James Harden getting up shots ahead of a playoff game against the Boston Celtics; photo by Austin Krell/TPL

Arrive early enough on the day of a game, and you’ll be able to watch individual pregame workouts from any seat in the house. The Wells Fargo Center is briefly a quiet sanctuary. The only sounds are shoes squeaking on the hardwoods, the basketball dribbling against the floor, and the disgusted grunts players let out when they make mistakes or the friendly banter conjured up by good drills.

Sometimes, there will be a spare development coach uninvolved in the workout, waiting for his assigned player to emerge from the locker room. Sometimes, there are brief breaks between drills while the lead development coach talks that player through the next step of the exercise. 

Those are your opportunities to make conversation with whoever is watching idly.

On Sunday, the chat started with an exchange of handshakes and a “Big game today”. It moved on to James Harden, who melted down in a deflating Game 3 loss.

“That won’t happen again today,” the development coach said confidently and without pause.

Perhaps he knew something I didn’t. Perhaps he just had a funny feeling in his gut. Whatever the case, he was right on the money.

“James was awesome. Just, for a day and a half, James had to get himself back. No one did that but James. Film was great. We talked. Probably fifteen thousand other people probably talked to him,” Doc Rivers said after Game 4.

Harden scored 42 points to drag the Sixers to a crucial victory, tying their second-round series with the heavy-favorite Boston Celtics at two games apiece with three left to play. It was his second heroic 40-point effort of the series, the only two occasions on which he’s scored at least 40 points as a representative of Philadelphia. Both carried the Sixers to wins.

Those two games sandwiched stinkers in Games 2 and 3, losses in which Harden combined to shoot 5-for-28 from the field.

“But, James, I sent him a gospel song before the game. The title is ‘Do You Know My Name?’. And, James Harden was James Harden tonight,” Rivers said.

Boston’s lack of attention to detail on defense enabled Harden to get going. The bearded star got to his left hand easily on his first seven made shots of the game. Weaponizing his strong hand, Harden heated up in a hurry. Once he saw a couple go in, the question was simple — how far could he carry the Sixers?

It didn’t matter whether Boston defended the pick-and-roll in drop coverage or in a switch. Harden got whatever he wanted in the first half.

The Celtics adjusted. Only two of Harden’s next eight makes originated from lefty drives. But, he was already in a groove.

It all started with the song Rivers texted to his starting point guard in the hours leading up to Game 4.

“I’m on my way to the game and I get a text from Doc and I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ It’s a gospel song. And I’m like, ‘Alright, whatever’. So, I just tell my homies, ‘Let’s play the song.’ It’s a seven-minute song, but I let the whole song play and I’m like, ‘Alright, there’s got to be some kind of good juju in this song or whatever,” Harden told reporters after the game.

That good juju carried Harden all the way through the Sixers’ final possession of overtime.

Jaylen Brown pulled in from the strong side when Joel Embiid backed Jayson Tatum down to the restricted area on an isolation that started just outside the right elbow. That decision left the guy with 39 points open in the corner. Embiid’s pass to Harden as Brown fully committed to double-teaming the big man was a bit off the mark. Harden had to widen his gait to his left to retrieve the ball. But, Harden is left-handed. So, the pass was off target in the most desirable direction. The gather into his shot not compromised, the bearded guy laced the triple to give the Sixers the lead. It was the final basket of the game.

“How ever [Rivers] is feeling, I want to feel like that.’ I guess it worked, so whatever. It’s the first time he ever texted me a song, so I wanted to see how he was feeling,” Harden said with a hint of a smile. 

“You better play it again on Tuesday. You better play it again,” PJ Tucker said with a laugh.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here