Instant Observations: Sixers Survive in Game 4 Behind Another Big Harden Performance

Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) shoots game-winning three point basket over Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) during overtime of game four of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

James Harden, after poor showings in Games 2 and 3, bounced back in a gigantic way in Game 4. He scored 42 points on 16-of-23 shooting to will the Philadelphia 76ers to a crucial 116-115 win over the Boston Celtics on Sunday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center. The series is now all even at two games apiece.

Joel Embiid finished the game with 34 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.

Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 24 points, 18 rebounds, six assists and four blocks. Jaylen Brown added in 23 points, three rebounds and five assists. Malcolm Brogdon finished with 19 points and eight rebounds off the bench.

The series now heads back to Boston for Game 5 on Tuesday. Here are some instant observations from the win:

– Trying to figure out which version of Harden is going to show up in any given game this series is impossible. He scored 45 points in Game 1 before following it up with brutal performances in Games 2 and 3. In Game 4, the aggressive, confident version of Harden showed back up for the Sixers in a gigantic way. It quickly became clear Harden had a different mindset from the one he played with in Game 3. He attacked and consistently drove the basket with an intent to finish. Midway through the first quarter, Harden had an excellent drive and finish against Robert Williams III.

When Harden was not scoring around the rim, he terrorized Boston’s defense through a combination of jumpers and playmaking. Harden knocked down a handful of mid-range pull-up jumpers and floaters in addition to lighting it up from beyond the arc. His performance in this game highlighted Harden’s deep scoring repertoire. He went on a heater in the second quarter, scoring 15 points and just overpowering Boston’s defense.

A lot of the success Harden had came when attacking switches. He, in similar fashion to Game 1, victimized Al Horford by attacking him relentlessly. When Harden is in his groove, the Celtics can not get away with playing drop coverage against him. Harden was at his best in this game, constantly hunting mismatches and taking advantage whenever possible.

In addition to his success offensively, Harden also quietly put together a solid showing defensively. He looked more engaged on that end of the floor, providing a small boost to the Sixers’ defense.

For the second time this series, Harden was gigantic in propelling the Sixers to a win. The Sixers’ offense went ice cold in the fourth quarter. Embiid was a non-factor, leaving it to Harden to save the Sixers from what would have been a devastating loss. He answered the call, scoring six of the team’s final nine points in regulation to single-handedly will the Sixers into overtime.

Harden continued his superb performance into the overtime period. With the game on the line, he connected on a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the corner that proved to be the game-winner.

With the Sixers’ season arguably on the line, Harden bailed the Sixers out in a big way.

– The Sixers for much of the afternoon had the game in hand. They built up a comfortable lead over the Celtics and looked as if they were going to have no issue evening up the series. However, they twice allowed the Celtics to dig some into the deficit by losing focus at the end of a quarter. The Sixers got away with it at the end of the first half, but it proved costly later on in the game. After building the lead up to 16 points late in the third quarter, they again allowed the Celtics back into the game with a poor end to the quarter.

Boston’s momentum from the final minutes of the third quarter carried over into the fourth. Philadelphia’s offense looked stuck in the mud throughout the fourth quarter. Embiid dominated Boston in the first half. He was relentless attacking the glass while also being an efficient scorer using a combination of good touch in the mid-range and using his size against the smaller Boston defenders. However, he had nothing to offer for the Sixers in the fourth quarter. He looked like he was completely out of gas. Horford locked him up, blocking him multiple times as he attempted to work out of the elbow. The Celtics held the Sixers to just 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Embiid tended to be good in clutch situations this season. However, that was not the case in this game. There are no excuses for his lack of production in the second half. Hopefully this proves to be just an outlier he can recover from throughout the rest of the series. For now, he owes Harden immensely for carrying the Sixers to the win.

P.J. Tucker, despite missing three out of his four shots from beyond the arc, made a few plays late in the game that exemplified why the Sixers signed him. With the Sixers down by three and just over a minute remaining, Tucker grabbed an offensive rebound and made the put-back layup while getting fouled. He then got in Embiid’s ear and gave what looked like a heated pep talk in an effort to get the big fella going.

– The Sixers’ supporting cast continued to fall short in this series. Until this changes, the Sixers are forced to rely solely on big games from Embiid and Harden. Tyrese Maxey, after grabbing four offensive rebounds in the first quarter, did not provide much. He is in the middle of a cold stretch shooting the ball. More worrisome is his continued attempts at driving the basket against Boston’s longer defenders. Until he can either break out of his shooting slump or figure out how to successfully attack the paint, Maxey is going to be a vastly limited player in this series. He finished with 14 points on 6-of-17 shooting to go with eight rebounds and two steals.

Tobias Harris‘ struggles in this series carried over into Game 4. He just looks out of sync and is not doing anything to make a positive impact on either end of the floor. Harris scored just nine points while grabbing seven rebounds. Head coach Doc Rivers went as far as benching him in the fourth quarter for Georges Niang. That move, despite Niang providing an outside shooting presence, did not make much sense. The Celtics attack Niang defensively whenever he is on the floor.

De’Anthony Melton had by far his worst game of the series. He went scoreless in 25 minutes off the bench. Someone needs to teach both Melton and Harris how to finish around the rim in transition. Jalen McDaniels, after struggling earlier in the series, was out of the rotation in Game 4.