Tim BontempsESPN5 minute read
PHILADELPHIA — After James Harden had an abysmal second straight shooting night — and the Philadelphia 76ers lost a second straight game to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals — Joel Embiid had a message for his point guard before game 4.
“I mean, you talk to him and you tell him to keep shooting,” Embiid said after Boston’s 114-102 Game 3 win. “Be aggressive. Can’t get too high, can’t get too low. Some nights you’re gonna make a lot of other shots, a lot of tough shots, and some nights you’re not gonna make them. So it’s It’s about finding other ways to impact the game.”
Unfortunately, most of Harden’s impact in Game 3 was negative for the 76ers. After putting together the best playoff game of his career by tying his career-high 45 points in Philadelphia’s Game 1 victory, he followed that performance up with a 2-for-14 performance in Game 2 on Wednesday night and a 3 for- 14 exposure in Friday night’s loss at the Wells Fargo Center.
The 5-for-28 combined shot in those two games is Harden’s worst outing in that span of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
When asked after the game if Boston did anything to slow him down after his Game 1 performance, Harden simply replied, “No.”
Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon disagreed, saying the Celtics made an effort to slow Harden down, with Jaylen Brown being particularly good at guarding him.
“We deliberately make it difficult for him,” Brogdon said. “He came out in the first game and won them that game and played terrific. We don’t want him to play like that anymore so we have to be as physical as possible with him. Force him to take hard shots, make him feel uncomfortable and really learn to compete.”
Sixers coach Doc Rivers has repeatedly said Philadelphia needs to play harder. He thought the team had traffic lanes to attack but didn’t take advantage of it. On several occasions, Harden made forays into painting, but seemed indecisive and past – often resulting in reversals.
“I thought there were a few times where we came out of a timeout and thought we had the lane,” Rivers said. “It’s something we talked about, going into the paint hard, with rhythm and if they come, let’s make plays. I didn’t think we did that.”
This was especially true in the first half, when Harden committed five of Philadelphia’s 11 turnovers that led to a 57-50 halftime lead for the Celtics that they would never relinquish.
“I have to watch the game,” Harden said when asked about those indoor workouts, “but I’m pretty good at basketball instinct. I know when to score and I know when to pass.
“So I’m pretty sure a lot of them were the right game.”
Harden’s second straight tough night eclipsed a similar clunker from compatriot Tyrese Maxey, who finished the game on 4-for-16 shooting, and the two combined to go 2-for-14 on 2-point shots. As a team, the 76ers shot just 15 for 41 (36.6%) on 2-pointers on the night. Remove Embiid’s shots from that number and it drops to a dismal 7 for 24 (29.2%).
The Celtics had seven blocked shots – including three by Robert Williams III – and Embiid said what seemed obvious to the naked eye during the game: Challenging the Celtics’ length repeatedly to the edge wasn’t necessarily the best way to approach the game.
“You just have to be aggressive and always pick your spots,” Embiid said of Maxey. “Robert Williams is pretty good defensively, blocking shots, so you can be reckless knocking him down. You can do some, but with his athletic level there’s a chance he’ll block or change the shot. I think you just need to stay calm and play at a better pace instead of attacking and going fast I think that’s really a problem but like I said it’s the same for [Maxey]. There is no panic. We just have to settle down.”
Embiid and Rivers also pointed to Boston winning over 50-50 balls and getting several timely offensive rebounds — four of them in the fourth quarter, when the Celtics held off a few challenges from the 76ers with 3-point shots. timely, including twice when Brogdon and then Horford faked defenders before draining triples.
Ultimately, Embiid said it was just a matter of the 76ers playing better starting Sunday afternoon in Game 4 if they wanted to stay alive in this series.
“I think the players have to show up,” said Embiid, who finished with 30 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 blocks in 39 minutes and accepted the NBA MVP award at a ceremony. emotional pregame which saw him crumble when his son, Arthur, ran towards him on the pitch. “I have to do my job. All the guys, everyone knows their role, they have to do their job. The players have to show up. Obviously you can make whatever adjustments you want. But if the players don’t perform , they don’t show up and we don’t do hits, it’s on us.
“I have to be better. We all have to be better. We just haven’t been good enough in the last two games. No sense of urgency…it’s the little things. We’ve done well to keep them in the half It’s loose ball situations, offensive rebounds, and they knock down a 3 or they score on it and that changes everything.