Brooklyn Nets: James Harden has dominated even without “Big 3” partners

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 1: James Harden #13 of the Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 1: James Harden #13 of the Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /

If one thing was apparent from James Harden’s performance against the Detroit Pistons Friday night, it’s that “Big 3” or not, in Harden you can trust.

For the Brooklyn Nets fans who have grown fatigued by the lack of manifestation of the dynamic trio, Harden’s solitary electrifying play has made for a more than acceptable and sensational substitute.

Coming off a missed game against the Utah Jazz due to neck soreness, Harden didn’t waste any time making his MVP case crystal-clear. En route to a victory, Harden torched the Detroit Pistons for 44 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists.

When asked in the post-game interview about belonging in the MVP conversation, Harden said in clear-cut manner, “I feel like I am the MVP.”

And why wouldn’t he be? He’s led the star-studded Nets to the upper echelon of the east, and he’s done it nearly solo.

Nobody could predict going into the 2020-21 NBA season that the Brooklyn Nets’ most accessible and essential superstar would be James Harden. The blockbuster trade that landed the nine-time All-Star has only manifested in the “Big 3” of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Harden sharing the court seven times this season.

With Durant sidelined since Feb. 13 with a hamstring strain and Irving in and out of the lineup for minor injuries and “personal reasons,” Harden’s significance has been magnified. In fact, Harden may be the key piece to the Nets’ success even once the “Big 3” are able to assemble.

Harden’s artistry to adjust and scale his scoring and facilitating proficiency based on the lineup has been superlative for someone even as decorated and talented as he.

On the season, Harden has been better than advertised, averaging nearly a triple-double with 25.8 points, 11.2 assist and 8.1 rebounds per contest.

Simply put, the intangibles that Harden possesses gives the Brooklyn Nets the ability to compete no matter who is in the lineup or who they are matched up against. In the 31 games that Harden has played, the Nets are 24-7 (.774 Win %).

Considering everything Harden brings to the Nets skill-wise, his most beneficial attribute of late may be his availability. Prior to Harden’s recent absence against the Utah Jazz due to neck soreness (from a collision against the Washington Wizards), Harden had only been inactive for one game due to a left thigh contusion in late January.

The Nets’ ability to rely on Harden even when he stars as a solo act has yielded great results. The Nets have won four of the six games they were absent Durant and Irving with Harden at the helm; he averaged 33.6 points, 11.1 assists and 8.8 rebounds during those games.

In a matchup against the Phoenix Suns in mid-February, Harden secured a win for the Nets with a 38-point, 11-assist performance. March 17, in a win against the Indiana Pacers, Harden went off for 40 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds, followed by 25 points and 17 assists in a victory against the Portland Trail Blazers.

These were all phenomenal performances where Harden studiously put the team on his back without the safety net of Durant and Irving.

Harden’s knack for bringing the best out of his teammates on offense and putting them in favorable positions to have success makes everyone a threat on a nightly basis. Whether that means lobs to Nicolas Claxton, finding a cutting Bruce Brown or targeting one of his many perimeter threats, he is masterful at reading and picking apart the defense.

In an of act poetic justice against Blake Griffin’s former team Friday, Harden helped facilitate an electrifying lob and a dunk finish by Griffin, en route to his best game as a Brooklyn Net (17 points, three rebounds).

James Harden’s dominance and MVP-caliber play has the Brooklyn Nets sitting at the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference (31-15).

Just…not in the way we expected.

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