Sixers’ James Harden goes out of the way, trusting Joel Embiid in the clutch

“That’s why he’s the MVP”: Harden walks out of the way, trusting Embiid in Clutch originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

For Joel Embiid’s teammates, getting the ball to their corner post and then getting out of the way was generally a good idea.

On Friday night, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers was grateful that James Harden intuitively took that approach.

Harden’s instinct primed Embiid for a game-changing fadeaway jumper, who staged a wild comeback win over the Trail Blazers at the Wells Fargo Center.

“Joel took a great shot,” Rivers said, “but James Harden did an amazing read because it would be a fake handover to James … Jo would (either) leave or give it to James.” But Jo caught it deeper than we thought he could catch and James clipped.

“It was such a great read. I’m telling you there’s 10 people who could see this instead of the 99.9 percent of the league who would have come anyway brought their man and made it full. …He won’t get any credit for it other than what I do, but it was a damn good read. So (Embiid) had space.”

Noting that he’s “not a robot out there,” Harden called the play “basketball common sense.”

“Just don’t run to the ball,” Harden said with a chuckle of his reading. “Give Joel as much space as he needs to create the shot. If he got shot, he most likely went in. I was just trying to give him space… and he took a shot and he made it.

After a 39-point night in 13-for-20 shooting, Embiid leads the NBA with 33.4 points per game. He has a career-high 130.2 points per 100 shots and a career-high 64.8 true shot percentage, according to Cleaning the Glass. Much like Harden during his streak of three straight titles in the 2017-18 to 19-20 seasons, anything resembling a 1v1 situation is looking very favorable for Embiid.

Meanwhile, Harden, 33, has averaged 21.9 points and 10.8 assists as the league leader.

“Something he works on every day,” Harden said of Embiid’s winner. “That’s why he’s the league’s MVP.”

Having dropped to 12-12 with a loss to the Rockets in double overtime on Dec. 5, the Sixers’ win percentage of 74.4 (32-11) is their No. 1 offensive rating in the NBA and their offensive rating (119.6) is number 2 behind The Kings. It’s hard to believe anyone was decisively better than Embiid, a consecutive MVP runner-up, during this stretch.

Embiid may have pushed a point about this year’s MVP race into a response about the Sixers’ second-half defense.

“I think a few games later we went one through five and just switched everything around,” he said. “The game plan really was to catch (Damian Lillard) the whole game and they hurt us a lot with that. When we started going from one to five… I think I’m a pretty good defender – and defense is important. So I thought as a team we did a good job.”

Embiid is indeed an elite defensive player. And while the Sixers’ team defenses often looked ragged — Portland scored 71 points in the first half, including 19 each for Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant — they’ve regularly reached much higher levels late in games. In terms of defensive ratings, the Sixers are ranked 15th in the first quarter, 14th in the second, 20th in the third, and third in the last third, according to The team’s defensive rating in the clutch is 93.2. This is the first with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic’s nuggets.

All that aside, the Sixers opened March 5-1, and Embiid’s teammates rightfully feel they’re playing with an MVP.

“Joel is just Joel,” said Georges Niang. Sixers’ James Harden goes out of the way, trusting Joel Embiid in the clutch

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