NEW YORK -- Halfway through the first quarter, he stole the ball, pushed it the other way and made a layup. It gave him 16 points and the Brooklyn Nets 27. The opponent, the Boston Celtics, had just 13.
Before the layup, he'd made transition 3s on three consecutive possessions. Nine points in 59 seconds. Considering he is one of the best of all time at what he does, it was hard to believe that the Celtics had lost track of him.
I am talking, of course, about Joe Harris, who led the NBA in 3-point percentage this season (47.5 percent) and has made a league-high 45 percent of his 3s over the past four years. Six months ago, the Nets signed him to a four-year, $75 million contract because they'd watched him develop into the ideal complementary player.
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Far from just a sniper, Harris can attack close-outs, pass on the move and finish at the rim. Primarily, though, he is the beneficiary of his teammates' playmaking, punctuating good offensive possessions rather than initiating them. If Brooklyn's offense has a barometer, it is him.
On Saturday, Harris scored 10 points on 4-for-11 shooting, including 2 for 6 from deep, in the Nets' series-opening, defense-fueled victory, in which their Big 3 scored 82 of their 103 points. On Tuesday, he checked out to an ovation at Barclays Center with 8:19 left in the fourth quarter, with 25 points in 29 minutes on 9-for-14 shooting, 7 for 10 from deep.
In the intervening days, just about all the Nets talked about was finding their flow on offense. Blake Griffin said Sunday that, while it is a "luxury" to have three premier scorers on the roster, the team had to remember to "not get complacent, where it's just like, 'Oh just throw one of 'em the ball and let them do their thing.'" All season, the coaching staff has stressed spacing, movement and connectivity. In Harris' view, Brooklyn had gotten away from that in the excitement of the moment: the first playoff game, and the first game with a packed house.
"Whenever the ball moves, we're very difficult to defend," Nets coach Steve Nash said after the 130-108 win. "We can score in isolation, but the more the ball moves, we knock the first domino down and the other team's chasing, we're excellent in those situations. So we want to try to make that more of a habit for us."
Boston and Brooklyn are both switching on defense in an effort to encourage stagnant isolation play and keep star players from getting downhill. At their best, though, the Nets make defensive game plans irrelevant, a fact that should scare every other title contender. They free shooters with flare screens, they punish help defenders with hard cuts and they put opponents in impossible positions. Repeatedly, Boston coach Brad Stevens has praised Brooklyn not only for its firepower, but for the angles at which its players set screens and the way they move on the weak side.
Before Game 2, Nash said he hoped that the Nets would have "one or two little moments" in which they can say, "That's what we're looking for." Instead, he was treated a highlight reel. First, it was Harris' series of 3s, including a clean look in the corner after the Celtics trapped James Harden.
Another moment: A bucket from Bruce Brown, produced when the 6-foot-3 "point center" cut to the basket as Kevin Durant was double-teamed in the post. Durant disguised his pass by keeping his eyes on Harris.
In the third quarter, in a span of 57 seconds, Griffin threw down two left-handed dunks, the first after a give-and-go, the second after a post-up, a cut and a couple of perfectly delivered passes. Both were and-1s.
"We played together, we got into our actions," Nash said. "We screened and moved and cut and moved the ball more so than the iso spacing. The offense was moving, the ball was moving and we put them in a position where it was hard to catch up."
The Nets scored 117.3 points per possession in the regular season, the most efficient offense in NBA history. If there is a perception that they managed this through talent alone, it is inaccurate. Philosophically, Brooklyn's coaching staff is opposed to your-turn, my-turn basketball. Every player on the court is supposed to be a threat at all times. After Game 1, the message was not just that the stars went one-on-one too often. It was that the role players, Harris included, were creeping up toward them, taking away some of their space.
"We've been watching in film," Durant said. "We've been exchanging notes with each other individually, trying to figure out the best way for us to play."
Kyrie Irving said he can feel the momentum shift whenever the Nets are getting stops, the ball is moving and the set plays are working. There is a symbiotic relationship between their much-improved defense and their otherworldly offense, just as there is between the superstars and the guys that support them. "Offensively, when Joe gets it going like that, that unlocks our whole team," Durant said. In the third quarter, Boston left Harden wide open on the perimeter to double-team Durant in the post, resulting in an easy three points. In a previous life, teams double-teamed Harden from behind to stop him from getting off 3-pointers.
Durant expects points will be more difficult to come by on Friday in Boston. It is not every night that a team can record 19 assists before halftime. If this isn't a sign of things to come, though, it is at least a sign of what is possible when they put everything they've been working on into practice, when they are even more than the sum of their championship-caliber parts.
"Tonight was a good indicator of where we can go with that," Nash said. "And that we should double down."