The honeymoon phase is over for the new-look Philadelphia 76ers. After a few weeks of dominant wins and premature championship parade plans, the Sixers have come crashing back down to earth with a few inexplicable losses.
On Thursday night, Philadelphia suffered its most embarrassing loss of the Harden era as a 10-point favorite over the tanking Detroit Pistons. The bench was nonexistent yet again, but head coach Doc Rivers made it clear with some brutally honest comments that Harden was the one to blame.
76ers suffer inexcusable loss to tanking Pistons
Just a few days ago, the 76ers looked to be in perfect position to snatch the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference heading into the playoffs. However, three straight losses have dropped them down to the fourth spot in the standings.
Philadelphia’s most recent loss against the Pistons was easily the worst of the bunch. After building up a comfortable lead in the third quarter, the Sixers were outscored 29-15 in the fourth to eventually lose, 102-94.
It was a discouraging offensive performance against a Detroit team that ranks 24th in the NBA in defensive rating this year. Joel Embiid did his best with 37 points and 15 rebounds, but Harden shot just 4-of-15 from the field and the bench pitched in only eight total points.
The Sixers caught the isolation fever on Thursday night, as they tried to go one-on-one down the stretch and didn’t seem to respect the Pistons as an opponent. That lazy attitude came back to bite them in the end, and Philly is now 2.5 games out of the No. 1 seed with only six games remaining on the schedule.
Doc Rivers blatantly calls out James Harden
It was easy to blame the bench for Philadelphia’s loss to the Pistons considering none of the reserves contributed much of anything to the scoring column. But when asked about the bench’s lack of production after the game, Rivers placed the blame squarely on Harden.
“Well, [the bench] didn’t struggle,” Rivers told reporters. “They didn’t get a lot of shots in their defense. I think during that stretch, it was more James than them. So you know, yeah, it’s just a tough night.”
Harden has been good with sharing the ball during his short Sixers tenure, but on Thursday night, he reverted back to the hero-ball isolation offense that made him a star in Houston.
“I thought offensively we really just stood around,” Rivers said. “They were switching, we just played outside and didn’t move the ball as a group. At halftime we were shooting 42% I think, and I just thought the fouls bailed us out. We were awful in the first half, too. We played with very little life tonight, didn’t play together tonight at all. That’s something we’ve been doing. It’s just one of those nights, but a tough one.”
Rivers isn’t wrong to criticize Harden
Harden looked like his old, MVP self the first few times he suited up for the 76ers. Philly won the first four games of his tenure and scored 123 or more points in all of them.
But the magic has worn off since then. Harden can no longer drive past defenders whenever he wants, the offense is starting to look more sluggish than ever, and the body language from players on the court has been depressing.
Against the Pistons on Thursday night, Harden missed 10 of his last 11 shots and turned the ball over multiple times while hunting for fouls in the lane. This isn’t the superstar the Sixers traded for back in February, and Philly won’t be going anywhere in the playoffs if Harden keeps up this level of play.