James Harden posts triple-double in win without Joel Embiid, PJ Tucker

3 observations after Harden posts triple-double, Sixers earn win in Detroit originally appeared on NBC SportsPhiladelphia

James Harden sped to a triple-double Sunday afternoon and the Sixers had little trouble picking up a road win over the Pistons.

The team moved to 24-15 this season with a 123-111 victory.

Harden’s triple-double of 20 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds was the 71st of his career. He passed the 24,000-point milestone in the third quarter.

Tyrese Maxey scored 23 points and Montrezl Harrell had 20. Killian Hayes was the Pistons’ top scorer with 26 points.

Joel Embiid (left foot soreness) and PJ Tucker (non-COVID illness) missed Sunday’s game. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers told reporters in Detroit that Embiid has been working out and “making progress,” though Rivers said he has “no idea” whether the star big man will return Tuesday vs. the Pistons, for Sixers Wire’s Ky Carlin.

Cade Cunningham, Jalen Duren, Marvin Bagley III, Isaiah Livers and Rodney McGruder were out for Detroit.

Here are observations on the Sixers’ win at Little Caesars Arena:

Harden bounces back in style

It took Harden 20 seconds to see there was no “lid on the rim” Sunday.

After his nightmarish 0-for-7 first quarter in Friday’s loss to the BullsHarden drove right against Saddiq Bey and laid the ball in for the Sixers’ opening hoop.

Three-pointers from Maxey and Harden gave the Sixers an 18-11 edge. Those two also teamed up well when Harden tossed the ball ahead of Maxey and the 22-year-old showed off exceptional speed and body control on his driving layup. Harden later pulled off a solo fast break when he grabbed a defensive rebound, headed down the middle of the court, and easily slid by Hayes. The 11-win Pistons played unimpressive defense, but Harden is so often excellent at identifying and exploiting an opponent’s weaknesses.

Harden looked great in the second quarter, too. Detroit cut the Sixers’ advantage to 50-46 with a 9-0 run, but Harden led a strong response that included assists to Harrell, Paul Reed and Tobias Harris. The 10-time All-Star reached his triple-double just 27 seconds into the third period with a dish to Harris. He committed only one turnover, too. Meanwhile, the Pistons had 23 giveaways, which hurt their ability to sustain the sort of massive runs necessary to beat a team with superior talent. Matisse Thybulle picked up five steals.

Another positive number for Harden: He only needed to play a season-low 28 minutes.

A lot to like from Reed

The Sixers began with the Maxey-Harden-De’Anthony Melton guard trio for a third consecutive game. Harrell started for the first time since late November.

Though Harrell has said he prefers coming off the bench to starting, he kept on scoring efficiently. Over Harrell’s last three games, he’s recorded 56 points on 75 percent shooting. Both he and Isaiah Stewart posted 10 points within the first eight minutes. Harrell posed a big threat with his persistent rolling of him. He deserves respect in the short roll, too, since he’s comfortable in the 6-to-10 foot range and good at spraying passes out to open shooters beyond the arc.

Harrell varied his pick-and-roll coverages and the results were mixed. It’s clear the defensive drop-off from Embiid to Harrell is major. Still, Stewart’s scoring didn’t all fall on Harrell; the Sixers had a couple of early breakdowns on the back end, including a play where the team’s low man was non-existent and Stewart got a wide-open alley-oop. Fortunately for the Sixers, he couldn’t convert on the golden opportunity.

Paul Reed backed up Harrell and played 24 high-quality minutes, scoring 16 points and pulling down eight offensive rebounds. Early in the second quarter, he grabbed one of those boards and kicked the ball out Georges Niang for a corner three. Reed made another nice pass when he caught the ball in the dunker spot and quickly hit Shake Milton in the middle of the paint. Milton fired it out to Thybulle for a three. Irregular minutes pose a significant developmental challenge, but Reed has flashed improvements here and there as a quick decision-maker offensively.

“I feel I’ve gotten a lot better at playing within the role that they want me to play,” he said in the preseason. “Being decisive, being intentional with my movements and where I’m at on the court spacing-wise. … I’ve only got a couple of options: Dribble handoff, drive to the rim, pass. And then I’m also getting better at getting my teammates open a lot, just looking for them more and trying to get them more shots.”

It’s tough to assess these types of areas for players who don’t have consistent roles, but Reed undoubtedly did plenty of what the Sixers’ coaching staff wants to see Sunday.

No need for the starters late

The Sixers had a few lulls that allowed Detroit to hang around in a technical sense.

Maxey made sure the Sixers entered fourth quarter with a healthy lead, though. While he shot just 2 for 9 from three-point range, Maxey still generally had the aggressive mindset the Sixers always encourage. He went on a scoring flurry late in the third quarter, hitting a righty layup, a lefty layup, and a pull-up jumper. He spotted Reed cutting to the rim early in the fourth and threw a sharp overhead pass to him. Former Sixer Nerlens Noel fouled Reed on his dunk attempt.

The Sixers subbed Furkan Korkmaz and Danuel House Jr in around the midway point of the fourth quarter. With higher-minute players watching, the team didn’t close the game in especially convincing fashion. House missed an audacious dunk try, leading to a Bojan Bogdanovic layup, and the veteran forward then scored again in transition following a Milton turnover. Rivers called timeout with the Sixers up 13 points and 3:42 to go.

He kept the same lineup in and the Sixers managed to reach the finish line without any true drama. Milton missed an open three on the after-timeout play, but he rebounded his own shot and assisted a House triple.

Ultimately, Maxey was the one Sixer to exceed 30 minutes Sunday.

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