The second game of the James Harden era was a blast. The Sixers took care of the Knicks during this Sunday matinee affair, knocking off New York 125-109. The win moves the Sixers to 37-23 and, as of this writing, has the team 2.5 games out of first place in the Eastern Conference. Given that this was a nationally televised game on ABC, it was a perfect introduction to how Harden is completely transforming this Sixers team for NBA fans across the country.
Key Stat Lines:
James Harden: 29 points, 10 rebounds, 16 assists, five steals
Joel Embiid: 37 points, nine rebounds, three assists, one steal, four blocks
Tyrese Maxey: 21 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals
Here are some notes and takeaways from the Sixers’ victory:
- James Harden! The dude just makes things easier. Basketball looks more simple with him running the show for the Sixers. It’s not as if the Sixers were facing the 2004 Pistons defense the last two games, but the early returns for Harden are already exceeding the high expectations I had. I thought that there might be some awkward moments as Harden attempts to gel with Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, but it’s been smooth. Harden is a wizard with the ball in hands, whether he’s finding teammates who don’t even know they’re open yet or making defenders look like fools as he drains step-back three after step-back three.
Harden is the passer people think Simmons is.— shamus (@shamus_clancy) February 27, 2022
- Liberty Ballers’ fearless leader ain’t wrong:
There is just so much space out there. As someone who's covered this team for a minute, this is just wild to see.— Paul Hudrick (@PaulHudrick) February 27, 2022
- There was some concern among the national talking heads about the fit between Harden and Embiid, particularly because Embiid isn’t the typical alley-oop lob partner that Harden’s accustomed to with his team’s centers. Yeah, that was dumb. The pick-n-roll plays between Harden and Embiid might not continuously result in high-flying dunks this season, but Embiid is working well as the roll man with Harden so far. Don’t overthink things. The Sixers are pairing one of the greatest guards of all time with the NBA’s best center. They were always going to figure it out and already have.
Joel Embiid and James Harden already have pretty dang good timing in pick-and-rolls. They do a good job of keeping passing and scoring angles open— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) February 27, 2022
- Maxey is so quick. His floater, less than two full seasons into his pro career, has become his signature move. Seeing him attack the rim with his speed when he’s sharing the court with Harden is awesome. It’s a great match between Maxey’s off-ball skills and Harden’s pinpoint threading. Maxey may have just turned 21 years old this season, but he already has the makings of being the “third star” on a team with championship aspirations. It was rational to worry about how the Harden acquisition would affect Maxey’s development. Things are working themselves out. Maxey, as I wrote, is illustrating his talent as a two-guard without the ball in his hands and is also acting as the lead guard when Harden rests.
- Tobias Harris, just let it rip, man. Stop dribbling. Stop backing dudes down. When Harden or Maxey feed you, throw shots up.
- Embiid see a career high in both free throws made and free throws attempted, going 23-27 from the line. People on Basketball Twitter continue to freak out about how many times Embiid gets fouls, but I stand by my take that he doesn’t get fouled enough! He’s impossible to defend given his size, so he gets fouled every play.
- Joel, Philly loves you to death, but please don’t unnecessarily jump and fall into the opponent’s bench when contesting a three-pointer during a February regular season game.
- To get sentimental for a moment, today is my last day writing for Liberty Ballers. I announced it on Twitter a bit ago, but tomorrow I will begin working as the Deputy Sports Editor at PhillyVoice. I came back to the site this season and was able to write about Embiid’s quest for the MVP award, the Ben Simmons departure, the rise of Maxey and the arrival of Harden. That’s before even getting back to when I was cutting my teeth here during the Process era, breaking down film of Dario Šarić’s game overseas, feeling the wrath of Jahlil Okafor’s father and writing Sam Hinkie fan fiction. It’s not hyperbolic to say that if people like Mike Levin, Sean O’Connor and Jake Pavorsky didn’t take a chance on me nearly a decade ago, I wouldn’t be in the position I am now. If not for the fervent Liberty Ballers community, an unreal staff of writers that have blossomed in sports media and the Process itself, I’d be struggling through a 9-to-5 gig. Whether you’ve been a long-standing LB reader or a newbie, I appreciate the dedication the fans bring to this site. While I am moving on, I’m grateful that I was able to be a part of a place that has created a standard for Sixers coverage. LB will always be my home no matter where my career takes me next.
- “You don’t get to the moon by climbing a tree.”