faith.
Harden’s finger movement capped the streak and put the Nets ahead 109-100 with 5:23 to play. When he found Claxton for an alley-oop, they were 115-106 with 1:12 remaining on regulation.
“I’ve definitely never played with someone like [Harden]Claxton said. “It’s definitely one of one.”
Harden had a complete game in the fourth quarter, playing every second and scoring 14 points, six rebounds and four assists, all while the Pacers desperately tried to get the ball out of his hands.
“I will never take it for granted, but we are getting used to it. That’s a quarter that he had while they formed him into two teams. Remarkable performance, without Ky. He made some big plays down the stretch, but overall, it was those demands for James to meet, ”Nash said. “Outstanding. Needless to say, an incredible performance from James.”
Claxton had six points, four rebounds and two blocks in that fourth quarter. Although the Nets had played knockdown coverage early on with DeAndre Jordan, Claxton’s ability to switch helped finally hold back Domantas Sabonis, who had 14 points in the first quarter but none in the fourth.
“It shows that the coaching staff believes in me, but at the end of the day, it just starts when I believe in myself,” Claxton said. “Many people think that we exchange all our depth, but I have been there and people did not know it. So it feels good to be there, playing and doing my thing. “
The Nets have won 14 of their last 15 games and six in a row, the best record in the NBA. The victory, coupled with the 76ers’ loss to the Bucks, tied them at the top of the East standings.
“To be honest, I don’t think we really think about it too much,” said Joe Harris, who scored 19 points. “We are really just trying to go out there and win every night.”