Perhaps the biggest single shot in the Philadelphia 76ers’ 133-130 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night came in a broken game.
With less than 1:30 into the fourth quarter and the Sixers trailing up to 18 late in the third quarter, James Harden lost control of the ball and had to scoot back to half the court to regain it. Against a dwindling shot clock, Harden pulled the trigger on a 30-foot boat. syringes
On Philly’s subsequent possession, Harden found Joel Embiid for the 3-pointer. The Sixers never fell behind again as they ended Milwaukee’s 16-game winning streak with what is probably the most impressive singles win of the Harden-Embiid era.
Obviously Embiid’s shot was huge. In the end it was the winner of the game. But I would submit Harden’s shot as a game saver. If that shot didn’t land and Milwaukee controlled the board by a four-point lead and under a minute’s time, Philly’s chances of winning would have turned pretty bleak.
But the shot went, which was fitting. In case you haven’t noticed, Harden is having the best 3-point season percentage of his career with more than 41 percent on nearly eight attempts per game.
He has never come close to this mark. His best-ever shot as a rocket was 37 percent, although he was obviously a larger volume shooter in his Houston prime.
In six games since the All-Star break, Harden is 25-50 from the deep. As of Feb. 1, he’s been connecting with a 45 percent clip as his all-star break looks worse and worse.
Harden was brilliant in that game, especially in the fourth quarter, where he registered 17 of his 38 points, two of his five 3-pointers, and four of his 10 assists.
This is only the fifth time this season that Harden has broken the 30-point mark. He’s not the goalscorer he once was, in part because the Sixers rightly prioritize Embiid, who ranks as the league’s second-best goalscorer, while Harden leads the league in assists.
But Harden unleashed his vintage aggression on Saturday, getting in the paint and on the edge on several crucial possessions for finishes and fouls. The Sixers spammed a double-drag screen to give Harden the space he needed against Jrue Holiday’s stubborn defense, and when he got it, he attacked decisively.
“Two down/thumbs up is what we call it,” Doc Rivers said of the double screen promotion. “First choice really is just to get Holiday to open up his body a little bit. The second choice is the choice that did the damage and allowed James to leave [downhill]. It was a good move for us.”
“That’s what I do,” Harden said. “I feel very comfortable in such situations. Whether it’s a playmaker or a goalscorer, I’ve been doing it for a long time.”