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James Harden’s 40-point triple-double leads Nets past Pacers, 124-115

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Brooklyn Nets v Indiana Pacers Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

In the words of Nicolas Claxton... He’s definitely one-of-one.

James Harden finished with another monster triple-double Wednesday, scoring a season-high 40 points, handing out 15 assists, and grabbing 10 rebounds in 42 minutes. Coming from behind, Harden led the short-handed Nets to their 13th win in their last 14 games, defeating the Pacers, 124-115.

“It’s not even about the triple-double. It’s about our effort, especially in that second half,” Harden said postgame. “We did an unbelievable job defensively and just getting after it. That’s it and being down 15 points on the road against a pretty solid team, showed fight and resilience. It’s a great team win for us.”

We’re without words for Harden’s utter greatness. It appears the Nets’ Twitter account is too.

Nicholas Claxton’s physical reaction to hearing that his teammate had scored 40 was similarly short on words, long on shock.

“I’ve definitely never played with anyone like him. He’s definitely one-of-one,” said Claxton of James Harden, post-game. “It just makes the game super easy. Just playing off of him and him getting to his spots. He can finish whenever he wants. He can pretty much do whatever he wants out there. He’s an extremely, extremely smart basketball player. His IQ is just off the charts.”

With the win, Brooklyn extends their winning streak to six games and their road winning streak to eight - a franchise record. The Nets now sit at 28-13 on the season atop the Eastern Conference following the 76ers loss to the Bucks. It’s the latest a Nets team has led the East since 2003 when they ultimately won the East and lost in the Finals.

“I thought we came out a little slow and a little flat. We challenged them. Told them it wasn’t going to be easy and that we really needed to scrap today if we are going to win,” Nash said postgame. “Everyone took their turn making plays for the team and putting in a good shift. It took a lot of guts to win that game so, I’m really proud of the guys for their effort.”

How great was Harden’s individual achievement? It was the second 40-point triple-double in franchise history. Only Vince Carter had done it previously in 2007, garnering 46 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in an overtime game vs. the Wizards.

While Harden displayed his greatness scoring, rebounding and facilitating and Joe Harris was typically solid self, with 19 points on 5-of-7 shooting from deep, the Nets bench stepped up and contributed in big ways. Three of the bench mob ended the game in double-figures. Jeff Green had himself a strong performance of 15 points to go along with nine rebounds and three assists. Tyler Johnson also chipped in with 15 and four rebounds. Then there was Nicolas Claxton, who was playing in his ninth game of the season.

Claxton finished with 11 points and eight rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes. His biggest impact came defensively in the second half, especially the fourth quarter. The Nets 21-year-old big finished his night shooting 5-of-10 from the field and was a staggering +24.

“Nic has been giving us that young energy that we need off the bench,” Harden said. “He was spreading the floor, blocking shots, rebounding the basketball, and catching lobs. I think any type of player, especially as young as he is, who just goes out there and plays his butt off, great things happen for him. Then, myself and the vets are telling him places to be defensively and where to be. You can’t teach effort and he has done an unbelievable job of doing that and a boost off the bench.”

As a team, the Nets shot 48.3 percent overall and 33.3 percent from deep but struggled with turnovers as the team had 18 in the win. Brooklyn had seven of their nine active players finish in double-figures with only one bench player, Timothe’ Luwawu-Cabarrot, failing to score.

Caris LeVert, in his return game against the Nets, scored 19 points in 33 minutes while Malcolm Brogdan led Indiana with 22 points in 37 minutes.

Brooklyn went small to start the game, with a starting lineup that for the first time included Landry Shamet, starting in place of Kyrie Irving. The small lineup forced turnovers early and the Nets built an early 8-0 run in the opening minutes. Harden contributed four assists in the process. The Pacers responded with their own 8-0 run, led by LeVert and Sabonis as the Pacers extended their lead to 28-22. Steve Nash called for a timeout with 2:47 remaining. Indiana went on to make 13 of their last 18 shots to end the first period 12-3 run with a 40-25 lead, their worst first quarter of the season.

