Observations After Sixers’: James Harden’s home debut didn’t go exactly as planned, but the Sixers’ All-Star guard helped his team fight back to beat the Knicks and move to 3-0 with him on the court on Wednesday night.
In the Sixers’ 123-108 victory, he had 26 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists.
Joel Embiid had a double-double with 27 points and 12 rebounds. Tyrese Maxey led the team with 25 points.
On Friday night in Philadelphia, the Sixers will take on the Cavaliers. Here are some thoughts on their victory over New York:
Harden will have to work hard for his first win at home.
Harden and the Sixers came up just short on a couple of potential crowd-pleasers. Harden saw a wing three-pointer and a floater both rattle around the hoop and miss as the club opened 2 for 9 from the field.
After a terrific double drag motion with Tobias Harris and Embiid, the floater attempt was an open one. Harden also turned the ball over while attempting an ambitious full-court pass to Matisse Thybulle. New York took an 18-9 lead after Jericho Sims grabbed an offensive board and laid it in.
Harden, on the other hand, didn’t waste any time in reversing the game’s momentum. He made a step-back three and a and-one layup. Thybulle then lined a transition triple to tie the game at 20 apiece, snapping a 1-for-16 streak from long range.
Harden slipped into a comfortable rhythm and scored 19 points in the first half with ease. There was no doubt about Harden’s IQ, but he appeared to be physically robust. His straight-line drives have been explosive, and he was motivated to play through contact and get his first home win on Wednesday.
In non-Embiid minutes, there are defensive issues.
When Embiid went to the bench, the game took a turn for the worse for the Sixers. Harden was unable to lead lineups consisting of himself and three or four bench players to victory, missing two foul shots and a three-pointer at the end of the first quarter, and the Sixers trailed 44-28 early in the second quarter after an easy dunk by RJ Barrett, who finished with 30 points and seven assists.
It’s hard to overstate how bad the Sixers’ defence was at that time, both in transition and in the half court. No one on the court had a positive defensive influence, and the entire team appeared to be lagging behind.
The Knicks were comfortable attacking any Sixer on the floor, even with Furkan Korkmaz on the bench after yet another poor performance. Harden’s five thefts and the Sixers’ ability to force frequent New York mistakes helped to mask some of the team’s defensive shortcomings against the Knicks on Sunday, but stops will be difficult to come by without Embiid and Thybulle.
Rim protection was one obvious flaw. As Embiid’s backup, Rivers stuck with Paul Millsap, who proved to be little more than a deterrent to Knicks drivers. In the first half, the Sixers struggled with defensive rebounding, though much of that was due to New York’s big guys outrebounding Embiid.
Before the game, Rivers admitted he wasn’t sure how the Sixers’ backup centre scenario would play out. He even addressed the possibility of forming a committee, but stated that this was not his preferred method. Despite Rivers saying before the game that Willie Cauley-Stein would see action shortly, the 28-year-old did not participate until the last minute and 15 seconds.
Millsap’s second-half minutes saw the Sixers outscore the Knicks by two points, which seemed like a major win given the team’s persistent defensive woes. Maxey’s impact was seen throughout the game, as he led the Sixers with an aggressive approach and a step-back three. From his courtside seat, Kentucky head coach John Calipari witnessed the entire event.
After seeing Maxey hit a difficult three-pointer to extend the Sixers’ lead to 112-99 in the fourth quarter, Embiid grinned. The Sixers have a legitimate scoring trifecta after three games.
Korkmaz didn’t appear until garbage time in the second half. Perhaps he’ll get another shot at some point, but removing him from the rotation was necessary and could have been done sooner.
It’s still critical to keep Embiid fed.
Embiid earned two early fouls on Mitchell Robinson, just like he did on Sunday. Embiid, on the other hand, was frustrated throughout the first half.
Before halftime, he gave the ball over three times, argued with multiple referees, and received a technical penalty in the second quarter. Robinson even blocked an Embiid three-point attempt, which is an uncommon occurrence. Embiid was 11 for 13 from the foul line in the game after trying a career-high 27 free throws.
To start the third quarter, Harden had a wide-open three-point opportunity but instead chose to target Embiid in the paint. Embiid’s selfless decision paid off with a leaning and-one layup. On the Sixers’ next possession, Embiid hit a three-pointer with Harden’s assist, and the team’s deficit was reduced to just one point.
Harden could have tried that long-distance shot if he wanted, but it’s clear he understands the Sixers are at their best when Embiid is totally focused and confident. Harden is content to save the day with his brilliant, deceptive playmaking, but he’s on a team that will thrive offensively if he prioritises efficiency and feeding Embiid. So far, everything is going swimmingly.
Early in the third quarter, Tobias Harris received his third foul and subsequently went through a tough offensive stretch. When Harris passed up an open three and dribbled into traffic instead, Harden was agitated, maintaining his sights on the veteran forward and imploring him, “Come on,” as the Sixers went back to defence.
Harris’ output did increase from the previous two games, as he scored 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting, added seven rebounds, and blocked two shots.