Harden and Durant played together in Oklahoma City from 2009 to 2012, part of a trio with Russell Westbrook. The deadly young team wasn’t quite able to get over the edge, shut down by the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Western Conference Finals and Miami Heat in the 2012 Finals.
The young trio split up over the years, with Harden heading to Houston before Durant left for Golden State in a controversial decision. A Westbrook/Harden reunion in Houston didn’t quite work out, with Houston’s overeager trade ultimately leading to Brooklyn’s acquisition of Harden and Westbrook’s move to Washington in the offseason.
The Nets are paying a hefty price to land Harden, sending a package of three first-round draft picks, four first-round pick swaps, Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince, and Rodions Kurucs.
The draft picks and swaps will be instrumental in Houston’s quest to build a contending team this season and beyond.
The Rockets quickly dealt their new assets, sending LeVert and Allen to the Pacers and Cavaliers respectively. In return, they add Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, and another first-round pick to their big haul.
The loss of Allen and LeVert leaves Brooklyn without their best interior defender and rebounder, as well as a strong guard with tremendous upside. Still, Harden’s arrival in Brooklyn only bolsters the Nets championship aspirations.
In his first game in Brooklyn, “The Beard” powered the Nets past the Orlando Magic. Harden put on a show with 32 points, 14 assists, and 12 rebounds, becoming the first player in NBA history with a 30-point triple-double in a debut.
The victory was in no way a clean one. Brooklyn gave up 19 turnovers, Harden accounting for nine, continuing a trend that has plagued them in the young season. Despite the big offensive showing, the Nets only squeezed out a seven-point win.
Harden and the Nets returned to action on Monday night against a more significant threat, hosting the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks and reigning MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antentokounmpo.
Early on, both teams played to their strengths. The tough Nets offense was met by an intense Bucks defense, neither team backing down from the challenge.
In the second quarter, the dominant duo of Durant and Harden was on display. Still, lackluster defense and frequent turnovers cost the Nets, as they went into halftime leading by just one.
The Nets jumped ahead again in the third quarter, opening a 85-74 lead. Still, Milwaukee was able to chop down the deficit, jumping ahead with a Pat Connaughton 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.
The Nets and Bucks traded slim leads over 12 times in the final ten minutes of play, but with just under a minute to go, Milwaukee held a narrow 123-122 lead.
With a chance to take a late lead, Durant dished the ball to Harden for a contested shot behind the arc. The three-pointer rattled off the rim, but Harden jumped into the fray to grab his miss and find Durant at the top of the key.
The two-time Finals MVP didn’t miss. Durant’s three put Brooklyn ahead for good, sealing a 125-123 win over their toughest foe of the year.
The big win gave some early answers to some big questions coming out of the blockbuster trade. The Nets struggled with depth at center, but DeAndre Jordan was able to fill the void left by Allen’s departure.
The Nets offense looked almost unstoppable, with Durant and Harden combining for 138 points in their first two games together. The Nets still await the return of irving, who missed his seventh straight game after taking time off for personal reasons.
Brooklyn’s offense is clearly capable of contending for a championship, but if they continue to cough up over 15 turnovers and ten offensive rebounds per game, games are going to keep finishing with close contests.
With Irving likely to finally return this week against Cleveland, Brooklyn’s new Big Three is just getting started. After adding yet another generational talent, the Nets look to challenge the Bucks, 76ers, and Celtics for the top spot in the East.
“We were young in Oklahoma City,” said Harden of he and Durant. “We’re grown men now.”