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3 Observations: Harden Powers Sixers to Big Game 4 Win, Evens Series With Miami

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The Philadelphia 76ers evened up their series with the Miami Heat at two games apiece with a 116-108 win in Game 4 on Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

The win was powered by a superb performance from James Harden. He scored 31 points, knocked down six of his 10 shots from three-point range, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out nine assists. This was the type of performance the Sixers expected when they acquired him in a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline earlier this season.

Joel Embiid added in 24 points and 11 rebounds as he continues to get more comfortable on the floor while wearing a protective face mask and playing through an orbital fracture.

The Heat, who were without backup big man Dewayne Dedmon (non-Covid illness), were led by 40 points from Jimmy Butler in their losing effort.

Game 5 is on Tuesday back down in Miami. Here are three observations from the win in Game 4:

Embiid begins getting back into rhythm

Embiid got off to a fast start for the Sixers. Outside of air balling an open three, he looked to assert himself in the paint. The Heat defended the pick-and-roll by switching, often leaving Embiid posting up on a mismatch. He scored multiple easy baskets in the first few minutes through sealing off the post against a combination of these mismatches and the Heat attempting to front him in the post.

Head coach Doc Rivers elected to play Embiid the entire first quarter, letting the big fella feast. After scoring 18 points in Game 3, Embiid tallied 15 points in the first quarter alone in Game 4. He also showcased his defensive versatility throughout the first half, stepping out to defend one of Miami's talented guards on the perimeter multiple times. This defensive possession from late in the first quarter got the Philadelphia crowd on their feet chanting MVP for Embiid:

The Heat took advantage when Embiid was on the bench, pushing the pace and repeatedly attacking Sixers' backup big man Paul Reed defensively. Adebayo scored six points in a five-minute stretch with Reed on the floor to begin the second quarter. Matching Embiid's and Adebayo's minutes should be something the Sixers do going forward in this series.

Sixers weather some tough moments throughout

The Sixers, after pairing Embiid and Harden together, are equipped to have multiple stars take over at different times throughout the game. Embiid dominated for 15 points in the first quarter and followed it up by going scoreless in the second quarter. Harden went scoreless in the first quarter before heating up and scoring 13 points in the second quarter.

Harden's big second quarter was huge, but he received help from some others throughout the roster. After the Heat went on an 11-5 run to take a 44-41 lead with 7:15 remaining, Danny Green answered with a pair of threes to go on a personal 6-0 run that helped the Sixers retake the lead.

Seeing Green, who finished the game with 11 points while shooting 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, recover from a pair of ice cold performances in Games 1 and 2 has been great. After knocking down just 2 of his 14 attempts from three-point range in the first two games of the series, he is shooting 10 of 13 from beyond the arc in Games 3 and 4.

Harden's huge fourth quarter

The game really slowed down in the second half, with a ton of fouls being called as the physicality ramped up. The Sixers struggled a bit in the third quarter, although they did make a few key plays. Georges Niang responded to a Butler three with one of his own to 77-70 game with 7:19 remaining in the third quarter. With the Heat sticking around and cutting it to a three-point game midway through the quarter, Embiid found a cutting Matisse Thybulle for a layup to expand the lead back to five points.

The Sixers carried an 89-85 lead into the fourth quarter. With Embiid on the bench, the team had one of their best non-Embiid stretches this season. They stepped up defensively while going on an 8-0 run to begin the fourth quarter. Tobias Harris took advantage of a miscommunication defensively by the Heat, beginning the run by drilling a wide open three. Harden followed it up a few plays later with a pair of free throws and a three to extend the Sixers' lead to 97-85 with 9:13 remaining.

While the Heat were able to keep the game within striking distance for much of the fourth quarter, Harden and the Sixers had a response for every time Miami started going on a run. In a turn of the clock back to his days on the Houston Rockets, Harden knocked down one clutch shot after another on his way to scoring 16 points in the fourth quarter.

The knockout blow came in a pair of possessions in the final two minutes of action. With the Sixers up 109-103 with just under two minutes remaining, Tyrese Maxey made a beautiful pass to Harris for an alley-oop to make it a 111-103 game.

On the team's next possession, Harden knocked down another three at the end of the shot clock to give the Sixers a 114-103 lead and effectively seal the game. He let out an exultant howl to the crowd after this three that put him over the 30-point mark in a game for just the second time since being traded to Philadelphia.

Harden reminded everyone what he is still capable of by putting together his best game in a Sixers uniform, and it could not have come at a better time. If he can consistently keep up something close to this level of play throughout the remainder of the playoffs, the Sixers will be a tough out moving forward.

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