3 Observations, Including Dissecting the Successful Harden-Embiid Pick-and-Roll, From Sixers’ Win Over Knicks

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

James Harden continued to ingratiate himself to the Philadelphia 76ers, recording a triple-double in his second game with the team.

He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists en route to helping lead the Sixers to a 125-109 win over the rival New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Joel Embiid led the team with 37 points. The Sixers forced 18 turnovers from the Knicks, and Harden came away with an impressive five steals in addition to his triple-double.

The win moved the Sixers to 37-23 on the season. They next take on the Knicks, but this time in Philadelphia on Wednesday night. The Wells Fargo Center will surely be packed as Harden is set to make his home debut for the Sixers. Here are three observations from the team's win over the Knicks on Sunday:

The Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll

Harden and Embiid's budding relationship both on and off the floor stands out as one of the most important early developments in Harden's tenure with the Sixers. The chemistry they have on the floor after only two games together is impressive. Harden hit Embiid for a dunk out of the pick-and-roll with 9:27 remaining in the first quarter. They also connected on the following possession, with Harden doing a dump-off pass to a trailing Embiid for yet another dunk in what would be a sign of things to come.

The duo put on a pick-and-roll display against the Knicks, who had no answer for it. They executed in both the pick-and-pop, such as the play below in which Embiid knocked down a mid-range shot.

The gravity created by Harden's ability to drive to the basket is creating a ton of extra space for Embiid to maneuver in those pick-and-pop situations.

If teams begin to play up to prevent the pick-and-pop between Harden and Embiid, they can easily make them pay by smoothly executing the pick-and-roll at will. They perfectly executed the pick-and-roll multiple times on Sunday against the Knicks. In the play below, Mitchell Robinson decides to stick on the Harden drive, and with Evan Fournier trailing Harden on the backside of the pick-and-roll it left Embiid wide open for an easy layup off the pocket pass from Harden.

The Sixers also showed some creativity setting up the roll action for Embiid. In this play from early in the third quarter, the team set up the action using a Matisse Thybulle screen to set Harden free for a dribble hand-off between him and Embiid at the top of the key. Embiid then rolled to the basket and Harden found him with a beautiful pass to complete the alley-oop.

Embiid does not have much experience playing as the roll man out of a pick-and-roll, but the last two games have showed he can add it to his skill set. He is easily the best big man Harden has ever played with, and the two are already flourishing on the court after just two games together. When they have the pick-and-roll game going like they did against the Knicks, the Sixers' offense will be nearly impossible to stop.

Harden's passing was on point all game, he finished with 16 assists with many of them coming via the pick-and-roll with Embiid. However, he also connected with Thybulle twice in the third quarter for alley-oops.

Thybulle has developed a good sense of when to do a backdoor cut to the basket this season. Playing with a top-line point guard like Harden should help him produce at least some results on offense despite his struggling three-point shooting ability. He finished with eight points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals in the win over the Knicks, and he should continue to hold the fifth spot in the starting lineup as long he continues to play good defense and grow his chemistry offensively with Harden.

Embiid's ability to draw fouls

Embiid has been prolific at getting to the free-throw line this season. He has taken 11.3 free-throws per game this season, and that number will only climb higher after the win over the Knicks.

The MVP candidate got to the free-throw line a career-high 27 times, shooting an insane 23-of-27 from the foul line. He, along with Harden, did a great job getting a multitude of Knicks players into foul trouble. Both Mitchell Robinson and Jericho Sims fouled out in the second half, forcing New York to rely more on Julius Randle or another player who would be a big mismatch against the 7-footer Embiid.

Embiid's shot was not falling on Sunday. He shot the ball 7-of-18 from the field and he missed all four of his attempts from three-point range. However, his ability to draw fouls combined with the burgeoning pick-and-roll game between himself and Harden led to him still being a major producer offensively in the win.

In addition to his offensive production, Embiid recorded four blocks as he gobbled up multiple drives from smaller New York guards like Immanuel Quickley. He also grabbed nine rebounds and recorded a steal.

Sixers excel in transition

Another game with Harden equals another successful game for Tyrese Maxey. Playing with Harden has opened up more options for Maxey offensively. Instead of bearing the brunt of the Sixers' ball handling duties, he is able to play off-ball and use his speed to excel in transition and early in the shot clock. He finished with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc.

The second-year guard is playing with a ton of energy and now that he is playing off the ball, he has been able to use his speed to get up and down the floor to help the Sixers in transition. The team scored 18 fast-break points against the Knicks, with two of them coming on this excellent finish by Maxey followed by a hilarious celebration.

Maxey has consistently provided a spark for the Sixers this season, and his energy has only grown since the Harden acquisition.

While Maxey played a major role in helping boost the team's transition game, he also has been on fire from three-point range the previous two games. With the Sixers, up 115-107, trying to close the game out with 2:23 remaining, Maxey drilled a sidestep three to put the team up by 11 and seal the game.

His improvement from beyond the arc this season has been nice to see, especially when combined with his fearlessness and swagger to take tough shots late in the game.

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