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James Harden makes Clippers debut, scores 17 in loss to Knicks

New Los Angeles Clippers guard James Harden made his debut with the team Monday in a 111-97 loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

The Clippers acquired Harden from the Sixers last week in a blockbuster trade that also involved the Oklahoma City Thunder. Harden wanted out of Philadelphia and forced the trade by calling president of basketball operations Daryl Morey a liar, creating an untenable situation for the Sixers, who are trying to win a championship with 2022-23 MVP Joel Embiid and new coach Nick Nurse.

The Clippers were Harden’s preferred destination, and they are trying to maximize a narrowing championship window with 30-somethings Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Russell Westbrook and now Harden, all four born and raised in California. Here’s what you should know about Harden’s debut with the Clippers:

How did Harden look in his Clippers debut?

Harden finished with 17 points, six assists, three rebounds, one steal and two turnovers. In his first game with a new team and not much practice, Harden showed flashes of what he does best: scoring and assists.

He was an efficient 6-for-9 shooting and his assists went to Leonard, Westbrook, Norman Powell and Ivica Zubac who will run pick-and-rolls with Harden when they’re on the court together.

In his Clippers debut, the potential was evident even in a loss.

How did the Clippers’ Big Four fare?

Early in the third quarter, George tipped a defensive rebound to Westbrook who passed the basketball to Harden who gave it up to Leonard for a layup. It’s hard to defend that under any circumstances let alone against four players who have been All-NBA.

Offensively, they provide challenges for any defense. They’re the kind of players who draw two defenders, leaving another quality scorer open.

It’s not a finished product by any stretch with Leonard, George, Westbrook and Harden even though all four reached double figures in scoring. Leonard scored a team-high 18 points, Westbrook had 17 and George finished with 10. George struggled the most, going 2-for-11 from the field and 1-for-6 on 3-pointers. The other three were a combined 22-for-38 shooting.

It will take time for foursome to find the success the Clippers envision. It will also take time for Clippers coach Ty Lue to assemble the right lineup combinations where each players’ talents are maximized while keeping everyone happy with their role.

Harden picks up scoring in the second quarter

Harden, a three-time scoring champ, found his scoring touch early in the second quarter with seven points in three minutes. His first points as a Clipper came at the 11:35 mark of the quarter on a mid-range baseline jumper with two Knicks defending. He connected on a jump shot from the elbow at the foul line for a 25-21 Clippers lead with 9:48 remaining in the half and made a 3-pointer with 8:27 to go in the quarter.

Late in the second, he hit a jumper from above the foul line and followed that with an assist on Normal Powell’s 3-pointer putting the Clippers up 46-42, which was the halftime score.

Harden had nine points, three assists, three rebounds and a steal in 16 first-half minutes.

How did Harden look in his first minutes with the Clippers?

Harden had two assists and two rebounds in the first seven minutes of the first quarter. One assist was to Ivica Zubac for a layup and one to Westbrook for a corner 3-pointer. It’s clear Harden likes the pick-and-roll game with Zubac from the top of the 3-point arc. Zubac went to the foul line for two free throws after another pass from Harden.

Harden played six minutes, 43 seconds in his first stint and checked back into the game with 2:29 left in the first quarter. He did not take a field-goal attempt and had three rebounds and two assists in his nine first-quarter minutes.

James Harden Clippers debut: Will he play vs. Knicks?

The plan was to play Harden on Monday against the Knicks (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass, or local cable TV in New York and Los Angeles areas), and that’s what happened. It was Harden’s first game of the 2023-24 season. He did not play a game with the Sixers and was a part-time participant in the Sixers’ training camp and practices. The Clippers wanted Harden to get practice time with his new teammates and having four days off between their last game on Nov. 1 and the Knicks game allowed that to happen. The Clippers are 3-2 (top five offensively and defensively), and the Knicks 2-4, struggling offensively.

Clippers lineup tonight: Will James Harden start?

Harden, the 2017-18 NBA MVP, started alongside Westbrook, Leonard, George and Ivica Zubac. That’s a small-ball lineup with four players who like to have the basketball. Los Angeles guard-forward Terance Mann remains out with a sprained ankle, so that made Coach Ty Lue’s decision easier for the time being.

James Harden to Clippers trade: How will it work out for LA?

Like all moves of this magnitude in pro sports, time is required. It will be interesting to see how Harden plays in his debut, but no matter what happens, it’s not necessarily indicative of how it will play out the remainder of the season. The Clippers felt the risk was worth it, and the acquisition is one of the NBA’s top storylines in a deep and loaded Western Conference.

Harden had a solid regular season in 2022-23 (20-10 average in points and assists and led the league in assists) and fantastic playoff games in May (45 and 42 points against Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals), but he also had duds (7-for-27 shooting, 1-for-11 on 3-pointers in the final two games, both losses, against the Celtics).

Harden claims he is not a system player but rather a system. For a player who didn’t make the All-Star team last season and hasn’t been All-NBA in the past three seasons, that’s a bold claim. Also, he doesn’t need to be the system on a team with Leonard, George and Westbrook, plus depth with Mann and Norman Powell. How he assimilates will determine how successful the trade is.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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