James Harden just looked comfortable. The game just came easy to him.
Which it doesn’t always in a debut with a team, but Harden looked at home in Brooklyn while becoming the first player in NBA history to record a 30-point triple-double in his debut with a team.
Harden — traded from Houston in a four-team blockbuster deal just days ago — finished the night with 32 points, 14 assists, and 12 rebounds. His friend and recruiter Kevin Durant continued his MVP-level play to start the season with 42 points on 16-of-26 shooting, and with that Brooklyn pulled away late for a 122-115 win over Orlando.
“Man, it was incredible,” Durant said of the debut of Harden. “You could see him trying to figure out the best way to play early on. Then he just got into his mode and was being aggressive, trying to score, and that opened up the game for the rest of us.”
Harden had the ball in his hands a lot, playing point guard with Kyrie Irving still sidelined by health and safety protocols. Still, the chemistry with his new teammates, particularly Durant, looked smooth.
“When you’re playing with really good players, it’s really easy,” Harden during his walk-off interview. “For me, just got to learn where guys like the ball, to learn the personnel.”
“I can’t wait to have our full team together, seeing what types of shots we can get for our shooters,” Durant said after the game. “It’s going to be tough for anyone to double us and trap us in the pick-and-roll.”
It was a good start. It’s also far too early in this relationship and experiment to read much into one game. First, with Irving not there Harden got a lot of touches, could control the flow of the game, and was actively involved — the questions about how active he will be when Irving and Durant are playing a two-man game remain.
As does the concerns about Brooklyn’s defense. Orlando put up 115 points, and their offensive rating for the game was 4.5 points higher than their season average (stats via cleaning the glass). Will Brooklyn be able to get enough stops against the league’s better teams remains a question to be answered over the course of the season.
But for a debut, everything looked smooth in Brooklyn.
Harden’s first points as a Net came at the free throw line, his first basket as a net came soon after when he made a sweet Euro-step through the lane.
The Beard’s first bucket with the Nets 🔥 pic.twitter.com/odWK4mPFjE
— NBA TV (@NBATV) January 16, 2021
Harden finished the first half against Orlando with eight points on 3-of-7 shooting, with all his misses coming from beyond the arc. He settled in more in the second half, attacked more, and looked more like vintage Harden, with a couple of step-back threes and a lot of fouls (15 free throw attempts on the night).
That is the Harden that makes the Nets a threat hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the season. There’s a long way to go, but the debut could not have gone much better.