James Harden is averaging 26 points and nearly 12 assists per game over his last seven contests, further distancing himself from his slow offensive start to the season.
In case some hadn’t noticed that Harden has been playing to his superstar potential once again, he gave the Spurs, and the league, a loud reminder on Friday night.
Trailing by one midway through the third quarter, Harden drove right up the gut and through the paint, throwing down an emphatic one-handed dunk on Jakob Poeltl and sending the Nets bench into a frenzy after Harden gave Brooklyn the lead with an exclamation point, declaring that Harden is far removed from his hamstring issues, and his bounce is back.
“I’m definitely back,” Harden said after the Nets took down San Antonio. “Throughout the course of the year, we had so much going on with our team with injuries and whatnot, and obviously the situation with [Irving]. It’s really difficult to get a rhythm like we all want to, but…eventually, this thing is gonna come together when we all make a huge run at this thing.”
Harden joked that his one-handed slam was a necessary display to show the NBA that he is still capable of attacking the rim with ferocity.
“Because they don’t think I can dunk no more,” Harden said. “I don’t want to bring it out. But I had an opportunity. First half I was getting to the rim, I just wasn’t finishing for whatever reason.”
Harden’s dunk was two of his 12 third-quarter points, helping the Nets pull away and pull in front of the Bulls for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, thanks to percentage points. In the end, he completed his fourth triple-double of the season, logging a game-high 37 points to go along with his 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
“I feel like I’m a rookie again,” Harden said. “I just felt good all game, being aggressive and taking whatever the defense gave me.
“I struggled last game. I kind of wanted to get back and play better today, so it feels really good.”
Harden set the tone in the second half for a shorthanded Nets team that will be without Kevin Durant for the next month, meaning when Brooklyn plays at home and Irving is ineligible due to his vaccination status, Harden will be the lone Nets star fighting to keep the team atop the East. His third-quarter dunk, and his overall performance, showed that he is still capable of carrying a team.
“He finally made the decision that he was gonna come down the lane and punch on somebody,” Irving said. “He came out in that third quarter and just took off. That’s who he is, just playing off that aggression and being himself.”
Follow Ryan Chichester on Twitter: @ryanchichester1