After the 76ers lost Game 2 to fall down 2-0 in their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Heat, I wrote about how James Harden’s offensive shortcomings were going to be the downfall of Philadelphia’s season.
At that time, Harden was coming off his second-consecutive game of only scoring four points in the second half – something that was unacceptable with MVP candidate Joel Embiid out of the lineup. He hadn’t made any adjustments to become more aggressive as a scorer when his team needed him most, looking like a shell of his former three-time scoring champion self.
Fast forward two games later with Embiid back in the lineup and the 76ers have knotted the series at two games apiece, and Harden looks like he has new life.
The All-Star guard was the closer in Game 4, turning back the clocks to assure Philadelphia would even the series going back to Miami.
Through the first three quarters, Harden was fairly pedestrian with 15 points while shooting 3-for-9 from the field, although he did have eight assists. The 76ers only led by four points and needed a boost to fend off the Heat.
Harden looked like an awoken beast in the fourth quarter, erupting for 16 points with four 3-pointers in the final frame to decide the game’s outcome.
He pulled out all of his old tricks, even knocking down a few of his patented stepback 3s in big spots late in the fourth.
James Harden turned up the scoring in the fourth, scoring 16 points and knocking down 4 CLUTCH 3s to lead the @sixers to the Game 4 win to tie the series at 2-2!
🔔 Game 5: Tue. 7:30pm/et on TNT 🔔 pic.twitter.com/CuoT5RbDvS
— NBA (@NBA) May 9, 2022
Harden finished with 31 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, leading the 76ers in scoring for only the second (!) time this postseason. With that stat line, he became the first player in 76ers playoff history to tally at least 30 points, five assists, five rebounds and five 3-pointers in a game.
After the game, Harden didn’t treat this outing any differently than some of his poor performances in the past. The former MVP kept his answers very even-keel, stating, “I just took what the defense gave me. Same shots, I just made some.
“Nothing really changed. I just made some shots. Just being aggressive and in the fourth quarter, that group that started in the fourth quarter did a really good job of pushing the lead up, doing what we were supposed to do.”
Even after a monster game, James Harden remains even-keel: pic.twitter.com/0eSNktx9Ik
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) May 9, 2022
Head coach Doc Rivers, on the other hand, said he could feel this big game coming from Harden.
“It was just James being James. He played great,” Rivers told the media postgame. “We said it before the game but I felt he was going to have a big game tonight. I didn’t know he was going to have 31 points, but you could just sense it.”
If Harden can continue to keep this same energy as an offensive threat – particularly down the stretch of games – it would be massive for the 76ers to have another closer on the perimeter. Sophomore standout Tyrese Maxey has been that guy for Philadelphia in the playoffs so far, averaging 22.0 points on .513/.414/.933 shooting splits to give Embiid some help, but having Harden as another offensive outlet in the fourth quarter would be season-changing.
With the series all tied at 2-2, Harden has a chance to re-write his playoff narrative to this point if he can shake off the early postseason woes and lead the 76ers to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001.
The 76ers will travel to Miami for a pivotal Game 5 on Tuesday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET.