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Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Heat Cruise by 76ers as the James Harden "Concert Tour" Wraps up in Miami

The Miami Heat used a balanced scoring attack, blazing three point shooting, and solid defense to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers 119-103 and take a 2-0 lead before the series shifts to Philadelphia for the next two games. Bam Adebayo scored 23 points on 7-11 field goal shooting and he grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. Jimmy Butler added 22 points on 8-15 field goal shooting plus a game-high 12 assists. Victor Oladipo (19 points on 6-11 field goal shooting) and 2022 Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro (18 points on 6-10 field goal shooting) provided a huge lift off of the bench. The Heat outrebounded the 76ers 44-34, and the Heat shot 14-29 (.483) from three point range while holding the 76ers to 8-30 (.267) shooting from long distance.

With Joel Embiid sidelined for the second straight game (concussion protocol/orbital fracture), Tyrese Maxey poured in a game-high 34 points on 12-22 field goal shooting. Tobias Harris added 21 points on 9-17 field goal shooting while also contributing four rebounds, four assists, and four steals. Neither Maxey nor Harris committed a single turnover. If only the 76ers had an MVP-caliber player who was selected to the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team so that Maxey and Harris could be the second and third options, then the 76ers might have a real chance in this series even without Embiid.

Instead, the 76ers have a player whose resume is so fraudulent it should form the basis of a sequel to "Catch Me if You Can." James Harden's "concert tour" from the first game (5-13) continued as he set a 6-15 tour date tonight. Harden scored 20 points while shooting 6-15 from the field, and he led the 76ers with nine assists; he was inefficient overall, and he was invisible when it mattered the most: in the fourth quarter with the game up for grabs, Harden scored two points and shot 0-3 from the field. He scored four points on 1-5 field goal shooting in the second half. 

The "experts" keep saying that Harden has suddenly aged, but the only thing that has changed is that referees are not rewarding him with phantom foul calls; that means that he gets fewer cheap free throws, and it also means that defenders can guard him normally. Harden's demonstrated skill set now is the same that it was during previous playoff runs, as is his propensity to disappear in crunch time. Harden still overdribbles, jacks up three pointers, shoots poorly, and disappears when his team needs him the most. Harden was front and center for what Charles Barkley called "one of the worst choke jobs I've ever seen" as Harden's 2019 Houston Rockets lost at home to the Golden State Warriors sans Kevin Durant, and what we are seeing now is just the latest chapter in the epic book of Harden's playoff choke jobs/disappearing acts.

Miami led 31-24 after the first quarter as Butler scored six points on 2-4 field goal shooting. Harden started slowly with four points on 1-4 field goal shooting. Philadelphia gained no ground in the second quarter, and Miami enjoyed a 60-52 edge at intermission. Harden's only effective minutes happened in the second quarter, when he scored 12 points on 4-6 field goal shooting, but even those numbers are inflated by a gift from Oladipo with .1 second left: Harden was trapped and about to fling a desperation shot when Oladipo lightly bumped him, enabling Harden to parachute out of danger to the free throw line, where he made all three charity tosses. Those three donated points are more than he scored in the entire third quarter, as Maxey scored 13 points to keep the 76ers within striking distance while Harden had two points and two assists. Miami led 91-80 heading into the final stanza. 

Less than three years ago, Daryl Morey proclaimed that Harden is the greatest scorer in NBA history. With the 76ers' season on the line for all intents and purposes (teams rarely come back from a 2-0 deficit), Harden produced two fourth quarter points while orchestrating an offense that shot 6-18 from the field (.333) and was outscored 28-23. Harden has been pulling this kind of choke job/disappearing act in the playoffs for a decade. Why are people pretending like this is something new? The NBA officiating regular season games correctly and not giving Harden cheap free throw attempts is new, but Harden struggling in the playoffs is not new.

One of Harden's favorite "concert tour" dates is 2-11, a performance that he has scheduled four times during his playoff career. Maybe he is saving that one for an elimination game; it would not be the first time he scheduled a 2-11 tour date for an elimination game. 

When "stat gurus" began promoting "advanced basketball statistics," one of the major criticisms that they lobbed at old school NBA executives was that those executives regularly overpaid players because those executives allegedly did not know how to analytically evaluate basketball talent. Many "stat gurus" and their media Boswells got paid a lot of money to promote (and self-promote) such narratives. It will be fascinating to see if Morey, the poster child for the "stat gurus" and someone who has been a general manager for 14 years without reaching the NBA Finals even once, rewards Harden's "concert tour" with a contract extension of more than $200 million. The definitive book on the 76ers' journey from tanking to betting the house on Harden has yet to be written, but it most assuredly is not going to be the book that is inaccurately but amusingly titled Tanking to the Top. If Morey writes that nine figure check to Harden then "Tanking to Oblivion and Overpaying to the Bottom: How 'Advanced Basketball Statistics' Ruined the 76ers" would be a good book title.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:43 PM



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