James Harden shines in Sixers opening night loss
When you lose to the dreaded Boston Celtics in game number one after an abundance of hype was created over the summer, negativity is bound the drive the conversation around this team. Most of that criticism valid, especially when talking about the bench unit woes last night, among other things. However, criticism and overreactions do go hand-in-hand at this early point of the season, so let's take this time to collectively pump the breaks.
As expected, this team is still a work in-progress. The Sixers, in spurts last night, showed what they are capable of. A couple of long runs with great defense capped off with excellent shot making was a taste of what this can be at their best. When you have a roster turnover like the Sixers routinely have year after year, growing pains are bound to happen, and last night was a great example of that.
Speaking of someone showing what they are capable of, James Harden incapsulated that in his season opener. A 35-point outing is something we were missing when he joined the Sixers mid-way through last season. The hamstring looks 100% better, which was the looming question surrounding James in the offseason.
If you watched last night, you have to notice how smooth James looks when he has the ball. When he finds a miss-match, he is probably to most dangerous offensive player in the league.
His ability to navigate a screen with the ball in his hand is one of his greatest skills. Taking advantage of the Celtics switching 1-5 and gives Grant Williams the work on the perimeter.
Again, he uses the Celtics defensive game plan to his advantage. James sees a defender he can win a 1-on-1 against in Williams and uses the screen from Harrell. Even with Williams being much much more aggressive to contest the shot and fouling the shooter, Harden still drains it. This is world-class offense.
As I harped on all off-season, the Sixers guards have to feed off Embiid as much as possible to be successful in getting open shots and knocking them down. Here, Harden keeps the defensive guessing for just long enough before they sell out to take away the pass to Embiid, leaving James wide open. Harden is very much aware of Joel's gravity, which leads to him making a great decision to take the mid-range jumper.
James Harden and PJ Tucker's chemistry on court together was really fun to watch and that goes back to their Houston Rocket days. Their pick & roll game is less about creating space, but rather speeding up the defense and making them play to their pace. When Harden drives baseline in this clip, he has one of the best head-fakes you can possibly have when driving against two really good defenders in Brown and Horford. His subtle -- but very effect fake -- creates an incredibly easy bucket for PJ Tucker.
When Montrezl Harrell was signed to the Sixers, we all were marveling about his rim-running ability, and what that could look like alongside James Harden in a Sixers uniform. We get to see that right here. Harden keeps his eyes up the entire play, allowing him to see how the defense collapses, knowing Harrell is trailing behind. His quick dribble to shade himself to the right-side of the key not only brings Griffin to pay more attention to Harden, but allows Harrell to have an open lane to the bucket. An exquisite pass to split the defenders is something only James Harden can do.
Harden's crazy efficient night was capped off with uncanny ability to draw a foul. He ended the game with 35-points on just 14 shot attempts. His 5-9 line from behind the arc (56%) might be the most impressive stat when given the level of difficulty of shots he continues knock down.
The reason we should be focused on Harden being back to MVP form rather than the Sixers loss, is because they will be eventually become a real threat in the east and nobody should be worried about the 76ers long-term. However, the question surrounding the sustained success of James Harden was legit and it only took him one game to let us know how he felt about that.
If James Harden can put up performances of great shooting and excellent displays passing vision, the Sixers will be very successful this season. Rome wasn't built in a day. Everyone, let's calm down. The Philadelphia 76ers will be just fine, as long as Harden can stay healthy.