Sixers: 3 takeaways from Game 2 loss to Heat

James Harden, Sixers (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
James Harden, Sixers (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Sixers fell 119-103 in Miami on Wednesday night, putting them in the 0-2 hole as the series shifts back to Philadelphia. With Joel Embiid by no means certain to return in Game 3, it will be an uphill battle for Doc Rivers’ team — and Game 2 was more proof of just how difficult it will be.

Miami would have been the betting favorites even before the Embiid injury. There’s not a more connected and inspired team in the Eastern Conference. What the Heat lack in true top-end talent, they make up for with elite defense, ball movement, and absurd depth. Miami has so many players who can go off on a given night, that’s it’s difficult to completely out-scheme them.

Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo dropped 18 and 19 points respectively off the bench on Wednesday, while the Sixers’ bench scored 19 points combined. That’s just the start of Philadelphia’s problems. Doc Rivers has earned criticism in this series, but one can hardly blame him for the Sixers’ unfortunate circumstances.

Here’s what we learned in Game 2.

Sixers-Heat Game 2 takeaways: James Harden is the soil

There has been a lot said about James Harden‘s inability to carry the Sixers’ offense in Embiid’s absence. And look, there’s a reason everyone is frustrated — Harden just isn’t the guy he was billed as coming over at the trade deadline. Rather than the solution to Philadelphia’s Embiid-less woes, Harden has hewn much closer to the Ben Simmons type of stardom: his presence elevates teammates and brings the most out of others, if not always himself.

Harden is better than Simmons — don’t get it twisted. He can still put his head down and score the ball. He dropped 16 points in Wednesday’s first half, putting on an impressive display of foul-drawing and step-back shooting. When Harden is able to turn the corner and attack the lane, he’s still deadly on multiple fronts.

That said, this now two straight games where Harden’s production tapered off in the second half. It’s not his fault entirely — the Heat have built a wall and are showing Harden multiple bodies — but the simple truth is Philadelphia will never get that classic 40-piece fans are hoping for. That’s not the player Harden is right now.

What Harden does is make Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris look better. What Harden does is get open shots for Danny Green and Georges Niang, who are just straight-up missing open looks right now. Harden is the soil from which Philadelphia’s offense grows. Maxey and Harris are beautiful, elegant flowers — marvels of nature whose aesthetic nature is what draws many fans’ eyes without Embiid. But Harden is nutrient-rich earth from which those flowers blossom — without Harden, the Sixers would have lost these two games by 40. He’s still the Sixers’ best player outside of Embiid, even if he’s falling short of expectations.