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The James Harden era starts with a bang in a win vs. Timberwolves

James Harden was magnificent in his Sixers debut as the Sixers downed the T-Wolves in Minnesota.

Philadelphia 76ers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

This James Harden guy might be pretty good.

The former MVP was extraordinary in his debut leading the Sixers to a 133-102 drubbing of the Timberwolves at Target Center Friday night. The victory improves the Sixers to 36-23 on the season. They’ll be at Madison Square Garden Sunday for a matinee matchup with the Knicks.

The Sixers had a clean injury report for the first time this season. The Timberwolves were missing reserve guard Malik Beasley (non-COVID illness).

Here are a few observations from a fun-filled evening.

First quarter

  • On the first pick-and-roll action between Joel Embiid and James Harden, Embiid rolled to the basket. This a reasonably important development. Much was made about Harden having success with rim-running lob threats and Embiid not being much of a roller. It felt like a clear indication that Embiid is ready to adapt to allow his new running mate to thrive.
  • Like the adjustment Doc Rivers made in the second half of the last matchup, Tobias Harris started the game defending Karl-Anthony Towns. There were some defensive communication issues at the start, which is to be expected.
  • The Beard’s first bucket as a Sixer was a beauty. How nice it is to have a player that can create their own shot.
  • Harden’s impact was felt immediately in the way the starting five moved the basketball. After an awkward start, the Sixers went on a 15-0 run to take a 16-6 lead. So, this is what half-court offense is supposed to look like.
  • Oh, man. It’s going to be so fun to watch other fan bases lose their collective minds over Embiid and Harden living at the line. They were a combined 10 of 11 from the stripe in the first quarter.
  • Whoa ... Doc Rivers ... STAGGERING?! Harden and Tobias Harris came off first. Embiid and Tyrese Maxey stayed on the floor. Those appear to be the duos going forward.
  • Even with the bench unit, the ball movement was outstanding. The Sixers just found a ton of open threes and were 5 of 8 to start. They took a 34-25 advantage into the second behind 10 points and six rebounds from Embiid.

Second quarter

  • Millsap got the first run as the backup five. It didn’t go particularly well. Curious if we’ll get a look at Willie Cauley-Stein.
  • Harden relocated to the corner and hit a catch-and-shoot three off a Harris drive. Between that and Embiid rolling, we’re seeing two guys doing things they’re not super comfortable with for the benefit of the team. That feels significant.
  • Harden made an unreal pass to Maxey. It looks like Harden is going to help them in transition with these look ahead passes. The idea of Maxey just going full sprint down the floor while Harden pushes the ball is intriguing.
  • The Harden-Embiid pick-and-rolls are already producing some great looks. They have kinks to work out, but there’s so much promise there already.
  • Embiid not quite finding his rhythm from the midrange so far. Just a 1-of-7 start from the floor. Sixers as a team shot poorly from two to start. Threes and the free throw line are allowing them to cling to a lead. Jarred Vanderbilt’s hustle and work on the glass helped Minnesota go on a run.
  • The officiating was ... weird in the first half. It sort of seemed like the refs wanted to even things up after Embiid and Harden lived at the line in the first half. Embiid and Maxey actually finished the first half on the bench with three fouls apiece.
  • Oh my goodness, what a run by the Sixers to close the first half. They outscored the Timberwolves 14-1 run to end the second quarter, highlighted by the first of many Harden step-back and-one threes ...

... and an electric put-back dunk by Matisse Thybulle at the buzzer.

Harden was magnificent with a game-high 17 points, five assists and three rebounds. He also had zero turnovers. Embiid had 14 and Maxey had 12 as the Sixers went into the locker room with a 65-49 lead. They barely shot over 40 percent from the field, but were 8 of 21 from three and 21 of 26 from the line. That’ll play.

Third quarter

  • It feels like Embiid has rolled more in this game than in any in his career. Harden was a little too tall on an early lob, but Embiid was still able to gather the ball and finish. This being a go-to action literally changes everything.
  • Beautiful speed drive from Maxey off a pass from Harden. There’s this thunder and lightning dynamic with Harden and Maxey. Harden is so methodical and Maxey is a blur. Just a blitz by the Sixers to start the second half as they pushed their lead to 75-53.
  • And now Embiid is starting to cook and then Harden hits a step-back three against a zone. It’s 84-59 Sixers. We’re having fun!
  • Doc opting to keep Harden and Embiid together this time through. Looks like Maxey and Harris will get some run together to open the fourth quarter.
  • It feels like Doc is just trolling us with an all-bench lineup to close the third quarter. He inserted Harris back in with under a minute left, but Minnesota managed to get the lead under 20. It probably won’t matter, but it’s a puzzling rotation decision. Sixers take a 92-74 lead into the fourth. Embiid with 27 points and nine boards. Harden has 20, eight assists and six rebounds.

Fourth quarter

  • I just don’t know how teams are going to defend the Sixers when Embiid and Harden on the floor together. Things won’t be perfect and they’ll have their share of struggles, but man, what they can create for themselves and others is special.
  • What a night from Maxey, who is greatly benefiting from all the space Harden and Embiid are creating. Harden’s ability as a passer and expertise with running an offense have allowed Maxey to just attack. He’s up to 22 points.
  • And another step-back and-one three from Harden. Sixers up 113-89 with under six minutes to play in the fourth. Grease up the damn poles.
  • Maxey buries a three to extend the lead to 120-93 and that will likely empty the benches. Maxey up to 26.
  • I didn’t think it would take Harden long to make an impact, but I didn’t see this coming. He was brilliant with 27 points on 84.6 true shooting, 12 assists and eight rebounds. He was 5 of 7 from three. Embiid was Embiid, posting 34 points and 10 rebounds. Maxey finished with 28 points. A sneaky good Matisse Thybulle night with 11 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Scary minutes.