After Joel Embiid's ridiculous game-winning three-point shot in Game 3, it felt like the Toronto Raptors were as good as gone. No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in NBA history, and considering how Embiid managed to will the Philadelphia 76ers to a win in their first home game of the series, things didn't look too good for Toronto.
And yet a week later, the Raptors are still alive and breathing. Pascal Siakam dropped 34 points in Game 4 to send things back to Philly, where they ended up beating Philadelphia by 15 points to send the series back to Toronto for Game 6. Suddenly the Sixers are vulnerable, and if they don't start getting some actual production from their prized trade deadline acquisition, James Harden, they risk being the first team in NBA history to cough up a 3-0 series lead.
James Harden has been invisible for the Philadelphia 76ers so far
At the trade deadline, the James Harden/Ben Simmons swap between the 76ers and Brooklyn Nets seemed like a win-win deal. Both star players wanted out of their respective organizations, and while Philly had to give up a lot more to land Harden, his on-court production seemed to make up for the assets heading the other way.
Harden's start to his campaign with his new club has gone better than Simmons' primarily because he's been able to play for his new team (Simmons ended up missing the entire 2021-22 season). Even though he's playing, Harden has struggled to play like himself, and his poor play is hurting Philadelphia.
Harden's averages through five games against the Raptors are mediocre at best, especially for a player of his caliber (18.4 PPG, 9.2 APG, 4.8 RPG, 37.3 FG%). The Beard has been inefficient when he shoots, and he goes through long stretches of the game where he cedes the ball to Tyrese Maxey, who has been far more effective than Harden so far. He has been a disappointment for the Sixers, and they can only survive for so long before it comes back to bite them.
How much longer can the Philadelphia 76ers survive without contributions from James Harden?
While Harden has still been putting up solid numbers on a nightly basis, it's not the numbers he's accustomed to putting up. Considering how much Philly gave up to land him, his lack of production has been excruciating for this team and is a big reason they lost control of their first-round series. His teammates recognize how crucial Harden is to them, with Embiid stressing how important it is for him to find his rhythm before it's too late.
"I've been saying all season since he got here, he needs to be aggressive and he needs to be himself. That's not really my job. That's probably on Coach to talk to him and tell him to take more shots, especially if they're going to guard me the way they've been guarding. But that's really not my job."
Joel Embiid, postgame press conference
Embiid has been tasked with carrying a tremendous load early on, and now that he's dealing with a thumb injury, he's struggling to score as easily as he once was. Harden needs to be that guy who steps up and helps ease his burden. So far, he hasn't come anywhere near helping out Embiid, and at times, he looks uninterested in helping his team win games.
The 76ers still have the inside track to winning this series, thanks mainly to the potential Game 7 being at home for them. But the Raptors are getting hot after a slow start, and Philadelphia has had no answer for them so far. Harden will need to figure things out for himself; otherwise, this may go down on his already lengthy record of postseason failures.