NEW YORK — When asked how he felt about his two-way game with new 76ers teammate James Harden, Joel Embiid went straight to the letter U.
“Unstoppable,” he said after Sunday’s 125-109 win over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
“Anything we want to do,” Embiid continued. “He’s a great passer. Obviously I have someone you need to get a lot of attention on. So you have to make a decision. Do you stay on me or do you stay on him ?
And if you keep them both, your teammates Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle will have plenty of opportunities.
As the Knicks (25-36) learned, defending the Embiid-Harden-led Sixers is a tough job.
The Sixers’ 125 points come after scoring 133 against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday in Harden Sixers’ debut after being acquired in a trade from the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 10.
On Sunday, the dominating duo put on some memorable performances.
Harden finished with 29 points, a season-high 16 assists, 10 rebounds and a career-high tying five steals for his first triple-double since Jan. 25-10 of the season. It comes after he had 27 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds in his double-double at Minnesota.
As a result, he became the first player in NBA history to have at least 25 points and 12 assists in his first two games with a new team.
Meanwhile, Embiid finished with game highs of 37 points and four blocks to go along with nine rebounds and three assists. He had a season-high NBA season-high 23 foul shots on 27 attempts, a career high.
His 27 attempts are the most in a league game since Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis had that many against the Memphis Grizzlies on Oct. 29, 2019.
After the game, Maxey asked Embiid if he knew how many free throws he had taken today.
The league MVP replied, “That’s what happens when you get inked up all the time.”
Embiid wasn’t lying.
He knocked out New York starting center Mitchell Robinson and reserve Jericho Sims. Former Sixer Nerlens Noel, battling plantar fasciitis, missed his seventh game in a row. But he, too, would likely have struggled to stop Embiid, the league’s leading scorer with 29.8 points.
Much like Friday night, the two-man game with Harden was a tough defensive task.
“It’s our job every night, to put the pressure on the rim,” Harden said. “It creates opportunities for us and our teammates. This pressure night after night is going to be difficult for the teams to cover. »
Maxey was the biggest beneficiary.
The second-year guard is no longer the team’s primary ball handler due to the addition of Harden. He assumes this role when the perennial All-NBA selection is off the field. But for the most part, Maxey got buckets easy while playing alongside the duo.
He had 21 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals two days after finishing with 28 points against the Timberwolves.
As a team, the Sixers made 39 of 44 foul shots on Sunday. The 39 marks was an NBA season high.
Harris, however, had his second consecutive poor shooting performance. The standout power forward missed his first six shots before making three late in the fourth quarter. He finished with 12 points — 10 in the fourth quarter — on 3-for-9 shooting.
Stellar shots contributed to the victory.
Adding to Embiid’s performance from the foul line, Harden went 10-for-10, Harris was 4-for-4, and Maxey made 2-of-3 free throws. The Sixers were tight in the fourth quarter, making all 12 free throws in what was a close game.
Embiid made six, Harden had four and Harris made two. The Sixers had a 108-107 lead after Embiid made his third and fourth free throws of the quarter with 6 minutes and 16 seconds left.
After scoring on a dunk 33 seconds later, Embiid made his fifth and sixth giveaways at 4:55 to make it a 112-105 game.
Harden, once again, was a passing magician while setting up his teammates for big scoring opportunities. Whether it was for Embiid in the pick-and-roll or a lob for Thybulle, Harden’s passes were on point and led to easy baskets. And it was like that from the start.
The point guard was instrumental in the Sixers’ first four field goals.
He scored a layup on an assist from Harris to give the Sixers a 7-6 lead at 2:06. Then he assisted on back-to-back dunks by Embiid before doing the same for Thybulle.
Harden’s first uncontributed field goal came on Maxey’s transition field goal to give the Sixers a 15-13 advantage with 7:52 left in the quarter.
Harden didn’t look like someone who only had one practice with his teammates. The Sixers only run three or four plays due to Harden and Paul Millsap, who was also traded from the Nets, not knowing the playbook.
But he is comfortable leading the team, especially with Embiid.
“We’re very comfortable,” Harden said. “He likes pop. He likes to roll and mix a little. So we have to maintain communication and everything will be fine. I know a few games, I’m just there to ride it honestly. I’m just trying to make the best decision in terms of playing ability.”
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Harris was the underdog in Friday night’s win at Minnesota.
He finished with six points on 2-for-9 shooting while the other starters – Embiid (34 points), Maxey (28), Harden (27) and Thybulle (11) scored in double figures.
Coach Doc Rivers was asked before Sunday’s game if he was going to make a conscious effort to involve Harris early.
“He had some great shots,” Rivers said. “Listen, we’re in the business of earning. We’re not trying to please everyone, because if that were true, we’d be in the losing business.
“Tobias is going to get some great shots. That’s why he was happy after the game. He was like, man, gosh, I have to take advantage of all these opportunities that I’ve had. He had the impression not. But, you know, in the long run, he will.
Harris missed his first shot on Sunday, a wide-open three-pointer, with 6:24 left in the first quarter. He then missed his second attempt, which was a wide-open three-point shot before missing a 13-foot shot a few minutes later.
On several occasions, he passed up open opportunities created by passes from Harden, but instead put the ball on the ground. He seemed to rush early.
Things didn’t improve for him after the intermission.
Harris missed a three-pointer 22 seconds into the third quarter. He scored his first two points on a pair of foul shots at 10:30 a.m. in the quarter. But 26 seconds later, Harris had a dunk blocked by guard Alec Burks. Harris thought he had been fouled and complained to the referee as he came back to defence. He continued to bark during a break in the action and received a technical foul.
Harris missed his next shot. His two foul shots with 8:52 left, however, gave the Sixers a 102-100 lead.
His first basket was huge. His three-point corner with 4:02 remaining gave the Sixers a 115-107 cushion.