BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo credit: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Newly acquired James Harden played his second game as a Philadelphia 76er on Sunday afternoon, and from the 76ers’ two games, it sure appears like scary hours with him playing alongside MVP favorite Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey.
This trio combined for 87 points in the 76ers’ 125-109 blowout victory over the stumbling Knicks at Madison Square Garden that earned the approval of 76ers fans in attendance. The only thing missing for the Sixers was the Knicks rolling out the red carpet literally for that trio, but with the Knicks’ sorry performance, it wasn’t really necessary.
In just Harden’s second game, he put on a triple-double performance of 29 points, 16 assists (season-high) and 10 rebounds. He even pulled five steals for good measure. He combined with Embiid for making 52 of 59 free throws. This comes after he finished with 27 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds in his 76er debut Friday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
It’s funny all of a sudden Harden is healthy and engaged now after playing his way out of Brooklyn a few weeks ago because he wasn’t happy Kyrie Irving refused to be vaccinated, which is a requirement to play Nets home games at Barclays Center.
Here’s hoping for the Sixers’ sake that Harden continues to be engaged for this to work out. With him, no one knows if he is in a good place or not. He played for some great teams in the Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets, and there were times he would brood he would not have the ball enough even when the team was winning.
He appears happy after two games, but the real question is: how long can he stay happy? He had a hard time playing with Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Irving. He and Kevin Durant apparently had a falling out that goes back to Nets’ training camp. His track record shows he and Embiid will have a problem later.
The Sixers know it. How could they not? Despite all that, they want to win a championship with Embiid in his pride, and Harden helps them achieve its objective. His talent and his performance in those two games show it’s worth the baggage from their perspective.
Obviously, talent wins over character. Teams feel they can work this out by managing the player. The Nets certainly thought that way until it became way too much for them. The problem with getting a player with baggage: It does not end up well.
The 76ers just hope Harden can behave well enough to make this work for this year when the championship is ripe for the making. If they win a championship during Harden’s time with them, it’s worth it, even if he wears out his welcome in the end.
Getting Harden is a high-risk high reward for the 76ers.
Truth be told, they made the right move getting him. He gives them the best chance to win it all. In a seven-game playoff series, it’s going to be hard to stop him, Embiid and Maxey, and that trio can get open shots for Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle. Besides 76ers general manager Daryl Morey had Harden when they worked with the Houston Rockets, so he knows how to manage his mercurial player better than anyone else.
For two games, Harden played like what Morey and the Sixers organization envisioned what this trio can do in the playoffs. Most times, it takes time to jell. Even the Heat Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh took months to jell in their first season together in the 2010-2011 season.
With 22 games left, there’s no time for this trio to work out the jitters and chemistry, especially getting Harris in the mix. But with that talent, there’s no reason for any jitters. It’s about winning, and these guys know that. A team with the talent the Sixers boast can take its chances even with no margin for error.
There’s no time for think, so it can work at this point. Harden can make this work for a year. This is why the 76ers have to win it all this year. There’s no guarantee this can work next year or if the opportunity presents itself next year,
The 76ers can ask the Nets how opportunities can be fickle. The Nets thought they could have won it all last year and built a dynasty with Harden, Irving and Durant. Instead, Irving injured his ankle after landing on the foot of Giannis Antetokounmpo in Game 4 of the Nets’ second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Nets ended up losing to the Bucks in Game 7 in overtime. This season, Harden got traded, and the Nets are hoping a duo of Irving and Harden can result in a title with the hope New York Mayor Eric Adams lets Irving play despite not being vaccinated.
It’s carpe diem for Harden, Embiid, Maxey and the 76ers. There’s no tomorrow. 76ers head coach Doc Rivers’ job is depending on it. He could be fired if the 76ers flop in the postseason.
The Sixers can talk about taking it one game at a time. After all, it’s February 28. But the postseason will come before they know it. Time and life go fast.
For the Harden acquisition to be worth the trouble, a championship has to happen this year or else they can share stories with the Nets and Rockets of what could have been.