Without Joel Embiid, the only chance for a 76ers victory was a strong performance from James Harden.
After some good play in the first half, there was hope that Harden would finish out strong and deliver a shocking upset in Game 1. Instead, he pulled a disappearing act in the last two quarters, dropping just 4 points and 1 assist on 1-5 shooting.
Without a star to lead the way, Philly got destroyed in the last 24 minutes, enough to lose the game by 14 points (final score 106-92).
On Twitter, fans laid into the Beard for failing to step up in Embiid’s absence.
It wasn’t that long ago when Harden was putting up historical numbers for the Rockets. In fact, his 9 years in Houston stand out as one of the greatest offensive stretches by any player in NBA history.
But after repeated early playoff exits, Harden had enough and decided to bail on the franchise.
He landed in Brooklyn, stayed for 80 games, and essentially forced his way out to land in Philly and play with Joel Embiid.
The hope was that, in a new environment, Harden would thrive as an MVP candidate and lift the 76ers to a Championship victory.
So far, that has been far from the case. Since arriving in Philadelphia, Harden has struggled to fit in, and that was the case again on Monday night. To some, that’s just the new normal for the Sixers star.
“Father Time hits everybody at a different time in their career,” said Kendrick Perkins. “I think Father Time has caught James Harden right now in front of our very own eyes. James Harden doesn’t have the speed or the explosiveness to get by guys. He’s unable to get to the rim and finish through contact. He’s not even able to get separation to get his three-point shot off. I get it, everybody wants to say Doc Rivers needs to put him in a position to be successful, but at the end of the day, James Harden has the ball in his hands. They’re running pick-and-roll actions, he’s having isolation plays, what other position can you put him in to have him go out there and succeed? Right now, the game has caught up to James Harden. This is the James Harden we are going to see from here on out.
The good news is, Joel Embiid could return as early as Game 3. Even if the 76ers are down 2-0 in the series, his presence could easily have the series tied when it swings back to Miami.
The bad news is, the team probably isn’t getting very far anyway with James Harden in his current state. As great as Embiid is, he really needs that second star for the 76ers to win the East.
Without James at his peak, it remains to be seen how much life this Philly team has left in them.