The Philadelphia 76ers were finally able to notch their first win of the season by taking down the Indiana Pacers by a score of 120-106. As has become a theme early on in the season, it was James Harden who took control of the game down the stretch. He put an exclamation point on his strong play by hitting a three-pointer after Bennedict Mathurin found himself on the ground.
Harden opened up on the play following the game making it clear it meant a little extra to him. As the superstar put it when speaking to the media, “The last time I did that, I airballed, so I wasn’t trying to airball, I was trying to get the ball on the rim, at least…I (saw) Jo out of the corner of my eye on the right-hand side, but I had to get my revenge.”
The airball that Harden was referring to came against the Boston Celtics after he shook Marcus Smart with a step-back before the disappointing miss.
Harden’s Strong Play
It has been extremely encouraging to see Harden have this type of separation ability again. There has been a notable improvement in his burst in getting the basket and in isolation situations. Through four games, Harden has averaged 26.8 points, 9.8 assists, and 8.5 rebounds per game.
The former MVP has been crucial to the Sixers’ success early on, especially during Joel Embiid’s slow start to the season. Harden’s ‘revenge’ three-pointer also served as the dagger in the matchup to put the Sixers up 14 with 5:21 left to pay. It erupted the building and was Harden’s second consecutive three-pointer to quiet the Pacers’ run. This statement shot stomped out all signs of life from Indiana and proved what Harden is still capable of.
Revenge Season For Harden?
While Harden only referenced revenge for the airball on a previous three-point attempt, it feels as if he is keeping receipts for far beyond this. There have been plenty of concerns that the superstar has fallen off and he came into the season as the Sixers’ biggest X-factor.
It is still extremely early in the season, but Harden has been everything the Sixers could have asked for and more to start the season. He has been the Sixers’ best player by a large margin to start the season, leading the team in minutes, points, assists, steals, and three-point attempts. Neither Embiid nor Tyrese Maxey has looked fully comfortable within the offense and it has been Harden’s show to run thus far.
The team has a ways to go before the key players are on the same page, but Harden’s play has been the biggest reason for optimism thus far. The star guard has attributed the strong play to his return to health. He has been bothered by lingering hamstring issues throughout the last two years and believes he finally is back to the level of play he desires to be at. Harden opened up on how difficult this has been for him and stated to the media following the loss to the Bucks, “I’m a workaholic so just not being able to put the work in like I normally do was frustrating…this scoring ability and all this other stuff doesn’t come without work.”
Harden has not been doubted or had his back against the wall in the way that has been the case this season since early in his career. He looks to have taken the challenge personally and is at a much better level of fitness and health than was seen last season. He will continue to be a crucial part of the Sixers’ play as the season progresses and more chemistry is built within the starting unit.