Things are not going well in Philadelphia. As the 76ers get ready for one of the most important postseasons in franchise history, they suffered a bad loss to the Detroit Pistons on Thursday. It was their third straight defeat and head coach Doc Rivers, when asked about his bench play, decided to critique one of his stars in James Harden.
“They [the bench] didn’t struggle. They didn’t get a lot of shots, in their defense. I think during that stretch, it was more James [Harden] than them. So you know, yeah, it’s just a tough night.”
Doc Rivers called out James Harden after Sixers collapse
[the bench] didn't struggle. They didn't get a lot of shots in their defense. I think during that stretch, it was more James [Harden] than them. So you know, yeah, it's just a tough night."#DocRivers #JamesHarden pic.twitter.com/5EET0SVyBS
— Jeff Skversky (@JeffSkversky) April 1, 2022
Harden was 4-15, including 2-9 from three. Not his best work.
When the 76ers traded for Harden at the deadline, team President Daryl Morey hoped he was pairing the former MVP and multiple-time All-NBA guard with perhaps this season’s MVP in Joel Embiid.
In moments it has looked that way, but Harden has been inconsistent. He’s been that way since suffering a hamstring injury during last postseason as a member of the Brooklyn Nets. If the 76ers are to compete for the conference and a shot at the NBA title, they need All-NBA Harden. Not the version we’ve seen of late.
This is an important offseason in Philadelphia.
When Morey came aboard in 2020 and the team hired Rivers, this was supposed to catapult them to the next level. “The Process” realized, if you will.
But the top-seeded 76ers lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the conference semifinals, Ben Simmons was the scapegoat, and he was shipped out of town in the Harden trade after an ugly offseason.
If this team fails to make the conference finals this year with Embiid having his healthiest and most productive season, heads are sure to roll.
Harden and Rivers both are under tremendous pressure to produce this postseason. There is no more Simmons around to blame for not shooting.
In addition, if the 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle have poor postseasons and Seth Curry and Andre Drummond play well for the Brooklyn Nets, Morey could face some heat as well.
Remember when the Harden-Simmons trade was being negotiated, Maxey and Thybulle were off-limits. Curry and Drummond were shipped out instead. The 76ers have shooting questions and backup center questions heading into the postseason. Areas where Curry and Drummond would obviously help.
It’s not all bad news for the 76ers. They are currently fourth in the East with an 11th-ranked aNET rating, 13th ranked aORTG, and 10th ranked aDRTG. They have a legit chance to advance deep in the postseason.
But Harden is going to have to play better. He might not be able to get to MVP level every night, but consistently close to All-NBA should get the job done. He’ll need to shoot better and give the requisite effort on defense.
Rivers is going to have to find a way to generate consistent offense with his main unit and limit the opportunities Harden gets hunted on defense.
Anything short of the conference finals will be viewed organizationally as a failure.
According to FiveThirtyEight, the Celtics, Bucks and Heat all have a better chance of advancing to the conference finals. As it stands now, they would have to beat at least one of those teams to advance to the conference finals.