The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves last night, with a final score of 133-102. This was James Harden‘s first game on the 76ers, and he did not disappoint, with a statline of 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 12 assists on 58.3% shooting from the field, and a ridiculous 71.4% from three. He only caused two turnovers while looking like he was in much better shape then we’ve seen in Houston and Brooklyn. After watching the game, I am convinced that this wasn’t just a great game for Harden, but for the team; every member of the starting five was impacted in a positive way because of Harden.
Let’s start with Joel Embiid, Harden’s co-star and a top three MVP candidate. Embiid has been playing solo for a while now, and when the defense decides to buckle down on him in the paint, he can make them pay. He and Harden have already started working on a pick-and-roll, which worked to perfection last night (he finished the game with 34 points and 10 rebounds). After a switch (which the Timberwolves were forced into), Harden was being guarded by Karl-Anthony Towns, and Embiid was guarded by D’Angelo Russell. Most of the time this resulted in a three from Harden or a wonderful assist, because Towns was antsy in contesting Harden’s threes. Embiid’s shooting has improved as well, and so he’s a threat from everywhere on the court.
When the game first started, Philadelphia looked completely disorganized, as if they had no clue what they were doing. I don’t blame them for this; since the All-Star break, Philadelphia has only had one organized practice with Harden. It’s going to take some time to break down the nuances of his game, although the team learned quickly.
Immediately, I can point to Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle, Danny Green, and Furkan Korkmaz as beneficiaries of Harden’s presence. Because Harden has replaced Ben Simmons, the spacing on the court is SO much better. Philadelphia can run a 4-out, 1-in set that actually threatens teams; they could run this previously, but defenders would just sag off of Ben Simmons. Defenders are instead attracted to Harden because he’s a scoring threat, leaving multiple wings open, which leads to three after three. In addition to scoring, Harden’s an elite passer, meaning he could play point guard in addition to shooting guard. Speaking of which…
Despite Harden coming to the team, Maxey has stayed a starter. As the point guard, Maxey benefited from defenders being lured to Harden. During one possession, Harden faked a step-back, and after Towns bit on it, he passed to Maxey in the corner. His defender had been lured to sleep, assuming Harden would take the step back. So, Maxey blew by him and had an easy finish at the rim. As a matter of fact, Maxey had multiple finishes and points come in transition off of breakaway dunks. It was clear Maxey was trying to prove to management that he could fit well with Harden, and that the two of them could form one of the better backcourts in the Eastern Conference. Maxey finished with one of his best stat-lines of the season: 28 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 4 steals on 75% shooting from the field, 67% from three, and went 2 of 2 from the free throw line.
The 76ers are playing basketball that is just fun to watch. While this is only one game, and it was against the Minnesota Timberwolves, it shows how good the team can be. I can’t wait to see them go up against some even better opponents. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see the 76ers playing the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
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