The Brooklyn Nets won their 46th game of the season on Wednesday night, defeating the Spurs 128-116 to all but clinch the Eastern Conference’s second seed. For a team like the Nets, a victory over a play-in team isn’t big news, but Wednesday’s game was significant because it marked the return of James Harden after a 20-game absence due to a hamstring strain.
Harden and the Nets as a whole didn’t miss a beat when he came off the bench to score 18 points, hand out 11 assists, and pull down seven rebounds in 26 minutes on the court, as has seemed to be the case every time one of the team’s stars returns from an absence. The Nets and their fans are still waiting for all of their stars to come together, as Kyrie Irving missed the Spurs game due to a facial contusion, but seeing Harden look like himself was a welcome sight.
Harden was asked after the game if he was shocked to be able to regain his groove so quickly after a 20-game absence, and he responded with a huge yes.
“Not really. Not to brag or anything, but I’m, like, really good at this game,” Harden said. “I study the game, very unselfish. I take the game and I play it the right way every single night. So, I don’t try to do anything I can’t do or doesn’t benefit my team. That mindset right there keeps me in a really good place.”
It is an objective truth that James Harden is really good at basketball, so he definitely isn’t lying when he says that and what he’s talking about — staying within himself and playing his game — is a really good message to young players. It’s something that all of the Nets’ stars do, and that’s one of the reasons why they’re so good when it comes to returning from injuries. Harden, KD, and Kyrie are all familiar with themselves, their games, and how they need to play to support the team. They aren’t pressed to do too much after losing time, and they aren’t asked to do so in the way that other stars are, and it’s part of the privilege of getting three superstars, but they know how to succeed even when the others aren’t accessible. Since Harden’s comfort zone is so broad, having some of the best offensive games of any player in the league helps, but it’s a message that can resonate with guys even in smaller positions to be the best version of who you are right now. That will benefit you and your team more than trying to do too much, and the Nets are an excellent example of a team that does so.