Harden lives up to expectations in his 76ers debut

MINNEAPOLIS — The curtain rose for the first time on the Joel Embiid-James Harden partnership with the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night at the Target Center against the Minnesota Timberwolves. And, after two weeks of preparation and anticipation of what these two superstars would look like together, opening night lived up to the hype.

Behind 27 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists from Harden, and 34 points and 10 rebounds from Embiid, Philadelphia cruised to a 133-102 win over Minnesota in what Philadelphia hopes is a sign of things to come.

“I keep telling our guys yesterday and today that we don’t need to overcomplicate this early on, at least,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said before the game. “We need to put guys in the right space and just play. We do that and we’ll be fine.”

The Sixers (36-23) were more than fine Friday night, casually imposing their will on the Timberwolves (32-29) throughout the game, allowing Philadelphia to have a comfortable victory and give their stars a seat. on the bench for the end of the game. minutes.

Harden, dressed in his No. 1 jersey, the best-selling jersey in the NBA in the past two weeks, and with a white sleeve on his left leg that matched his white jersey, stepped onto the court for the first time as a ’76 player. along with Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid, greeting each of them before the opening tip.

But instead of imposing his will instantly, Harden was content to move the ball around for the first few minutes, keeping it swinging back and forth rather than trying to score himself.

Yet when he finally did, with 8:43 remaining in the first quarter, it was a familiar sight: Harden blasted his way through the contact and finished a layup at the rim, as well as a foul. He got the first assist from him a short time later when he hit Harris on a late break for a 3-pointer that capped a 15-0 Timberwolves run and forced his coach, Chris Finch, to call timeout.

As the game progressed, the two Superstars began to find their groove. While there were still some clear timing issues to work out, every time Harden and Embiid went on a pick-and-roll, they created a good scoring opportunity. And, playing against a Minnesota team that commits more fouls per game than any other team in the NBA, it was no surprise that Embiid and Harden, two of the league’s best foul shooters, spent the game living on the charity strip. In the first half alone, they combined for 19 free throws — 11 for Embiid, eight for Harden — as they outshot the entire Minnesota team (19-13) by themselves.

With Harden now on the court, this provided an opportunity for 76ers coach Doc Rivers to show if he would deliver on something he had promised to do: wow his top four offensive players — Embiid, Harden, Harris and Maxey — as well as have at least one of Harden and Maxey on the floor at all times.

The logic was sound, as it would allow the 76ers to be as effective as possible offensively for as much of the game as possible. But it’s also something Rivers has typically avoided doing in the past.

True to his word, though, Rivers started the game by doing just that. His first substitutions of the game, five minutes into the first quarter, were to take out Harden and Harris, replacing them with Furkan Korkmaz and Georges Niang. And, throughout the game, outside of 54 seconds in two periods late in the first quarter, he was limited to having at least two of those guys at any one time, and he never had a moment when Harden or Maxey were out of the game. court, except for a defense-only possession to end the first.

That plan spun out of control in the second half, however, when Maxey went to the bench early in the third for his fourth foul, leading Rivers to have an all-bench lineup on the court for a couple of minutes at final. of the third trimester.

Ultimately, though, this game was about Harden and Embiid, and for a 76ers team that spent months waiting to see what would happen to Ben Simmons. Friday night was, for one night at least, an example of why 76ers general manager Daryl Morey waited for the right player to trade Simmons.

Harden made three of his trademark step-back 3s, two of them turning into four-point plays and another when the shot clock stopped on the third, when Philadelphia casually put the game out of his reach. And after a season in which Philly has only had one point guard on its roster — and that point guard, Maxey, is still learning the nuances of the position — Harden’s passing ability immediately began to unlock things that had otherwise been there. inactive for the Sixers offense.

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Harden lives up to expectations in his 76ers debut