Doc Rivers Challenges Sixers Star James Harden: ‘No Thank You’

James Harden

Getty Sixers guard James Harden scored 32 points on March 29 versus Milwaukee in one of his best games with his new team.

Doc Rivers had seen the scene replayed too many times. James Harden dribbles around looking for the open man but when the ball swings back to him, he makes the extra pass. No, Harden needs to shoot it.

The Sixers don’t want the passive point guard who played second fiddle in Brooklyn. They need the aggressive, attacking version who won three NBA scoring titles. That version was on full display during Tuesday’s 118-116 loss to Milwaukee.

Harden finished with 32 points on 9-of-17 shooting, including four 3-pointers. He drove the lane with reckless abandon and got to the free-throw line 12 times. Prior to the game, Rivers actually pulled Harden aside to talk to him about his role.

“We had a good talk today, James and I,” Rivers said on Tuesday night. “You know, he’s trying to fit in and get guys going and I told him no thank you. Again, I said you get going and we’ll figure it out. We need you to be you. Don’t worry about everyone else as long as you and Joel [Embiid] are in the right spots and getting shots, we’ll figure everything else out.”

Harden confirmed the post-practice meeting with Rivers occurred. The coach and player are on the same page.

“We talked for maybe a half-hour on things,” Harden said. “Basically, he just told me, to sum it all up — to just go out there and be you. So that was kind of my mindset today. It felt good to have that confidence from Doc and here we are.”

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Being the ‘Best James Harden I Can Be’

It’s always funny to hear star athletes speak in the third person. Harden is that rare player who can do it without coming off obnoxious. The 10-time All-Star knows the Sixers can’t win a championship if he’s not scoring. He’s trying to switch gears from Brooklyn where he was asked to be more of a facilitator for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

“I’m trying to get it right,” Harden said. “I’m trying to be the best James Harden I can be. I’m trying to make sure I’m doing the things necessary to help our team win, whatever that needs to be.”

What’s been happening in Philly is Harden is deferring. Instead of breaking ankles with his devastating cross-over, he’ll fire a pass to Matisse Thybulle or Tobias Harris from the perimeter. His teammates would rather see him take the shot. They don’t care if he’s a ball hog. Harden’s aggressiveness makes the Sixers a legit contender for the crown.

“It was good, but we need to do it every night,” Embiid said of Harden’s aggressiveness vs. Milwaukee. “We need to find ways to win. We need everybody, especially him. So we need to be on the same page. Like I said, we’re trying to make sure we have a chance to win it all, so it’s all about doing it every night.”

Rivers doesn’t want to see the Brooklyn version of Harden. Turn the page.

“We need you to think of yourself as a scorer,” Rivers said. “Not the way you were in Brooklyn where you were a point guard trying to run the team. We want him to be that James and tonight he was and that was a big step for us.”

Communication Issues Late in Games

Everyone knew it was going to be a sprint to the finish line when Harden joined the Sixers after the All-Star break. Remember, this was a team built around feeding Joel Embiid and praying someone else stepped up. Now they have two superstars capable of going off for 40 points on any given night. The biggest issue has been getting on the same page, especially on the defensive end.

“Honestly, I think it was execution,” Tobias Harris said after losing to the Bucks. “Obviously, you can see it from the Phoenix game and today as well, execution, composure. But two games that we were in and that we believe we should have won, so we gotta go back to the drawing board and just figure out how we can sharpen up our coverages. Defensively, our communication, that’s the biggest thing. And offensively, we had some looks that just didn’t fall for us and we know we can hot those.”

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