James Harden became the first player in NBA history to record a 30-point triple-double in his debut for a team as the Brooklyn Nets defeated the Orlando Magic 122-115 on Saturday.
Acquired by Brooklyn on Thursday in a four-team trade with the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, introduced on Friday and wasn’t even able to practice on Saturday before donning the Nets’ throwblack blue tie-dye unis. The Beard apparently didn’t need practice at all before scoring 32 points, dishing 14 assists and grabbing 12 rebounds with four steals on 8-of-18 shooting from the field.
“It felt unbelievable,” Harden said after the game. “I hope you could tell by my smile and my play. Just excited for the opportunity. This is an unbelievable organization from top to bottom, and for me all I have to do is go out there and be the best James Harden I can be. And good things will happen.”
Nets head coach Steve Nash marveled at the stat sheet after the game and how his newest player stuffed it to the brim. His job as coach is to now incorporate him as best as he can and make the team gel even better than it did against Orlando, but he definitely wasn’t surprised by his excellent output on the floor.
“We had a pretty big sample size of him doing that the last six, however many years he’s been in the league,” Nash said.
Harden’s new All-Star teammate Kevin Durant had a season-high 42 against the Magic as Brooklyn shot 53.8% from the field and 45.7% from three. Former teammates with the Oklahoma City Thunder, it was the highest combined score the Durant-Harden duo ever had in a game.
“I thought it was incredible,” Durant said. “You could see him trying to figure out the best way to play early on, then he just got into his mode, being aggressive to score. That opened up the whole game for all of us.”
Harden did turn the ball over nine times against the Magic, but Nash accounted for that by saying he’s new to the team and group and was going out there without any practice time with his new teammates.
“Maybe six or seven of them were looking to get guys [shots] and looking to give De’Andre lobs,” Harden said. “That’s me being unselfish. That’s me trying to get guys the ball. But at the end of the day, I still gotta be a player at the end of the day and score when I need to score, and when the pass is there, do it.”
Harden said he has so many dimensions to his game and just takes what opposing defenses give him.
“I play the game the right way, or at least I try to, every possession and take whatever the defense is giving me,” he said. “And whoever has the hot hand, that’s who deserves the ball. The basketball finds energy. It finds people that have good energy, good spirit.”
Harden, a 31-year-old eight-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA and three-time scoring champ, asked for a trade from Houston before the season and was seen away from the team at clubs and parties. In January, Harden averaged an uncharacteristcally low 17.4 points per game in five contests and told reporters after Tuesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers that the Rockets simply weren’t good enough.
That was the last straw for the Rockets, as they kept the seemingly overweight Harden away from the team as they finalized and facilitated a trade. That deal cost the Nets four players, three picks and four pick swap rights, but Harden showed right away what he can bring to Brooklyn.
“It was pretty easy out there,” said Harden, who you could tell was happy just based off his body language on the court and at the postgame press conference. “I’m a hooper.”
The Nets are still without the third All-NBA component of their big three, as Kyrie Irving remains out for personal reasons, which Harden and Durant were asked about and alluded to after the game.
“I can’t wait ‘til we have our full team together,” Durant said.
“I’m so, so excited for Kai to get back,” Harden said. “He’s a key piece to what we’re trying to do and the chemistry, we can build at it. The sooner he gets back to the court, it’s gonna be scary hours.”
Harden can follow up his epic Nets debut Monday when they have a nationally televised showdown against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.