Harden’s Big Night Tops Strong Effort From Embiid

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Houston 123, Philadelphia 118 – Box Score

One day after he was left off the All-Star reserve list, plenty of people expected a huge performance from Joel Embiid on the nationally televised stage against the Rockets. He certainly did not disappoint, making his feelings known about his snub right from the outset with this thunderous dunk on the very first play of the game.

Unfortunately for the Sixers, and those fans hoping to lift their feline friends up in victorious glee, while Joel Embiid might hear MVP chants on many occasions, the Rockets have the guy who will likely win that actual hardware. James Harden was an absolute beast Friday night, going off for 51 points, 13 rebounds, and 13 assists. He is now the first player in NBA history to have multiple 50-point triple-doubles in a single season, and also became the first player to ever pull off the feat against the Sixers.

Philadelphia’s strategy was to stay pinned to Houston’s shooters around the arc. It worked to a point, as a Rockets team that averages over 40 attempts per game from three only shot 31 against the Sixers. The downside of this tactic was it gave Harden even more room to operate, and he carved up the Sixers defense like Dexter on a particularly murderous week. Harden hit threes when defenders went under a screen, pulled his usual tricks to draw fouls while both driving the lane and shooting from the perimeter, and displayed some absolute wizardry in creating passing angles for his teammates.

With Harden in top form, the Sixers needed to bring their A+ game to take down one of the better teams in the league. On the whole, they only received around a B- effort, the exception being Joel Embiid, who passed with flying colors.

The Process went off for his second 30-point game of the season, ending the night with 32 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. On a couple occasions, the Rockets looked like they were going to pull away for good, until Embiid had a flurry of activity to bring the Sixers back within striking range.

The best example was a personal 8-0 run by Embiid to start the fourth quarter in the span of just over 1 minute. The sequence went as such: Embiid mid-range jumper, Embiid deflection to force a turnover, Embiid 3-pointer, Embiid defensive rebound off a Houston miss, Embiid 3-pointer that brought the house on its feet and forced a Rockets timeout.

https://twitter.com/ESPNNBA/status/825178462025576448

Not only was his shot working (4-6 from three), but Embiid showed the max effort on defense that makes him a surefire contender for a Defensive Player of the Year award somewhere down the road. Harden may have had a historic evening, but Embiid got the best of him here, tracking down a breakaway attempt for a block (and then taking it the other way himself for a bucket).

The Sixers may not have won, but Embiid not only looked like an All-Star, but a true generational superstar. The fact that it took one of Harden’s better games during a year when he’ll likely win MVP for Houston to come out on top speaks to how far this Sixers team has come. Unlike other national television appearances this season, the Sixers did themselves and their fans proud.

Other Game Notes:

  • In what is becoming a regular occurance, Dario Saric had a huge block of Clint Capela in the open court.

Chipping in 12 points off the bench, it was another solid performance off the bench from the Croatian star. I can’t wait to see him out there for the Rising Stars game in a few weeks.

  • How do teams not have in the scouting report to avoid throwing lazy in-bounds passes in the backcourt when TJ McConnell is lurking? McConnell was up to his old tricks in swiping another one against the Rockets, something that is hilarious for Sixers fans (and obviously a great play basketball-wise), and has to be infuriating for the opposition.

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