Immediate observations: Sixers beat Knicks again in James Harden’s Philadelphia debut

James Harden, Joel Embiid and Tyris Maxi took part in another Sixers victory, beating the Knicks 123-108, which quickly became a familiar formula for the group.

Here’s what I saw.

The good

• James Harden’s offensive brilliance was almost the only thing that kept the Sixers from the abyss in the first half of Wednesday’s game. There were some creative decorations on display in this one, which led to a few easy buckets, but the Knicks successfully blocked Philly for much of the first 24 minutes, taking some of the sting from a rabid home crowd.

To say that Harden “can” do anything does not always mean that he “will” do everything – the decline in volume that has been experienced by catching and shooting a person over the years is proof of this. But Harden used almost every tool he had at the beginning of this game, attacking as a shooter, pilot and sometimes as a passer, although the Sixers players did not fulfill their end of the deal when open shots appeared. way.

After watching Harden cut them into a million pieces with his death Sunday afternoon, the Knicks tried to send a little less pressure in his direction when Embid showed it on Wednesday, hoping to take away the easy punches, punches and fouls that Embid made a feast in the previous meeting. Harden used this to his advantage as a goal scorer, reaching the edge and finishing, even when he had to do so through a contact without a whistle to help him.

In the first minutes of the second half, Harden focused less on his own result and more on trying to get the most out of his teammate, an MVP candidate. When Tyrese Maxey started doing it in the third quarter, Harden was happy to get a little out of the way when they shared floors together, allowing his partner in the back court to play a role while he was in the midst of demolishing the building. This kind of recognition is just as important as Harden’s ability to score in isolation, because it’s something that builds trust between teammates that they’ll need when the chips fall.

Harden went straight to the team and offered a reassuring presence on the perimeter, solving many problems they had been dealing with for years. It may not have been the wonder game he put together as MSG on Sunday, but it was damn good.

• Embid did not follow with 37 points and 27 free throws with the same type of shot on Wednesday, perhaps because meeting this bar in every game would be impossible. But with attacks and touches that are sometimes hard to find, Embiid did well to put pressure on officials to put him on the line, keeping the game at a slower pace while his other teammates struggled to catch up.

The big man seemed visibly disappointed in the first half, partly by the officials and partly by the state of the game. He didn’t help much with some careless turnovers that inspire comparisons to previous seasons when he wasn’t so good at double teams. There was still a lot left in the tank for Embiid to increase it in a winning time, and he got a kickstart from Harden, who called his number early and often in the third quarter, even contacting him on a stepback jumper turned assistant. .

These early buckets seem to have given Embiid and he really stood out by locking in the defensive end in the third quarter, moving more decisively and putting more effort into challenging shots around the basket, even pressing some balls along the baseline to rubbish intensified the crime in New York. In order for Philadelphia to get where they want, this is the version of Embiid that must be had when the post-season comes, the man who locks the paint and holds switches to cover up his less capable teammates. Because Harden takes responsibility for an attack, Embiid (in theory) has more energy to offer at this end of the floor and should take advantage of that.

He talks a lot about the year Embiid has and his current level of dominance, that he can play the game himself and still dominate the floor for long periods of time, leading his team to victory. 27-12-4 in a “decent” game is just ridiculous.

(By the way, even this decent game by Embiid showed some things he either couldn’t or wouldn’t do so often in previous seasons. Embiid took on an assist with Danny Green’s short pick-and-roll role in the third quarter, sentence which would not have seemed possible even a year ago.)

• I don’t know what he will end up offering in his second playoff series this year, but I feel pretty confident that Tyris Maxi was created to withstand the pressure of being a big player in the long run. He moves, puts in various roles, dives into weird lineups, goes through the most unorthodox rookie season in modern NBA history, and somehow always finds a way to contribute. It thrives next to Harden and Embid and seems to be part of potential number 3 to those major veterinarians who are moving forward.

Maybe it’s because of the way the floor tilts with Harden in the mix, but it almost seems that Maxey looks faster than ever at the moment. Of course, this can be attributed to the increased confidence and comfort in the attack, as lately Maxi’s decision-making has been damn instantaneous. Whether it’s grabbing and shooting a threesome, spinning Immanuel Quickley around with a beautiful hinge, or tearing to the edge with absolutely no fear of contact or falling, Maxi moves at a speed most opponents can’t match.

