James Harden looked a lot like James Harden

It is one game.

This is more Sixers Fans will tell themselves after a grueling opening night in Boston on Tuesday.

This is very true. Joel Embiid has struggled and will likely still need time to get into the game’s full format. There is no doubt that it will look more like itself than the MVP caliber. With so many new pieces, Defense blew up the missions and had poor communication, while offense was stagnant and plagued by turnarounds. Given the NBA’s record of newcomers in the Sixers, it looks like these things will improve, too.

But you don’t have to look away from the evening’s biggest positive: James Harden. With Embiid dealing with an early foul issue and double teams, it was Harden who kept the Sixers in the game. The competition was tied at 63 in the first half in large part thanks to Harden’s 22-point inning.

“It was a great rhythm,” Doc Rivers told reporters at the post-game match in Boston.According to Noah LeVeque of NBCSP). “He saved us. Joel made those two mistakes and we had to remove it. Our rotation (scheme) was to take out James first but then again, you have the set of these spins and then it happens. So we had to get away from that, and keep James. … I was like, “No, you have to stay.” And I thought this stretch saved the game. He kept us in the game. He took off, which is great for us. Really happy for him.”

The beard was very sparkling. The numbers look great — 35 points (his highest total is like a Sixer), 9 of 14 (5 of 9 of three), eight rebounds and seven assists — but the way Harden put together that stat streak was his most promising takeaway. saxerx;

Harden looked like his legs were under him for the first time since he developed a grade 2 hamstring strain while still in Brooklyn. He seemed to have all the torque needed in his patented three-step backwards, as Al Horford and Grant Williams both fouled and victimized multiple times on the keys. It was a welcome sight after that shot seemed to fail quite often after he reached Philly.

But Harden’s shot profile in general was the most encouraging thing. In addition to his three-point free-throw volley, Harden had a mid-range pull pass, flicked his trusty float, and had the dash needed to be overpowered by defenders and blast to finish off the edge.

In fact, you could argue that he missed some chances in the paint that he might have been able to score, and is probably a little selfless.

“I feel very strong,” Harden told reporters. “We have a long journey, a long way to go, but it’s not about me individually. I know what I’m capable of. It’s about doing the right things to try and help this team win. For us, we feel like we’ve had stretches where we’ve been playing very well. , and then times where we let them have a lot of easy points. Especially on the road, it’s going to be hard to recover. Learn the lesson. Watch the movie, get better, and get ready to go on Thursday.”

All this against the strongest defense in the NBA last season and the ruling defensive player of the year at Marcus Smart.

It won’t be easier for Harden and The Sixers when they welcome Milwaukee Bucks into town Thursday night at their home opener. Harden will go from facing the formidable Smart and Boston assist and off-the-ball defense to another one of the best ocean defenders in the game at Jrue Holiday and arguably the best “free safety” in the NBA for Giannis Antetokounmpo.

With that said, Harden put in his best performance last season as a smasher against Milwaukee. He scored 32 points and nine assists, teaming with Embiid for a dominant offensive performance in late March. The Sixers was Paul Millsap’s disastrous run (remember when that was a thing?) away from a big win over the Bucks.

Harden’s partnership with Embiid is still developing, but we’ve seen glimpses of just how dangerous this duo can be in a Pick-and-Roll game. In addition to the toughness and defense that someone like PJ Tucker would add, familiarity with Harden is also helpful. See how their two-man game, with Tucker’s ability on a short roll, can unlock the Sixers’ offensive.

While these actions seemed almost unstoppable at times, sometimes Bucks will have answers. It’s important for Harden and Embiid – and the attack as a whole really – to have effective counters.

“We just have to keep playing with each other,” Embiid told reporters. “We just have to take multiple actions. Sometimes I thought they defended their pick and roll really well. But then again, what next? The ball can’t stick. In these situations we just have to keep moving the ball, and move on to the second action. It just doesn’t stop at the capture. Even if they stop, we have a second and third action, whether it’s playing with him and myself, changing sides and all that. There’s a lot we can do to get out of that, but we can’t let the ball get stuck.”

It’s only one game, but the Sixers should be satisfied with the version of James Harden they’ve seen. Was he anything like Houston Harden, the man who was named home baseball player and had some of the most prolific offensive seasons in NBA history? Not quite, but the team doesn’t need him to be that.

We’ll see what’s in store for Thursday – and whether it can last throughout the regular season and beyond.

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