Heading into Game 6, the Philadelphia 76ers found themselves in must-win territory. After dropping two-straight matchups, they had to travel back up north to try and put the Toronto Raptors away for good.
After a rocky performance in Game 5, James Harden found himself on the receiving end of a lot of criticism. Many were questioning the Sixers for acquiring him and if the All-Star guard had anything left in the tank. Players and coaches spoke up about needing Harden to be aggressive, and he answered the call in a big way.
Harden came out in Game 6 and performed like the player the Sixers thought they were trading for. Along with taking good care of the ball, Harden posted 22 points, six rebounds, and 15 assists while shooting 58.3% from the field.
Right from the opening tip, Harden made his presence known. He got downhill with regularity and even threw down a thunderous dunk. The pressure he put on Toronto’s defense around the rim opened up the floor for others around him.
Led by a bounce-back showing from their star players, the Sixers avoid history and are off to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Rewriting The Narrative
Similar to Doc Rivers, Harden has an unwanted narrative around him about coming up short in big playoff games. After his performance in Game 6, that might need some reconsideration.
The Sixers needed their All-Stars to step up in a big way, and they delivered in a big way. Without them setting the tone early, there is no telling how things would have played out.
Whether it’s Harden or Rivers, Philly deserves credit for how they came out in Game 6. With the pressure at its highest, they took care of business in dominant fashion. Following this win, the two have gotten themselves some breathing room from critics. At least for the time being.
Looking Ahead To Round Two
With the book finally closed on this series, the Sixers can start preparing for the second round. Their next opponent is an all too familiar face in Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat. The action is set to begin on Monday, May 2nd.
As the league’s top seed, Miami will be no walk in the park. They are a hard-nosed team that prides itself on its defensive intensity. Seeing how the Heat were able to neutralize Trae Young in round one, James Harden will have his work cut out for him.
Injuries will provide a big wrinkle in this matchup. Similar to the Sixers, Miami is also dealing with the injury bug. They were without the services of key starters Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler in their series-clinching win over Atlanta.
If the Sixers want to keep their championship aspirations alive, they cannot afford any mental lapses against the Heat. Despite them being able to recover against Toronto, Miami is an entirely different beast. Philly must be ready for an all-out slugfest in this series.
Like they did in Game 6, James Harden and Joel Embiid need to set the tone for the rest of the team. Now facing off against tougher competition, the play of star players is going to dictate which side will advance to the conference finals.