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If you’re a fan of the Philadelphia 76ers, you still remember exactly where you were when Ben Simmons passed up an open dunk in Game 7 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks. That infamous play was the cherry on top of Simmons’ abysmal performance in the series, and it marked the breaking point for his tenure in Philadelphia.

Sixers fans are still haunted by how timid Simmons was throughout that playoff run, and they were equally as excited to never have to deal with that again when the team traded Simmons to the Brooklyn Nets for James Harden. Well, after his stellar performance in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics, Harden suddenly morphed into the ghost of Ben Simmons.

As a result, the Sixers are now in danger of suffering the same fate they did two years ago.

The ghost of Ben Simmons returned in the form of James Harden

The 76ers thought they’d never have to deal with Ben Simmons again after sending him to the Nets last season. Although Simmons is on an early vacation right now, his ghost is still haunting the team in a different way.

James Harden played the best playoff game of his 14-year NBA career in Game 1 against the Celtics. He scored 45 points on 17-of-30 shooting and 7-of-14 from three, dished out six assists, and led the Sixers to an improbable victory as 10-point underdogs without Joel Embiid. He was aggressive and confident on the offensive end all game, two things that couldn’t be said about Simmons in his final playoff run with the team.

In the 2021 postseason, Simmons made just 25 of his 73 free-throw attempts (34.2%) and attempted just 14 shots over the last three games against the Hawks. He consistently drove to the hoop without even looking at the rim, and he stood in the corner watching the Sixers go four-on-five whenever he didn’t have the ball.

In Game 3 against the Celtics, Harden looked eerily similar to that version of Simmons.

James Harden reacts to a call against the Celtics.
James Harden of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts against Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals | Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

After a few early misses, Harden completely lost confidence in his shot and his ability to blow by defenders off the dribble. He started driving apprehensively and showing no interest in getting to the rim. His only move became a slow drive with a kick out, and most of those passes were lazy and off target. Harden finished the game with 16 points on 3-of-14 from the field and five turnovers. This came two days after he shot 2-of-14 and 0-of-6 from three in Philly’s blowout loss in Game 2.

The Sixers have no chance against the Celtics if Harden is going to be that timid offensively. It’s the style of play that ruined Philadelphia’s chances of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2021, and it’s threatening to do the same in 2023.


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