James Harden will be back with 76ers, but what version of him?

For the fourth time in five years, the Sixers have been bounced in the second round of the NBA playoffs. The Sixers have had no shortage of dramatic ways of getting eliminated, from blowing multiple double-digit leads vs. the Celtics. Blowing two 25-point leads, plus losing games five and seven at home vs. the Hawks. Finally, who could forget, the Kawhi shot. On the fourth anniversary of that shot, the Sixers were again eliminated from the playoffs in six games with last night’s 99-90 loss to the Heat. Yet, this one felt different. Despite Joel Embiid playing through multiple injuries and missing games one and two, the issue was not related to talent. Not once in the series did we Sixers fans think that the Heat had a more talented roster. It came down to one thing I thought I would never say in an NBA series. Effort. 

It’s no secret that the “Heat Culture” is a real thing in the NBA circle. If you want to play for Pat Riley and the Miami Heat organization, you better be in shape and give 100% effort. Unfortunately, in games five and six, the Sixers were just outworked. Yes, you could argue this is on Doc Rivers, but during one of the TV timeouts, Doc said, “​​Come on guys, fight for this. Fight for this.” You could hear the passion in his voice; however, the Sixers’ response was giving up seven straight points, including two lazy turnovers. 

The lack of accountability from top to bottom in this organization is embarrassing, and everyone deserves the blame. Still, I can live with Daryl Morey trying to better the team. I can live with Doc trying to motivate his team. I can live with Joel Embiid even though he struggled, playing with a torn ligament in his thumb and an orbital fracture. I can live with Tobias and Tyreese taking some poor shots because they work their butts off on both ends of the floor. But I and all Sixers fans can’t live with James Harden’s effort last night. You can hear the disappointment in Tobias’s voice in this clip 

Harden took two shots in the second half of a must-win game. Not only that, but he was constantly outworked on the glass, giving up multiple offensive rebounds, and on some possessions, he wouldn’t even pass half court on offense.  We have seen this before, just last year with Ben Simmons! 

James Harden should be embarrassed by his performance last night. The fact that we Sixers fans have to hope a professional athlete can get in shape for us to believe we can contend for an NBA title next season is embarrassing. When Daryl Morey acquired Harden at the trade deadline, he called him his “Basketball Jesus.” I firmly believe Morey thought he was getting Rockets James Harden. Harden just didn’t want to play with the Nets hence why he was out of shape and not as involved. We didn’t even get OKC Harden, the guy that had something to prove in the NBA, and the stats prove this. 

A red flag that I look back on is when Harden said he had nothing to prove in this postseason. The player with 0 championships somehow had nothing to prove, and he played like it. 

While there are a lot of questions heading into the offseason once again, there should be one thing motivating the Sixers. They should never feel like they were outworked, and that should be motivation enough to come back a better player for the future. Oh, and Tobias should wake up to this soundbite every morning.

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