The Philadelphia-Boston series has been tied at two games apiece, thanks to James Harden.
One constant has emerged during the opening four games of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics. The Sixers have won when James Harden has played well, but when he hasn’t, they haven’t.
Harden tied a playoff career-high with 45 points in the series’ first game, leading the Sixers to a 119-115 victory without NBA MVP Joel Embiid. It was an energizing performance demonstrating he could still score at an elite level. However, he immediately followed that masterclass with two mediocre outings. James Harden scored 28 points while shooting only 5 of 28 from the field in Games 2 and 3. Philadelphia was defeated by a cumulative score of 46 points in both games.
James Harden’s Heroics Propel Sixers to Overtime Victory in Game 4
Then, in Game 4 on Sunday afternoon, with the Sixers trailing the series 2-1 and under immense pressure – collectively and individually – James Harden delivered another great effort. Harden finished with 42 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds. He was also aggressive on defense, as seen by his four steals, which came at crucial times for Philadelphia. He produced clutch play after clutch play for the Sixers, and he was the driving force behind their exciting 116-115 overtime win that tied the series at two games apiece.
Harden’s point total in Game 4 includes the game-tying floater that forced overtime and the game-winning 3-pointer from the corner in overtime after the Celtics left him open to double-team Joel Embiid in the paint.
JAMES HARDEN IS IN #PLAYOFFMODE
76ERS TAKE GAME 4 TO TIE THE SERIES!
42 PTS | 9 AST | 8 REB | 4 STL
Game 5: Tuesday, 7:30 PM ET on TNT pic.twitter.com/rIOVsTDjJb
— NBA (@NBA) May 7, 2023
Harden’s Inconsistency: Unraveling the Jekyll and Hyde Performance
Harden’s overwhelming dominance in the first and fourth games of the series belies his lackluster performances in Games 2 and 3. The shots will sometimes fall, but Harden’s lack of assertiveness was evident in both performances. He had more shots in Game 1 and Game 4 than in the second and third games combined.
When asked about the variation in his performance in the series after Game 4, James Harden highlighted that the on-court result isn’t due to a lack of motivation.
“I’m always fired up and motivated.” “It’s just that things don’t always work out how I want them to,” James Harden explained. “It’s a component of it.” I’m an opponent. I’m always looking for methods to win, to be more aggressive, and to do things that will help me succeed. That’s my opinion. There are no vacation days with that. There is no turning it on and off with it. I always want to win the game, whether I have 40 points or 18. It’s easy.”
Harden’s Aggression: Key to Sixers’ Success against Celtics
It’s no accident that the Sixers won the two games in which Harden was aggressive and lost the ones he wasn’t. With Embiid out with a knee injury and the Celtics focusing heavily on him, Harden’s intensity is a huge plus for Philadelphia. It gives them a dependable secondary scorer, which opens up the field for everyone else by drawing in Boston’s defense.
Tucker did not convert on that particular play, but the open opportunity was created by James Harden’s aggressiveness in pushing Celtics defender Marcus Smart to pinch in from the corner. Harden’s big scoring totals differ from what the Sixers need, but they surely help. The offensive mindset, in particular, sets the opposition on its heels and creates numerous open opportunities. Even when his shooting isn’t falling, Harden can have that kind of impact on a game.
“That’s what he needs to do every night,” Embiid said after Game 4 of the series. “Don’t even think about anything. We have some fantastic teammates who can do various things, but as I mentioned the other night, guys must come up no matter what. He did it [in Game 4], which he needs to do every night. It’s not about taking many shots; it’s about being aggressive, hitting the rim, and finding guys, and he did an excellent job.”
Harden’s Gospel Inspiration Sparks Game 4 Resurgence for Sixers
Harden has been a key figure in the 76ers’ series against the Celtics. When things have gone well for Harden, they have also gone well for Philadelphia. Moving ahead in what has become a best-of-three series, Harden’s sustained aggression is critical for Philadelphia’s success. They cannot afford another performance like Harden’s passivity in Game 3, which became an important topic.
Doc Rivers disclosed to reporters after the game on Sunday that he sent Harden a gospel song named ‘You Know My Name?’ to listen to before his Game 4 explosion, and the star guard confirmed that he heard it in its entirety.
“It’s a seven-minute song, but I let the whole thing play,” Harden explained. “I was like, ‘All right, there’s got to be some good juju in this song, or whatever he’s feeling, I want to feel like that.'” And it appears to have worked.”
Given Harden’s performance in Game 4, perhaps Rivers could choose a few more appropriate gospel tunes to deliver to his star guard before the series’ upcoming games.
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