Harden has 17 in debut, but Clippers fall to Knicks after starting their four stars together

NEW YORK (AP) — At times, such as when James Harden raced up the floor and found a cutting Kawhi Leonard for a layup, it was easy to see why the Clippers' new four-star system can be so potent.

Other times, such as when Russell Westbrook threw away a pass trying to get the ball to Harden to ignite a fast break as the Knicks were taking control, it appeared it might take a while before that happens.

Harden scored 17 points Monday night in his first game of the season, but the Clippers fell too far behind with a rough start to the fourth quarter and the Knicks beat them 111-97.

Harden joined the Clippers last week after finally getting the trade he sought from the Philadelphia 76ers since the summer and jumped right into the starting lineup in his debut, taking the floor with Leonard, Westbrook and Paul George.

But the first four went to the bench for good after Harden's bad pass led to a Knicks fast-break layup that made it 104-88 with 4:25 to play.

The Clippers were already aware that adding Harden might not pay immediate dividends. Players who have been All-Stars and even MVPs in the NBA will have to alter the way they have always played.

“So just because you acquire a guy like James Harden doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to win,” coach Tyronn Lue said before the game. “You’ve got to put the work in and you’ve got to be ready to sacrifice.”

Harden was the last of the Clippers announced and was loudly booed by the crowd at Madison Square Garden. He played a little more than half of the first quarter and then came out, with Lue saying before the game that his new guard would play shorter stints than usual in his first NBA action of his 15th season.

Some of Harden's best work came while playing without the other starters. The three-time NBA scoring champion didn’t even take a shot in the first quarter, then went 4 for 5 for nine points in the second while starting the period with reserves P.J. Tucker, Norman Powell, Bones Hyland and Mason Plumlee.

Harden played 31 minutes and led the Clippers with six assists. He had a good third quarter, when he set up the fast-break layup by Leonard midway through the period and hit a long 3-pointer just before the end of it, and it was tied at 76 going to the fourth.

But the Knicks broke it open while Leonard, George and Westbrook were resting early in the fourth, then pulled away for good later in the period with all of them in the game.

The Clippers should be a title contender if those four players remain healthy, though Harden has been on teams before whose hopes were wrecked by untimely injuries. So they know all they can do is use the season to make sure they are as ready if possible.

“It’s not going to happen overnight and so guys have to sacrifice minutes, shots, touches,” Lue said. “If they do that, we can be a really good team and so tonight’s going to be the start of it.”



Brian Mahoney, The Associated Press