There typically is a sigh of panic when it is announced Joel Embiid cannot play. However, this was not the case when the Philadelphia 76ers took down the Pacers in a 129-126 overtime victory. The Sixers were able to get the production from the big man position that they needed with Montrezl Harrell stepping up in a major way. While the Sixers rolled out a small-ball lineup with P.J. Tucker at center to start the game, it was the strong play of Harrell that earned him additional minutes. Overall he ended with 19 points, five rebounds, and four blocks in what was likely his best game since coming to the Sixers.
Harrell is Grateful for the Opportunity
On the season, Harrell is averaging just 11.5 minutes per game which is the lowest since his rookie year in 2015-16. The fight for whatever leftover minutes Embiid leaves between Harrell, Tucker, and Paul Reed has been difficult on each of the guys. When speaking to the media following the victory, Harrell made it clear that he has not been bothered by the lack of playing time.
As Harrell put it, “Just to be able to be out here and play this game and still being able to call it my job was a blessing. I don’t take anything for granted. It’s a lot of ups, a lot of down throughout the whole season there but I just try to stay even-keeled. Make sure I get my work and just be a pro.” He also acknowledged his off-court issues this summer and how this nearly took away his NBA dream. Harrell expressed his love for basketball and how thrilled he is to continue living out the dream.
The former Sixth Man of the Year got a glow of excitement in his eye when talking about how much he loves the sport and put it:
“I love this game man. I love the game of basketball…When the season is done, no matter how the season went, I take a week off. After that I’m right back to my training and right back to playing in all these leagues where I don’t get paid to play in. I pay my own flights and I go out there and I play the basketball just because I love the game. I love being able to play the game of basketball no matter whether it’s pick-up, NBA, Rec League, my AAU kids, man I just love playing the game and blessed to be able to do it. I’m blessed to be able to call it my job.
I can’t play this game forever. As much as I want to, as much as I would love to play until, you know, I’m done on this world- I can’t do that. So I don’t take any time for granted. I haven’t been on a vacation since I’ve been in the league.”
Harrell’s Impact on Victory
One of the biggest question marks surrounding Harrell has been his impact on the defensive side of the ball. Standing 6’7″ he is undersized for a traditional big-man role and lacks the necessary foot speed to guard any smaller player on the perimeter.
This was not an issue in this victory as Harrell made a massive impact on the defensive end. He blocked four shots, drew a charge, and nearly got his feet set on a few other attempts. As Doc Rivers put it following the game, “He was great…He did exactly what the role said he should do. Be the low man on defense. We talked about that all film because (the Pacers) are so quick…he was there all night.”
The 19 points he tallied is the most he has so far during his time with the Sixers and is especially impressive considering the 8-9 shooting from the field. Harrell’s chemistry with James Harden, especially in the pick-and-roll, is notable and has become a staple of Philadelphia’s offense when Embiid is off the court. Rivers pointed to how great Harrell’s hands are as a reason Harden trusts him so much as the two have been doing it since their days in Houston.
Harden also pointed out the maturity growth in Harrell saying, “I think young Trez was just trying to make a name for himself. I think the Trez now, knows who he is and goes out there and does it every night.”
While the Sixers’ rotation is far from finalized, Harrell has received significantly more minutes than Reed in recent games. Once an 18.6 point-per-game scorer off the bench, Harrell looks to be finding his flow on this Sixers team. He is a much more talented player than the minimum contract would indicate and, at his best, Harrell is a player that can make a major impact. He clearly is not taking the opportunity lightly and hopefully, the growin fan-favorite can build off this performance and continue making his impact felt.