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Harden comes up big down the stretch as Sixers hang on to beat Nets

There was a lot of emotion in the building Wednesday as James Harden hit a few big shots to sink his former team.

Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Despite two previous matchups since the blockbuster trade last February, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons took the court as opponents for the first time Wednesday night, and the fireworks were certainly on display.

The Sixers outlasted the Nets 137-133 in a marathon game that saw the two teams combine to shoot 63 free throws. Tyrese Maxey led the way for the Sixers with 27 points, shooting 6 of 9 from beyond the arc. Joel Embiid shot just 6 of 18 from the field, but went 13 of 13 from the line on his way to 26 points. James Harden had a big second half, putting up 23 points and seven assists.

Here are some thoughts at the buzzer.

First Quarter

  • It was clear from the tip that this game meant a little more to Embiid, as he was hunting Simmons in the post on nearly every possession to start the game. While Embiid started off 0-4 from the field, he took four of the 13 free throws the Sixers took in the first quarter.
  • Brooklyn did a really good job defending Embiid from the jump. They let him get comfortable backing down Simmons or Royce O’Neale before sending Nic Claxton for a late double. Embiid was clearly frustrated with how his first shift went, picking up a technical as he went to the bench.
  • Between the free throws and the outside shooting, there was a ton of offense to start this one. The Sixers made five of their first six from deep, including a perfect 3-of-3 from De’Anthony Melton.
  • It wasn’t just the Sixers who couldn’t miss early. Brooklyn shot a scalding 72.2 percent from the field in the opening frame. As a result, it was all tied up at 41 after an extremely eventful first quarter.

Second Quarter

  • The all-bench lineups really aren’t as bad with a starting-caliber player leading them. Tyrese Maxey went on a scorcher to bookend the quarters. He exploded for 16 first-half points on 6-of-8 shooting. He made a couple of three-pointers from the same spot on the floor taking the same crazy bounce off the backboard.
  • It was truly a playoff atmosphere all night, but the building exploded in the second quarter when Simmons missed a floater that Embiid was defending — just an absurd sequence.
  • Philly was finally able to cobble some stops together to give their lead some breathing room, as they went into the break with a 10-point lead.

Third Quarter

  • The Sixers kept it rolling offensively to start the second half. First it was James Harden who got in a rhythm from deep. 16 of Harden’s 23 came in the second half. It is noticeable that he has put more effort into catch-and-shoot threes this season, which the Sixers’ offense greatly benefits from.
  • It felt like Embiid had been waiting all game to do this. And if you’re not down with that, we got two words for you...
  • Philly was in cruise control for most of the third, but another flurry from Seth Curry kept the Nets within striking distance as the Sixers took a nine-point lead into the fourth. Curry finished with 32 points on 11-of-20 shooting.

Fourth Quarter

  • With the bench unit unable to get any stops, Doc Rivers put Embiid back in the game a bit earlier than usual, around the 10-minute mark. It appeared as if they would put the game away early, as the lead grew to 14. Brooklyn wouldn’t go away. They slowly made their way back into the game, tying it with four minutes left. Philly had no answer for Seth Curry all night.
  • Give the save to James Harden, who came back down the floor with two step-back threes to put the Sixers back in front. That boost was just enough to outlast some insane shot making by Kyrie Irving down the stretch. It wasn’t pretty, but this was a huge win for the Sixers. They remain in sole possession of the two seed, and are two games behind Boston in the loss column.
  • The Sixers have another big one coming up at the Center, as they welcome Nikola Jokic and the top-seeded Denver Nuggets to town on Saturday at 3 p.m. EST.

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