After a near-perfect debut against the Timberwolves on Friday, the Sixers prepared for the second game of the James Harden era in today’s afternoon matchup with the Knicks. The positive vibes surrounding the team continued to show as the Sixers held control in the matchup from just about start to finish. Ultimately, the Sixers cruised to a 125-109 victory over the Knicks with an impressive 34-20 scoring difference in the fourth quarter to bring home the win.
James Harden Rocks
The minority of people who questioned the fit between James Harden and Joel Embiid have gotten quiet very quickly. In the early minutes of the game, there were several examples of Harden finding Embiid for easy buckets and using his magnitude to open things up for the big fella. It is still very early in the duo’s growing relationship, but the looks that Harden is able to create, especially in the pick and roll, has created a whole new element for this Sixers offense.
James Harden took over to end the first quarter scoring the Sixers’ final 8 points with a stepback three to end the quarter with an exclamation point. He ended the first half with 15 points, 10 assists, and 5 rebounds and continued this into the second half. Harden is finding cutters and creating shots for others in a way that has not been seen before, and this ability has injected life into the Sixers’ offense.
The former MVP ended with a triple-double and also became the first player in Sixers history to have 25 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds, and 5 steals. In total, Harden ended with 29 points, 16 assists, 10 rebounds, and 5 steals. It was a very well-rounded performance, and his ability to improve others around him continues to be put on full display.
Tyrese Maxey is a Legitimate 3rd Star
Tyrese Maxey is pretty high up on the list of guys who James Harden’s arrival impacts the most, and the reasons why have been made clear in the first two games together. With Harden taking the bulk of the playmaking responsibility, Maxey is able to play much more freely and seek out his own offense. The 21-year-old has become a major factor in getting out in transition and making use of his lightning-quick pace.
In a matchup against his Kentucky backcourt partner, Immanuel Quickley, Maxey ended with 21 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. He also hit an absurd three-pointer late in the fourth quarter to help ice the game. Maxey will continue to unlock more of his game alongside Harden as the two spend more time on the court together, but the early signs are incredibly encouraging.
The Free-Throw Line
In total, there were 79 free-throws attempted in today’s game. Joel Embiid and James Harden made their presence felt by attacking the basket and getting to the line. The two Sixers stars combined for 33-37 from the line and also put the Knicks in a great deal of foul trouble. New York was forced to play the final 8:52 of the game without either of their top two big man options, as Jerrico Sims and Mitchell Robinson each fouled out.
While this is a tactic that will frustrate opponents and drive basketball purists nuts, it is also one that is effective at putting consistent points on the board. Taking advantage of the free-throw line is the easiest way to add consistent points and the Sixers intend to do exactly that. While some may look at Embiid scoring 23 of his 37 points from the foul line as a bad thing, the fact of the matter is he earns these trips to the line, and they count all the same.
With Joel Embiid and James Harden each ranking in the top 5 in the NBA in free-throw attempts per game, don’t expect this tactic to change. Sixers games are a marathon due to all the time spent at the line, but if it produces wins, then there should be no complaints.
The Sixers will be off until Wednesday when they face off against the New York Knicks once again. This will be the long-awaited home debut for James Harden as he will have a chance to play in front of the Philly faithful for the first time.