The most important thing, to be honest, is that Maxey seems to have achieved his absolute top score as a scorer, as the work he puts in to improve shines this season. It no longer feels uncommon to be able to step back three outside the dribble, and threes catching and shooting from the corner are easy money for him, to the point that Philadelphia wants him as a strong side exit in case the teams try to send help. to Harden and Embiid.

Maxey is now a threat to the ball and beyond, which is a result I would not have imagined possible so soon, even though I was set on him to leave Kentucky. He is an absolute pleasure to watch and he contributes to the victory long before most boys his age show that they can. These days, Maxi is even reaching the line, and if he can handle it in the long run, it takes him to another level. Hell of a theft for this franchise anyway.

• There were definitely some options left on the table for Tobias Harris vs. Knicks, but I think there were good examples in this game of how he should fit into the wider unit, including during short outbursts while the big ones Cannons control the game most of the night. There were (deservedly) moans around the arena when he missed open threes, but he took enough to force a close and did important work in the starting area of ​​the fourth quarter, helping to keep the Sixers ahead while Embiid got breathing.

• Georges Niang is what every coach dreams of as a player. He knows what he’s good at, he knows what he has to do, and he doesn’t hesitate for a split second when asked to play his part. Harden and Embid should love to play with this guy – they create open visions for him and he not only takes them, but also makes them in a relatively high video. This is in stark contrast to some of their other role players, who need to be persuaded to just do their job.

There weren’t many bright spots on the Philadelphia bench on Wednesday, nor do I expect that much to change from now until the end of the year, but Shake Milton also had a good game for the Sixers against the Knicks. Offering a more muted version of what Maxi gave Philly to James Harden, Milton took advantage of the difficult closure and found his way to the painted area, inventing some acrobatic edge finishes at a time when nothing came easy (or at all). for the Sixers in attack.

The bad

• You seem to be able to count Harden among people frustrated by Harris’s slower / reluctant trigger from deep down. Although Harris allowed a lot of attention on Wednesday night for catching and shooting, Harden was there at various times after Harris missed additional opportunities, apparently unhappy that the open images created were not immediately turned into shots.

Man makes sense. As we have noted here throughout the year, the regular transformation of open threes into strict mid-range visions is not a desirable outcome under any circumstances. His teammates would almost certainly prefer to live with more three-pointers than ugly, 15-foot forced kicks.

• Paul Milsap looks older and slow is not something you can really blame him for. Time is catching up with all of us. But most of us aren’t used as Joel Embeid’s default five in a team with a title ambition, and Millsap complicates the decline he’s experienced with mental errors. Just because Sixers fans are used to seeing their backup centers make turnovers doesn’t mean it’s something that needs to be accepted. In fact, it is less acceptable than ever for anyone in this place to give up Philadelphia possession, because his role must be as simple as screening for Harden and then running to the edge or noticing from the depths. , depending on who the player is.

In the end, Rivers has to come up with the best option here and it looks like Deandre Jordan will take on this role if and when the team signs him in the coming days. This seems like bad practice, especially considering that the Sixers haven’t taken a real look at any of the other bigs on their list. Going with Milsap to see what’s up is one thing, but playing with it, playing it, and playing it, no matter what it looked like, is just stupid.

There’s basically a defensive explanation for going down the Millsap route at the moment – the Sixers are trying to play more of a switching style with Harden, a leading lineup without Embiid, and Millsap makes some sense as a gear in that style. At least Milsap made sense in that style before his legs left him. If you want to try this now, you can also throw Paul Reed in there and see if he can create some chaos and stay defensive. I guess it’s just one person’s opinion.

• There were some terrible turns in this game. I guess a few people will be lecturing during their next film session.

The ugly one

• The hosts do not have much patience for Furkan Korkmaz and based on how he played for most of this season, forgetting for a moment the match on Wednesday night, I do not blame him. Korkmaz is a shooter who has not struck, but is stuck in rotation, whether he manages or not. This is the last part, which is the problem – the fact that the actor doesn’t have it night after night is one thing, but there is no real consideration of other options in the rotation from Rivers.

Korkmaz did not exactly help his case with the public on Wednesday night, apparently, as one of his first touches led to a wild experience for the edge, which caused boos around the Wells Fargo Center. It didn’t get much better from there, with Korkmaz whistling even louder after missing an open three-pointer from the left wing.

Aside from shouting Isaiah Joe’s name, I’m not sure how much stronger the signal could be sent to the Rivers public that they want to see something else. Shake Milton got almost all his minutes in the second half, so call it a victory for the audience.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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