James Harden Reminds Everyone What He Can Do

James Harden Reminds Everyone What He Can Do

Published May 9, 2022
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James Harden was relentless in the fourth quarter of Game 4. He was largely subdued against the Heat for the better part of three games before he erupted on Sunday night.

His second 30-point game with Philadelphia came in a 116-108 win, which tied the series, 2-2. Jimmy Butler dazzled once again for Miami, but he went at it alone for much of the game. Here are three thoughts on the 76ers evening up the series.

Harden’s stepback threes in Game 4 had a feeling of inevitability not felt since his time with the Rockets. In Brooklyn, and now in Philadelphia, Harden is a different player than he was in Houston, where he won three consecutive scoring titles and an MVP to boot. His first step is slower, he’s not getting to the line as often and his three-point percentage is down. Through nine playoff games, Harden had been good, not great, and at times was downright bad by his All-NBA standard. Then he gave the Heat all they could handle on Sunday night.

He finished with a team-high 31 points and attempted a playoff-high 18 field goals. Harden’s throwback performance included six threes, nine free throws, nine assists and yes, six turnovers. It was the full Harden experience that Daryl Morey signed up for when he shipped off Ben Simmons, Seth Curry and two firsts to Brooklyn with a championship duo in mind.

Harden’s scoring in the second half tailed off in each game against the Heat. After putting together a strong two quarters, he’d wither away in the final 24 minutes. Harden managed just two second-half points in the Game 2 win after scoring 15 in the first. After not scoring in the third, he accounted for 16 of his team’s 27 points in the final frame on Sunday. That included four back-breaking threes, the last of which was a 28-footer that put Philadelphia up 11 with 1:07 to play.

Jimmy Butler’s second 40-point outing of the postseason was not enough to win this time around. He consistently bullied his way to the paint and got to the free-throw line with ease on his way to an efficient 40 points on 20 shots. And he even hit two threes on a night where the Heat were missing everything from the perimeter. Butler has been the best player in this series and one of the best in the playoffs—his teammates have not matched his energy.

Butler outscored the rest of the starting five combined in the two games in Philadelphia. He averaged 36.5 ppg in Games 3 and 4 while Adebayo, Kyle Lowry, Max Strus and P.J. Tucker combined to average 33. Adebayo, who scored 21 on Sunday, was the only other starter to score in double digits for the Heat in either of the road games. Miami did get some assistance from its bench in Game 4—Tyler Herro had 11 points and 10 rebounds and Victor Oladipo added 15 points—but the starting five let Butler down.

Outside shooting problems plagued Miami once again. The Heat shot 14-65 from three in Philadelphia. They didn’t shoot particularly well in the first two games at home, but that was covered up by the 76ers’ own shooting woes. Now that Danny Green and Harden seem to have found their stroke, there’s added pressure on Strus, Herro, Lowry and Tucker—all of whom shot north of 37% from three in the regular season—to connect from deep.

Miami held a commanding 2-0 lead when the series shifted to Philadelphia. Embiid had yet to play, Harden was showing few signs of life and Green was 2-14 from three. Things have changed. The Heat head back to Florida with the series tied after the 76ers flexed their defensive chops and showed off their offensive firepower in a pair of home victories.

Embiid looked even more comfortable in his second game back. The MVP finalist finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds and played 38 minutes, a sign that his conditioning is not a huge concern after his time off. He also subdued Adebayo in Game 3 and his aggression had him in foul trouble for much of Game 4.

Miami is the team that prides itself on its depth and Philadelphia is a team built around two stars. Through four games, the Heat look like a one-man show while the 76ers have had a different leading scorer in each game.

It’s unclear who’s going to join Butler in battle against his former team. Lowry doesn’t seem like himself, Adebayo hasn’t held up against Embiid and Herro’s play has been inconsistent. What is clear is that Philadelphia’s three-point shooting advantage has completely turned this series around. Does Miami have a counter? Duncan Robinson, the career 40% three-point shooter who is in the first season of a five-year, $90 million deal, has played just one minute in this series. Erik Spoelstra sure could use a reliable three-point shooter as this series heats up and his team remains cold.

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