You know it was a hot ticket in NYC and some stars were certainly out to see Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and James Harden suit up to take on the New York Knicks at “The Mecca of Basketball” as it’s been called, Madison Square Garden Monday.
Harden has had about a week to #rampup since the trade-following-ten-day-absence-in-Philly-for-personal-matters.
(And you know if he had been suiting up for the Sixers it would have been an even more massive story: is he in shape or in his fat suit? Will he ball out to show up the haters or loaf around to persuade Daryl Morey into a lowball trade?) Omg, how glad are we we didn’t have to play those games on Monday? Honestly.
But I’m not gonna lie, Harden opened the game hot. Through three quarters Beard was 6-of-8 shooting for 14 points to go with five dimes, helping the Clips hang around late and drawing a few oohs and ahhs from the star-studded audience. James looked smooth, shifty, and strong on a few of his patented: is it the cross-over drive or is it the step back three (a good fastball-change-up combo in baseball parlance) hesi’s.
But the next thing we knew the Knicks just blew the doors off L.A. from that point on. Like literally, for the rest of the game. Over. Knicks won 111-97
Harden finished with 17 points and 6 assists, he was a game low (emoji eyes beaming to the left) minus 18. He went 6-of-9- from the floor, two of four from distance, and was perfect from the stripe on three tries. Barrett finished with 26 points and six boards. RJ was a game high +13. So yeah, that’s the gist: L.A. got the doors blown off of them in the minutes James Harden was on the court.
To me, he still looked quick, powerful, decisive, and selfless on offense. But he also didn’t really draw his defender out too far when spotting up during Leonard post ups or isos.
And then on the defensive end, when Julius Randle and co. were out in transition, Harden was routinely not spotted on my television feed, slacking his whole way down. He overplayed R.J. Barrett (a fellow lefty) to the right, letting the Canadian easily dust him for a baby bank in crunch time. Shouldn’t lefties know better? And he had a pair of turnovers.
If you were a Sixers fan watching just to morbidly test how you feel about Beard in a Red, White and Blue but on the other coast, James gave us masochists a rorschach test for our current feelings about the 2018 MVP out of ASU.
If you really think he’s still got it, and the Sixers are really going to miss him, the three-time scoring champ did display signs of being able to run an offense and set up Leonard, George, and keep Norman Powell going. (Whispers, side mouthed: I might not play Russell Westbrook as much as Tyron Luee loves to, but perhaps once Terance Mann is back he’ll sort that out).
But from the Philadelphians who hate Harden perspective, (you know the ones always lurking outside the Camden facility with both “Ben Simmons’ Instagram is the worst” and “Harden’s chose hamburgers over Embiid’s wedding” signs) James also gave you plenty of confirmation bias to validate your theories about his stationary off-ball offensive shortcomings. He provides almost no gravity for his teammates. Defenders still know he’s pretty reluctant to catch and shoot a three, and he also reminded you about his many defensive follies as well.
So yeah, little something for everyone on that night!
Kawhi Leonard was asked if he got lost offensively in the newness of having James Harden.— Joey Linn (@joeylinn_) November 7, 2023
Kawhi: “No. It’s gonna be like that. We have guys that can score the ball. Won’t be the only one. I just gotta be ready when my opportunity comes.” pic.twitter.com/0zm4Dy7ew6
James Harden on the potential of his pairing alongside Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook:— Joey Linn (@joeylinn_) November 7, 2023
“Unlimited possibilities. We had a solid three quarters. We couldn’t really catch a rhythm offensively. We missed a lot of easy shots that we’re gonna make…” pic.twitter.com/rhmKZtNX0B
Paul George on the Clippers’ first game with James Harden:— Joey Linn (@joeylinn_) November 7, 2023
“We’ll figure it out. First game. A lot of moving pieces. But it was fun, honestly. Being on the court playing with those guys tonight… A lot of optimism going forward.” pic.twitter.com/SlDaDzhx20
Meanwhile, down the turnpike, the Sixers blew the absolute doors off the Washington Wizards 142-128. Joel Embiid was an absolute beast with ballerina feet, as Kate Scott has coined for us all. The MVP dropped 48, 11, and 6 just 31 minutes. My goodness, Jo. If you figured meh, he won MVP last year he won’t be in the conversation again this year, apparently you’re in for a surprise.
So far, I’m liking the Sixers trade.