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James Harden goes for 36, Nets rally from 19 points down to beat Magic

Nets guard James Harden drives the ball against

Nets guard James Harden drives the ball against Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Just in case anyone wondered how the Nets might look without Kevin Durant, the answer is it wasn’t pretty and it underlined his value as arguably the MVP of the NBA this season. But after a terrible first half by the Nets, it was James Harden who scored 36 points to lead a comeback from a 19-point second-quarter deficit to score a 115-113 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night at Barclays Center.

The Nets were outscored 41-25 in the opening quarter and fell behind by 19 midway through the second period. But they found their defense late in the second quarter and held the Magic to just 42 total points in the second and third periods to gain a seven-point lead heading to the fourth period.

Asked about what led to a 37-21 third-quarter comeback by the Nets, coach Steve Nash said: "I think we set the stage for that by holding them to 21 in the second. We talked about being down [nine] at the half, how we couldn't waste any time. We had to get right to it and guard and control the ball and try to keep them out of our paint as much as possible.

"And we had obviously a tremendous third quarter that kind of made up for the first, and gave us a chance to control the game a little bit down the stretch."

In the final period, the Magic rebounded with a 14-5 run that ended with a Terrence Ross three for a 97-95 lead with 8:29 left to play. The game was tied at 104 after a three-pointer by Orlando’s Franz Wagner at the 5:11 mark, and both teams struggled to score down the stretch before two baskets in the final minute by LaMarcus Aldridge got the Nets over the hump.

Harden, who had 10 rebounds and eight assists, struggled with his shot at the end and admitted he looked for Aldridge. "Yeah, I couldn’t finish," Harden said. "I had plenty of opportunities. LA had it going. He’s got over 20,000 points. He’s looking for the ball, so I took my time and I fed him and he made the right decision and took us home."

After a slow start in the opening period when he had the Nets’ only foul shot, Harden wound up getting to the line to fuel his scoring with a 19-for-20 performance, including two with 9.2 seconds left to inspire "MVP" chants of his own. The Nets (12-5) also got 22 from Patty Mills and 17 points and 10 rebounds off the bench from James Johnson and 15 points by Aldridge. Jalen Suggs topped the Magic (4-12) with 21 points but scored only four after the opening period.

The lack of manpower coming into the game was reminiscent of some of last season’s low points. In addition to missing Durant, the Nets also were without Joe Harris (sprained left ankle) and Paul Millsap (personal reasons). And like every other game this season, they were without the unvaccinated Kyrie Irving.

That suggested a heavy load for Harden to carry without his superstar running mate Durant.

"I probably had to do a little bit more as far as being aggressive, and I had a lot of good looks as far as layups, floaters," Harden said. "They just didn’t go in, but I think we did a really good job, especially from the second quarter on, of getting great shots. Defensively, we were pretty locked in.

"Guys stepped up tonight honestly. James stepped up, LaMarcus did a good job closing, Patty did what he does, Blake [Griffin] finished well at the rim. So it was a collective effort. We knew we had guys out, so somebody had to step up and it was a few of them."

New York Sports