Tobias Harris He usually has a lot to say, but he tried to take it easy with his windpipe after he accidentally sucked it in Pam Adebayo Elbow to the neck in the second half of the Philadelphia 76ers’ 76-108 win over the Miami Heat in Sunday’s game four of the best seven in a row in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Harris got to the point when asked about it James HardenTonight 31 points, of which 16 of 27 are in the decisive fourth quarter.
“What we want him to do every night is what he does,” Harris said hoarsely. “Just be strong for us and defend the way they play with him.”
This is James Harden’s new vision.
He doesn’t need to repeat his form as the 2018 Sixers MVP to win.
He doesn’t have to fill in the square points or hit the link at the end of the game. He doesn’t even need to get 20 shots, which was previously a low number for him.
Harden only took 18 shots in Game 4, but he was plenty as he scored or assisted on 54 of the 98 points (55%) the Sixers scored while on the field.
This version of James Harden, the 32-year-old who was traded by the Sixers in February with the idea of a long-term partnership, just needs to be solid and organize the team’s attack based on how he plays in defense.
Joel Embiid (24 points, 11 rebounds) He can do the rest. Harris (13 points and four assists), Therese Maxi (18 points, four assists) He can fill in the gaps in score and play. Danny Green The floor can be spaced (11 points out of 3 vs. 4 out of 3).
But Harden has to be a quarterback.
“He did a great job evaluating the game,” said Harris. “From where he can play, where he can take his shots. He started tonight. You can see the confidence in him when he comes down first, and then the three-ball opened him up.
“He sees a lot of defensive cover there. They’re often also on the field, so sometimes it’s hard for him to be very aggressive on the offensive side. But when he’s in a groove like [Sunday night]We take the ball and keep going.”
The Heat pressured Harden throughout this series by denying him the space to work, especially when Embiid isn’t on the court.
In the first two games, Embiid missed a concussion and fractured an orbital bone, hitting Miami Harden with multiple defenders or throwing an area in the face to spoil the Sixers’ attack.
According to Second Spectrum, the defender closest to Harden in the game 1 averaged 3.7 feet. In Game 2, he dropped to 3.1 feet, the closest he’s played in the past three seasons.
In Game 3, when Embiid was back in the lineup, the difference was even greater. With Embiid on the field, Miami gave Harden 3.7 feet, but only 2.6 feet when Embiid was farther away from her.
Taking space away from Harden is like depriving a fire of oxygen. Former Rockets coach Mike D’Antony and former and current general manager Daryl Morey attempted to build an empire in Houston around the unabashedly radical founding of the Harden Space—and they were nearly successful, save for the Golden State Warriors of the same era. And Chris PaulHamstring injury.
Morey, now Philadelphia’s chief of basketball operations, has had pretty much the same vision for the Sixers as he has primarily been trading with Harden since he took over in the fall of 2020.
If he could list the floor space around the Harden, but with Embiid as the universal opponent, there was no telling what kind of Leviathan attack they could become.
But the truth about Harden’s current age and abilities was all too clear in his short time in Philadelphia. Whether he lost a step – or three – it was clear that he was no longer able to defy time and space in the same way he did before.
The Heat took hold of Harden’s inability to get defenders as he has throughout the series. But in Game 4 he flipped the text.
He started draining 3 pitches to keep defenders out of the basket. He attacked the zone defense and threw him with the Miami double teams. It all created a space, where there was little before.
According to the second Spectrum tracking data, Harden set up a 3.6-foot break Sunday with Embiid in the field and 5.1 feet with Embiid off the ground.
Four of the five shots Harden fired off the ground with an Embiid were three, partly why he had so much space. He also scored six of his 10 three-pointers that night, having struggled behind the arc in his first three games, scoring 21% of 3.
So some of this is just a snapshot and not a waste. But for Harden, it’s always about space. If he has it – whether he’s creating the space or running the team’s attack system – he can find his tempo and control the game. If he doesn’t, he looks lost and frustrated.
Sunday was the Harden the Sixers version he had been waiting for, even though he wasn’t old. Because if he read the floor and staged the game as he did in Game 4, the Sixers would look like a team that could beat anyone.
“Since he got here, he has acclimatized based on what we need from him,” Embiid said. “Whether in the gaming industry or tonight – just get a bucket based on how everyone else is guarded. Take tough shots. He’s been doing this his whole career.”
Harden downplayed his contributions to Sunday’s win compared to the difficulties he faced during the series.
“Nothing has really changed,” Harden shrugged. “I just took some pictures.”
But then he said something that put his entire Sixers journey — and his average age in the NBA — into perspective.
“We’re still a fairly new team,” Harden said. “We’re barely two months away… we finally finished this series. We found great things that will work tonight.”
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