Harden returns to score 18 points, Nets beat Spurs 128-116

Full Screen
1 / 6

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Brooklyn Nets' James Harden (13) looks to pass away from San Antonio Spurs' Rudy Gay (22) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NEW YORK – Forget being a reserve. James Harden was sidelined so long he couldn't remember what it was like even to be a starter.

It all came back quickly, just as he expected.

“Not to like brag or anything, but I’m like really, really good at this game,” Harden said.

Harden had 18 points and 11 assists in his return from an 18-game absence to help the Brooklyn Nets beat the San Antonio Spurs 128-116 on Wednesday night.

Coming off the bench in an NBA game for the first time since he won the league's Sixth Man award for Oklahoma City in 2011-12, Harden also had seven rebounds after the longest layoff of his career. He hadn't played since April 5 because of a strained right hamstring.

He said he had forgotten his routines from his days as a sub.

“But that sixth-man role, I mastered that as well,” Harden said. “I got an award for that role. That role is easy. Come in and impact the game. Do whatever it takes to win, whether it's defensively or offensively. But that’s my role no matter what, especially on this team.”

Landry Shamet scored 21 points and Nicolas Claxton had a career-high 18 for the Nets. They won their third straight and pulled within 1 1/2 games of Philadelphia for the Eastern Conference lead.