The Brooklyn Nets ran away from the Atlanta Hawks in the second half on Monday night, securing a 117-108 win. After a somewhat slow start to the season, the Nets have now won three straight, and four of their last five games, to improve to 5-3.
As per usual, it was the Kevin Durant show for the Nets. Their star forward continued to play stellar basketball, and finished with 32 points, seven rebounds and five assists on 13-of-20 from the field. Joe Harris, meanwhile, chipped in with 18 points, and hit six of the Nets’ season-high 22 3-pointers. The Nets also continued to play well on the defensive end, which is much improved from last season.
A perfect example was the way they defended Trae Young. Though he nearly recorded a triple-double — 21 points, nine rebounds, 10 assists — Young had a rough night shooting the ball at 6-of-22 from the field. As deep as the Hawks are, it’s tough for any team to win when their best player struggles in that way. One positive on the night for the Hawks, however, was that De’Andre Hunter scored 26 points and made a career-high six 3-pointers.
Here are some key takeaways from the game:
Harden not perfect, but continues to show signs of life
James Harden’s brutal start to the season has been well documented, especially his inability to adjust to the league’s new rule changes about foul calls. But in recent days, Harden has started to show signs of life. He put up a triple-double in the Nets’ win over the Detroit Pistons over the weekend, and had another encouraging outing on Wednesday night.
Harden still isn’t all the way back to his old self. He doesn’t have his usual burst, and missed a number of shots at the rim as he went 0-of-3 inside the arc. In addition, he only shot one free throw, and that came when he was fouled on a 3-point shot. Other aspects of his game are coming along nicely, though.
Most notably, Harden’s playmaking was terrific. While he isn’t scoring well inside, that hasn’t affected his ability to get into the paint and draw a crowd. From there, he’s able to kick the ball out to open shooters. His teammates obliged against the Hawks, and he racked up 12 assists for his second straight game in double figures in that category.
Another positive sign for Harden was his 3-point shooting. He went 5-of-11 from downtown, and is now up to 46.8 percent over his last four games. That two of them came in the middle of the fourth quarter to shut down the Hawks’ comeback attempt was only better.
The Nets are going to need Harden at his best if they want to win a title this season, especially with Kyrie Irving sidelined indefinitely. He still isn’t there, but the last few games suggest he’s on his way, which is great news for Brooklyn.
Nets catch fire from downtown
Even without Kyrie Irving, the Nets might have the most offensive talent in the league. They haven’t shown as much so far, however, and have had to lean more on their defense to get back to winning ways. James Harden’s early-season slump has been a big part of the problem, and they were shooting just 34.6 percent from 3-point land coming into Wednesday night.
Against the Hawks they finally looked like the team that finished second in the league in 3-point shooting last season. Joe Harris knocked down two triples in the first three minutes, and from there they were off. They went 22-of-48 from 3, which was a season-high for makes, and the second-most 3s they’ve made since this group got together last season.
Harris hit six to lead the way, while Harden made five and Patty Mills chipped in four. Perhaps the most encouraging part of their hot night was that Harris finally got going. He was 18-of-50 prior to this game, which would be a decent mark for most players, but is far below his standards.
The Nets will hope Harris can carry this momentum with him over the next few weeks, as they are set to begin a tricky road trip that will see them play six games in 10 days.
Hunter has career night
The Hawks’ run to the Eastern Conference finals last season was such a surprise, and came amid so much drama, that the fact they were without De’Andre Hunter for most of the playoffs flew under the radar. Now healthy, Hunter is on a mission to show everyone just what the Hawks were missing.
He certainly did as much against the Nets, as he put together one of the best offensive games of his career. Coming into the game, he was shooting just 7-of-21 from 3-point land. On Wednesday night, he set a new career-high by going a perfect 6-of-6 from behind the arc.
Hunter has primarily been known for his work on the defensive end early in his career, and that figures to remain his calling card. But if he can become a more consistent 3-point shooter, that would be a huge boost to his value and make the Hawks an even more dangerous team.