Joel Embiid wants more from James Harden, and the Sixers are suddenly in danger of a historic meltdown

After winning 3-0 in the first round against the Toronto Raptors, the Philadelphia 76ers lost two in a row and suddenly find themselves in a pretty stressful position. Joel Embiid has a torn thumb ligament that will require surgery in the offseason. Game 6 is in Toronto. If it returns to Philadelphia for Game 7, which looks like a pretty decent bet, the Sixers will be playing under the added pressure of trying to avoid becoming the first team in NBA history to lose a playoff series after leading 3-0. .

This can get very ugly, very quickly.

You can already feel some ramifications in Embiid’s post-game commentary following Philly’s 103-88 loss on Monday, when Sixers MVP contender nailed James Harden, who continues to look like a significantly diminished version of his old me as he became an increasingly hesitant marksman/gunner during his time with the Sixers and throughout this series.

“That’s not really my job” and “that’s probably on the coach to talk to him” aren’t exactly subtle comments. It’s not just that Harden is only averaging 18 points on 37% shooting this series, including 31% of 3 in the last four games, it’s that, again, he’s not being aggressive to score, in large part because he doesn’t really can pass anyone. Even when he gets some advantage on the descent, he has zero lift on the rim.

On Monday, as was pointed out in the interrogation of Embiid, Harden was shot just 11 times. Over the course of three quarters, he had nine points on eight shots before hitting some 3s in the fourth quarter to finish with 15. Harden is still getting plenty of open shots for his teammates (or at least he was at the start of the series), but I can assure you, 15 points on 4 out of 11 shots in what could have been a closing game is not the “star” Daryl Morey thought he was getting when he finally let go of Ben Simmons.

The plates were there in Brooklyn, but the Nets weren’t spaced, and maybe Morey allowed himself to believe that Harden wasn’t fully healthy yet. Maybe he still isn’t. Perhaps this is the worst tendon injury in human history. But evidence is starting to pile up that Harden simply cannot be considered a superstar, or even an All-Star, every night moving forward.

These days, Harden’s score largely depends on whether his step-back 3s are going, and for all his bulk, he’s never been a sharpshooter in terms of percentage. He’s only made 32 percent of his 3s with the Sixers this season, and again, after a 4 for 7 nights in Game 1, he’s gone from 7 to his last deep 22 this series.

Perhaps the Sixers and Harden will discover these recent struggles behind them and pull off a road win in Game 6, but if you’ve watched this series, you know it’s far from anything resembling a half-safe bet. Chances are pretty good that this series is going into a Game 7, and hoo boy, this is going to be a pressure cooker.

If the Sixers end this series, will they renew Harden to a max contract this summer? Could they justify this, even though they would have given up on Simmons and Seth Curry for basically nothing if they let Harden walk? Will Daryl Morey or Doc Rivers still have a job? I hate to go that route, but it’s really hard to avoid at this point.

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