James Harden wasn’t what he used to be, but he’s what the Hexagram needs

Tobias Harris usually has more to say, but he was trying to take it easy on his windpipe after sucking Pam Adebayo’s unintended elbow in the neck in the second half of the Philadelphia 76ers’ 116-108 win over the Miami Heat in Sunday’s Game 4 of the best of a streak of Seven out of the semi-finals of the Eastern Conference.

Harris got to the heart of the matter when asked about James Harden’s 31-point night, including 16 of 27 points in the crucial fourth quarter.

“What we want him to do every night is what he does,” Harris said in a raspy voice. “Just be strong for us and defend the way they play with him.”

This is the new vision of James Harden.

He doesn’t need to reproduce his 2018 Sixers best player form to win.

He does not need to fill the box score or hit the clutch at the end of the game. He doesn’t even need to take 20 shots, which was previously a low number for him.

Harden only took 18 shots in Game 4, but it was a lot because he scored or assisted on 54 of the 98 points (55%) the Sixers scored while on the field.

This version of James Harden, the 32-year-old who was traded by the Sixers in February with the idea of ​​a long-term partnership, just needs to be solid and organize the team’s attack based on how he plays defense. .

Joel Embiid (24 points, 11 rebounds) can do the rest. Harris (13 points, four assists) and Therese Maxi (18 points, four assists) can fill in the scoring gaps and make-up play. Danny Green can space the floor (11 points on 3 vs. 4 of 3).

But Harden has to be a quarterback.

“He did a great job evaluating the game,” said Harris. “From where he can play, where he can take his shots. He started tonight. You can see the confidence in him when he descends first, and then the three-ball opened him up.

“He sees a lot of defensive coverage there. A lot of times they’re on the field as well, so sometimes it’s hard for him to be very aggressive on the offensive end. But when he’s in a groove like [Sunday night]We get it with the ball and keep going.”

The Heat pressured Harden throughout this series by denying him the space to work, especially when Embiid isn’t on the court.

In the first two games, Embiid missed a concussion and fractured an orbital bone, swept Miami Harden with several defenders or threw a zone in the face to spoil the Sixers’ attack.

According to Second Spectrum, the closest defender to Harden in the game averaged 1 3.7 feet. In Game 2, he dropped to 3.1 feet, the closest he has played in the past three seasons.

In Game 3, when Embiid was back in the lineup, the difference was even more pronounced. With Embiid on the field, Miami gave Harden 3.7 feet, but only 2.6 feet when Embiid was farther away from her.

Taking space away from Harden is like depriving a fire of oxygen. Former Rockets coach Mike D’Antony, and former and present general manager Daryl Morey attempted to build an empire in Houston around the unabashedly radical creation of Harden Space—and nearly succeeded but for the Golden State Warriors of the same era. The injured hamstring is Chris Paul.

Morey, now Philadelphia’s chief of basketball operations, had pretty much the same vision for the Sixers when he started trying to trade with Harden basically from the moment he took over in the fall of 2020.

If he could make a list of floor space around Harden, but with Embiid as the worldwide co-star, there was no telling what kind of offensive power he could become.

But the truth about Harden’s age and current abilities was all too obvious in his short time in Philadelphia. Whether he loses a step – or three – it is clear that he cannot challenge time and space in the same way he did before.

The Heat is devoted to Harden’s inability to get defenders as he has been throughout the series. But in Game 4, he flipped the text.

He started draining 3 throws to keep defenders off the basketball. He attacked the area defenses and was thrown by the Miami double teams. It all created a space, where there was very little before.

According to the second Spectrum tracking data, Harden created a 3.6-foot break with the Embiid on the field on Sunday and 5.1 feet with the Embiid from the ground.

Four of the five shots Harden took with Embiid off the ground were three, which is partly why he had so much space. He also hit six of his 10 three-pointers that night, having struggled behind the arc in his first three games, hitting 21% of 3.

So some of this is just a shot hit rather than a missed one. But for Harden, it’s always about space. When he has it – whether he’s creating the space or doing the team’s offensive system – he can find his rhythm and control the match. When he doesn’t, he looks lost and frustrated.

Sunday was the version of Harden the Sixers he’s been waiting for, even if he’s not an old harden. Because when he reads the floor and organizes the game as he did in Game 4, the Sixers look like a team that can beat anyone.

“Since he got here, he has been adjusting based on what we need from him,” Embiid said. “Whether it’s in the gaming industry or tonight – just go and get a bucket based on how they’ve been guarding everyone else. Making tough shots. He’s been doing that all his career.”

Harden downplayed his contributions to Sunday’s win compared to the difficulties he faced throughout the series.

“Nothing has really changed,” Harden shrugged. “I just made some shots.”

But then he said something that put his entire journey with the Sixers — and his average age in the NBA — into perspective.

“We’re still a fairly new team,” Harden said. “We’re barely two months away…we’re finally settling on this streak. We’ve found some great stuff that’s going to work tonight.”

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