Harden Haters Eat it: 76ers Dominate in Star’s 1st Game

By Chip Bayless (click Howie for more Chip)




No, the Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t exactly a Super Team themselves, but if you watched the game it is difficult to argue with the dominance the 76ers showed in James Harden’s first game in the starting lineup.

By the fourth quarter, it felt like every shot was going to fall. Even when shots didn’t fall it felt like the Sixers high-octane offense would just make up for it on the next possession, giving watching fans a level of confidence that likely hasn’t been experienced at any time throughout the Ben Simmons era.

National media pundits who spun the James Harden trade as a loss for the Sixers were forced to choke on their words against the Timberwolves on Friday night. The person they claimed was an aging, washed-out star the 76ers overpaid for also happened to drop 27 points while leading the team with 12 assists, led the team in threes with five and three-point percentage with 71%, and came in second in rebounds with eight to only Joel Embiid.

Furthermore, Harden led the team in +/- with a +35 when he was on the floor.

His presence was obvious in terms of its effect on the Timberwolves’ defense, and it led to space creation for other Sixers. Check out this play where Tyrese Maxey’s defender plays off him just enough (and towards Harden) for Harden to squeeze in a decisive pass while Maxey’s athleticism and instincts do the rest:

The fact that Harden’s impressive statistics are combined with being the team’s assist leader should be enough to silence the Ben Simmons apologists in itself. Harden was able to have a whopping 12 assists and dropped 27 points including five three-pointers… that’s something Simmons could never have done and likely will never do.

Simmons definitely couldn’t have hit these step-back threes over a taller, towering KAT, just one element of Harden’s complete game:

While many wondered what Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey’s roles would look like once Harden came into the fold, all three players will able to shine brightly. Embiid was his usual awe-inspiring self and was amongst the top-three 76ers in: points (34 – led the team), rebounds (10 – led the team), assists (3), and three pointers (3).

Maxey also looked in-tune with his role in the offense, smiling happily as he crashed the boards or stepped back to take an open three. He was also top-three in a number of crucial categories including points (28), steals (4), FG percentage (75% – led the team), and minutes (32).

It was phenomenal to watch the Sixers stars contribute impressively using each of their unique skillsets.

Regarding how Embiid and Harden compliment each other’s games specifically, Embiid’s post-game comments said it all:

Although, 76ers fans also should love seeing that their skillsets are all trending towards being the best all-around players they can be, unlike someone else who used to be on this team. Embiid and Maxey are constantly attempting to add additional elements to their offensive games from a shooting, ball movement, and passing perspective.

Harden on the other hand has been one of the league’s top all-around scorers for some time but sometimes gets criticized by the national media for his defense or playing too much isolation basketball. Last night he led the team in assists and showed consistent defensive effort throughout the contest.

Harden and Embiid looked like they complimented each other perfectly in this game. It is also worth noting that so far this year (23 games), Joel Embiid is averaging 33.2 PPG, 11.6 RPG, and 5.0 APG. The only other player in 76ers history to average at least 30 PPG, 10 RPG, and 5 APG over a 23-game span was Wilt Chamberlain.

Last night also marked Embiid’s 20th game with 30 points and 10 boards (tied for most in NBA).

Embiid is clearly in the peak of his prime. The time to win is now, and James Harden looks like the perfect replacement for an uninspiring and offensively inept Ben Simmons. Without Simmons dragging this offense down in the playoffs, who knows how far this team can go.

With Friday’s win, the Sixers crept closer to the leading spot in the Eastern Conference. They are now just 2.5 games behind the Miami Heat with a 36-23 record. They’ll look to build on this performance Sunday against the New York Knicks during another road stint at Madison Square Garden.

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