James Harden was an unstoppable force of nature for the Nets
This is a hard recap to conjure up – especially when it’s on a game that’s rife with such disappointment surrounding a monumental collapse.
‘Twas quite the rocky night for the Phoenix Suns.
It started on a soaring note, then leveled off as the team’s jet fuel waned during the game’s intermediate moments (although most supporters believed they would reserve enough gas to make a safe landing), and by the time the final buzzer sounded, the squad was plummeting towards a complete abyss – with their reserve tank signifying a glaring “E” notice as they imploded into infamy.
As the great Yogi Berra once said: “it ain’t over till it’s over.”
Especially when you’re pitted against the robust Brooklyn Nets, who showed just how potent they can be when it comes to offensive firepower – even without the services of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
Phoenix’s recent subjugations were colossal in stature, and they made handy work of several top Eastern conference foes through their six-game win streak: the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, all fell helpless to their scorching trample through their home arena.
But all fires must burn out eventually, and Tuesday night, James Harden was the man behind the extinguishing force that squashed the Suns’ once-vibrant flame.
Phoenix has made a habit of busting out of the starting gates with rampant alacrity, and they did just that in Steve Nash’s return to the Valley, bringing about reminiscent flashbacks of the offense Nash so gracefully led during his heyday with the franchise.
They burst out to 13-5 start, with a game-plan that was easily detectable from jump: look to Booker and Ayton for scoring opportunities, and allow Chris Paul to handle the dirty work of creating open avenues for his teammates to do so.
Booker detained some of the remnants from his streaky start to their Magic outing, and looked like an absolute wizard with the ball as he galloped his way to 16 points on a 5/7 shooting mark.
James Harden nearly matched him production-wise though, and despite being the obvious focal point of Brooklyn’s offense, Harden managed to put up 10 points, and dole out four assists.
The Suns shot an uber-efficient 13/23 from the floor, while the Nets made nine of their 21 shot attempts. Phoenix led 33-22 after one.
The Valley Boyz picked up right where they left off in the second of four periods.
Cam Payne prompted his team’s scoring efforts with a nothing-but-net 3-ball to ignite their fiery start, while Cam Johnson and Abdel Nader looked fluid and energetic in their motions, each knocking down a 3, plus a straight-line driving layup, respectively.
The bench group dropped 10 points in the quarter’s first two minutes.
Meanwhile, Dario Saric established himself as a spry hustle force on both ends, interrupting passing lanes and knocking down a few looks as he aims to elevate back into full form.
And CP3 began to take over as the half wound down, cooking like a chef with hot grease en route to nine points, while flashing the expertise of his mid-range and floater dexterity.
The Suns took a whopping 75-54 lead into the midway break, and shot a plus-64% mark from the field, posting an 18/3 assist-to-turnovers ratio. Ayton had nine points, six boards, and a block.
This is where things began to get worrisome for Monty Williams’ group.
The Suns held steadfast in the quarter’s opening, holding onto their edge as they built an 84-66 advantage with their starters back on the hardwood.
But Brooklyn remained level-headed as they slowly carved into their opponent’s lead, guided by none other than – you guessed it – James Harden.
Harden was not alone though, as he had been so often in terms of scoring production through the first half.
Tyler Johnson, Landry Shamet and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot all displayed the shooting lethality they were brought in to provide for the team, aiding Harden’s emphatic pursuits as they cut the lead to 13, at 87-74.
Devin Booker – who had just been reinserted into the lineup to fix Phoenix’s points-deficiency problems – tossed a beautiful alley-oop lob to Deandre Ayton, who slammed home the ensuing jam with an efficacious force that seemingly kicked the momentum pendulum back in their direction. Brooklyn though, had an answer for that message as well.
They surged into another run, utilizing a 9-0 rally to cut the deficit to single-digits for the first time since the game’s early minutes, bringing the score to 92-83.
Phoenix regained some of their offensive effectiveness with Paul at the helm, and closed the quarter on a nice wave as they stretched their lead to 100-88.
*Takes a deep breath.*
Okay, this is where “it” absolutely hits the fan.
Have you ever seen a ball of yarn slowly lose its form as it unravels its way into a heap of messy string?
Well, that’s kind of what Phoenix looked like during the game’s final period.
Joe Harris showed that he’s much more than a 3-point marksman as the quarter opened, hitting a few midrange jays and a sweet turnaround floater to bring his squad within striking distance.
Steve Nash promptly subbed James Harden back into the foray, and from there, Brooklyn began to ground-and-pound the Suns into an inactive coma as they prodded away at their advantage.
Both Booker and Ayton were relatively quiet throughout the fourth, but it didn’t matter – because Chris Paul reignited his prime bucket-getting deftness, splashing basket after basket as he filled up his personal stat-sheet – going for 17 in the quarter.
But for every fastball he threw at the Nets, they had a curveball in response, and pressure continued to mount as they began receiving contributions from a number of sources.
Johnson, Harris and Jeff Green attacked Phoenix from all areas of the floor, eventually slimming the margin down to five as clutch time approached.
A Harden basket with 1:39 to play reduced the tally to a one-possession game, before Jeff Green converted on a dominant drive to bring the Nets within one.
Then Harden drove home the dagger.
After Mikal Bridges caught iron on a 24-foot 3-point attempt, Harden secured the outlet pass, calmly strolled up court, and hit Bridges with his signature: a step-back 3-pointer going to his left that found paydirt.
JAMES HARDEN TAKES THE LEAD. pic.twitter.com/zqE0z3EcuS
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 17, 2021
Devin Booker was unable to retort on the following possession, and Brooklyn waltzed off the court with a miraculous 128-124 win – good for their largest comeback in franchise history.
Harden showcased exactly why he’s consistently included on the list of the game’s elite with a marvelous statline: 38 PTS, 11 AST, 6 REB, 63 FG%, and 45% from deep.
Phoenix moves to 17-10 on the year.
They’ll some painstaking questions to answer in film room sessions as they look to pick up the pieces from the rubble that Brooklyn left in their wake.