James Harden defers in first game with Kyrie Irving as Cavs top new-look Nets in 2 OTs

CLEVELAND, OHIO - JANUARY 20: Kevin Durant #7  James Harden #13 and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets celebrate during the first quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on January 20, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Kyrie Irving looked fine after a seven-game layoff, but the new-look Nets did not. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Wednesday provided a first look at the new-look Brooklyn Nets with the return of the Kyrie Irving after a seven-game absence.

As expected, this is a work in progress. The Nets rallied from a 14-point third-quarter deficit to force overtime only to lose, 147-135 in double overtime.

The Nets started strong, hitting their first 10 field goals while running out to a 23-15 lead. The Cavs took control from there en route to an 87-73 lead before the Nets made a late charge to force the extra sessions.

How did new lineup play together?

The biggest question of the night didn’t necessarily concern the outcome of the game. It was over how an offense with three elite scorers in Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden would operate together. On Wednesday, Harden was the odd man out in the scoring column.

After scoring 30-plus point in each of his first two games with Brooklyn, Harden was limited to 21 points in his first game alongside Irving. He did fill up the box score, posting a triple-double with 12 assists and 10 rebounds.

Jan 20, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Damyean Dotson (21) defends Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden (13) in the second quarter at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
James Harden took a back seat to Kyrie Irving on Wednesday. (David Richard/Reuters)

Harden didn’t shoot his first field-goal attempt until early in the second quarter. He didn’t score his first points until a pair of free throws in the final minute of the first half. He didn’t score his first bucket from the field until a 3-pointer early in the third quarter. He looked very little like the NBA’s three-time scoring champ for much of the game while shooting 6-of-14 from the field.

Irving takes charge early after absence

Irving, meanwhile, came out of the gates from his hiatus red-hot, hitting eight of his first 10 field goal attempts in a 17-point first half. He finished with 37 points, three assists and two rebounds while shooting 15 of 28 from the field on twice as many field goal attempts as Harden.

Durant is still the No. 1 option

Durant, meanwhile, led the way for Brooklyn with 38 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists while largely playing off the ball. His role in the new lineup promises to require the least adjustment.

Harden’s lack of scoring wasn’t a result of not having the ball. He frequently dribbled over halfcourt and initiated the offense. But he seemed satisfied to act as a facilitator while Durant and Irving carried the scoring load.

Nets defense is a problem

Problems that plagued the Nets prior to the new lineup — defense and turnovers — reared their heads against the Cavs. Brooklyn allowed Collin Sexton to go off in a 42-point effort on 16-of-29 shooting that included a 3-point heave over Irving to force double-overtime.

A Cavs team that entered the game ranked 22nd in the NBA in 3-point percentage (34.3 percent) shot 20 of 40 from long distance while hitting 51.4 percent from the field overall.

Brooklyn entered the night with the NBA’s fifth-highest turnover rate with 15.3 per game. They gave the ball away 16 times on Wednesday. Granted, they did play two overtime sessions.

This, of course, is just one game. The Nets are supremely talented and will make adjustments as they learn to play together. But the flaws that Nets fans feared were on full display against the Cavs.

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