Brooklyn showed more life in the second, getting good minutes from Nicolas Claxton and Tyler Johnson off the bench, beginning with a 9-2 run to cut the deficit to nine. After a 40-point first quarter from the Pacers, the Nets upped their defensive intensity as Indiana continued to attack the rim and focus their offense down low but struggled to find consistency. The Nets, who couldn’t get over the hump, ended the second outscoring the Pacers 33-21 to cut the deficit to only three after trailing by 16.

Harden paved the way for the Nets in the first 24 minutes, scoring 15 points, seven assists, and two rebounds in 20 minutes followed by Harris with 11 points in 17 minutes as he shot 3-of-4 from deep.

Brooklyn, who ended the first half shooting 43.9 percent from the field and 35.7 from deep, took advantage of their free-throw opportunities as the team went 17-of-22 from the charity strike but Indiana outscored Brooklyn 36-26 in the paint and had a very slight edge on the boards, 21-20.

The Nets continued to remain within striking distance but struggled, once again, to get over the hump. As Indiana pounded the paint, outscoring Brooklyn 52-46 in that category, the story of the third was Brooklyn’s unforced turnovers, which led to 15 Pacers points heading to the fourth. Then, as he’s done so many times, Harden began to find a rhythm. He kept the Nets afloat as he ended the fourth with 26 points, 11 assists, and four rebounds.

The Pacers' fourth-quarter struggles carried over Wednesday night as the Nets finally evened the score up at 96 and took their first lead since it was 18-17 in the first quarter with 8:56 remaining and Brooklyn continued to roll as their defense and hustle turned into offensive opportunities and a 17-4 run to form a 109-100 lead with 3:51 remaining and although the Pacers tried coming back, Brooklyn and their lone superstar went on to close the game with a win.

Let's dive into some film.

The Film Room

Nicolas Claxton, man. We’re running out of good things to say about him. Does he have moments where he gets a little switch-happy? Sure, a hard closeout against T.J. McConnell, a 31.6% three-point shooter, isn’t exactly ideal. (Tell him to let it fly, young man!)

But then, he’ll have possessions where he’ll clamp opposing players –– in this play, former Net Caris LeVert, which as Nick Fay indicated could be a bit of sore point –– when they dare challenge him from the three-point line inward. What wasn’t shown in this clip is that after staying pace with LeVert on the drive, Claxton THEN guarded T.J. McConnell and greatly altered one of McConnell’s trademarked 10-footers.

Post-game, Joe Harris gave Clax props for his defensive performance, touching specifically on his improvement as a shot-blocker.

“Clax has been great for us since he’s been healthy,” said Harris. “He’s added a lot, especially coming off the bench. We’re able to switch one-through-five with him. He’s starting to even find more of a rhythm defensively in terms of protecting the paint.”

Improving game-to-game, and his teammates are noticing. Watch out.

The greatest intro to any postgame interview ever. Seriously.

After playing a career-high 23 minutes against the Pacers, Nicolas Claxton spoke to YES Network about his big performance––his first time closing out an NBA game. AND his first post-game interview.

He started it with a bang.

Milestones galore

It’s hard to keep track of the Nets milestones, particularly those of James Harden. Here are a few...

—Harden has recorded 30+ points and 15+ assists for the third time this season as a Net. All other players in franchise history have combined for five games of 30+ points and 15+ assists, and no other player has more than one.

—Harden’s first two points of the game give him 21,815 points in his career, moving him past Gary Payton into 33rd place in NBA history.

—Harden’s fourth assist of the first quarter was the 5,637th of his career, moving him past Chauncey Billups into 45th place in NBA history.

—Harden is now the fourth player in NBA history with 100 40-point games.

271 — Wilt Chamberlain

173 — Michael Jordan

122 — Kobe Bryant

100 — James Harden

—Sixteen of those 100 were 40-point triple-doubles, second all-time to Oscar Robertson who had 24. Only Harden, Russell Westbrook and Wilt Chamberlain have done it with two teams.

—Harden has had three games of 40+ points, 15+ assists and 10+ rebounds, half the all-time total. No one else has more than one.

(Thanks to Brooklyn Nets PR and statsmuse for the numbers.)

As Sponge Bob might say...

Per Will Hanley

What’s next

The Nets will return to action on Friday when the team travels south to take on the Orlando Magic. The game is set to tip at 8:00 PM ET.

For a different perspective, check out Indy Cornrows - our sister site covering the Indiana Pacers for SB Nation.