Sixers Star James Harden Takes Apparent Shot at Heat Defensive Ace

PJ Tucker, James Harden

Getty James Harden defends PJ Tucker in Game 1 of the 2022 Eastern Conference semifinals between the Heat and Sixers.

James Harden wasn’t in a joking move following the Sixers’ Game 1 loss. He went 5-for-13 from the field, including an ice-cold 2-for-7 from the 3-point line. And the chatter about the 10-time All-Star not being aggressive enough on the offensive end won’t go away.

It’s actually getting worse as the new narrative has painted Harden as an over-the-hill player who has lost a step. No longer can he beat defenders off the dribble. The 32-year-old guard looks to draw contact when he drives the lane even when it’s not there, throwing his hands up at the refs and begging for fouls.

“I think I can be a little more aggressive,” Harden told reporters. “They did a really good job of just boxes and elbows, just showing their bodies and crowding the ball when ball screens came. We’ll watch film and find ways to get better.”

Miami put veteran defensive ace PJ Tucker — the same guy who locked down Trae Young — on Harden in Game 1. It proved to be a troublesome matchup.

“PJ’s PJ. He plays hard,” Harden said of Tucker. “But that’s not something I’m worried about.”

Subtle shot? Maybe. Tucker and Harden were teammates in Houston. And previous enemies who — by all accounts — turned into great friends. The more likely explanation for Harden’s post-game comments stemmed from an overall frustration in dropping a winnable game. The Sixers led 51-50 at halftime and lost.

“We let one slip away, we’ll be ready for Game 2,” Harden said. “It’s one game but things can turn fast. So the sooner we can correct the things that we can control the better off we’ll be.”

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Harden Fires Salty Response at Heat Reporter

Harden has made a habit out of getting to the free-throw line throughout his career. He finished third in the NBA this season with 8.10 attempts per game. So it was odd to see the calls not going his way in Game 1. Harden only got to the charity stripe four times, a fact not lost on Heat reporter Mateo Mayorga who asked him about it. To which Harden simply replied: “Next question.”

The whole exchange was rather awkward as Mayoraga cut off Tobias Harris as he was answering another question. Salty responses aside, Harden and the Sixers are anxious to get back out there for Game 2 and even the series up.

“For us, I think it’s good to get back out there,” Harden said. “Every game is its own game. Whether you lose by a game-winner or you lose by 30, 40 points. We find things that we can correct and go out there in Game 2 and win the game. We let them get off to a good start, we crawled back, took the lead going into halftime. We got to have a better third quarter and it’s that simple.”

Tobias Harris Sees Confident Sixers Team

The big positive coming out of the Sixers’ 106-92 loss was they competed hard without Joel Embiid. The team is hoping to get their big man back for Game 3 as he recovers from an orbital bone fracture and a mild concussion.

While the media keeps harping on Doc Rivers’ decision to start DeAndre Jordan, the guys in the locker room can take pride in hanging in there with the No. 1 seed in the East. They’ll go into Game 2 confident and optimistic.

“This is a confident group, this is a confident team,” Harris said. “And this is the playoffs like we don’t go out there expecting to lose the game. That’s you guys’ job [the media] to write that up for us, on what we’re about to do or whatnot.

“But for us, in the locker room, we got to get better and get back to Game 2 and be ready to get a W and that’s how we approach it. A tough game for us tonight but there’s things that we know we can be better at Game 2 to help us get a victory.”

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