James Harden greeted by mix of cheers and boos as Nets beat Rockets in star’s return to Houston

Kristian Winfield, New York Daily News
·3 min read

The Nets’ offensive firepower is best summed up by Rockets head coach Stephen Silas’ frustration.

With his team down 23 in the third quarter, Silas said he told his team just to chip away and get the deficit down to 10. The Rockets did just that, and were met with an 8-0 run that extended the game back out of reach.

The Nets have enough offensive weapons to border on unfair, one superstar poached from the Rockets, another just as electrifying as Houston’s former MVP, and a third that has been out 12 of Brooklyn’s last 13 games due to both the league’s health and safety protocols and a hamstring injury that’s lingered longer than expected.

James Harden, Kyrie Irving and company were enough without Kevin Durant (hamstring) to power the Nets to a convincing 132-114 win over the Rockets in Harden’s first game back in Houston since he was traded. Harden was met with a mixture of boos and cheers, but even the boos were rooted in respect for the MVP-caliber play The Beard displayed on Wednesday — a level of play Houston once called its own.

Harden finished with his eighth triple-double of the season, recording 29 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds and three steals. Irving struggled early but hit his stride late, finishing with 24 points and six assists on 9-of-21 shooting from the field.

“James is as good as anybody out there, and is a No. 1 guy. I think people underrate what an accomplishment it was for these Rocket teams to go toe-to-toe with the Warriors twice,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said of Harden’s time in Houston. “That was a huge amount of ground they closed the year to compete with the Warriors and Game 7, and to do it again. And so sometimes you just need a little bit of luck and a bounce and they didn’t get that. But that shouldn’t diminish what they accomplished here. James is definitely a No. 1 guy, and fortunately, we have multiple.”

It wasn’t just about the star duo: If it was, maybe Harden would have stayed in Houston with Russell Westbrook, or Chris Paul. Every member of the Nets’ starting five scored in double figures: 19 for Joe Harris, 17 for Bruce Brown, and 10 points on a flurry of alley-oop finishes from veteran center DeAndre Jordan.

Nets 2019 second-round pick Nic Claxton continued his 2021 breakout. After scoring a career-high 17 points in 17 minutes in Brooklyn’s win against the San Antonio Spurs, Claxton posted 16 points and eight rebounds in just 16 minutes off the bench.

The Nets enter the All-Star break winners of 10 of their last 11 games, thanks largely to Harden, who has put the team on his back in the games Durant has missed. He’s the biggest reason Brooklyn has been able to frustrate teams that think they’re closing a lead.

The Nets always have a chance to extend a lead because they have the offensive firepower to protect it.

John Wall led the Rockets with 36 points, while backcourt mate Victor Oladipo added 33.