By Tommy Matthews
Last night’s 129-100 beatdown by the Nets had a lot of fathers:
Tobias Harris, who as usual looked like he doesn’t want the ball, though he did finish with 16 points on 5-for-10 shooting.
Tyrese Maxey looked like he was always one step behind whomever he was guarding and only scored 4 points.
Matisse Thybulle, who could manage only 4 points in 25 minutes.
But no Sixer came up shorter than James Harden.
The Beard finished with 11 points on 3-for-17 shooting, and dished only 5 dimes in 29 minutes.
In other words, he played right into the narrative that has developed during his fabulous career:
He comes up short in big games, and the stage seemed too big for him.
When things are going bad, he’s gone right in the tank, one time after another, when his team has needed leadership.
When he doesn’t have the ball, he’s useless. Unless he’s tossing a dime to Embiid on a screen-roll, he’s of no help to a top-three MVP candidate. And for most surrogates in similar positions, the No. 1 mission is to make life easier for the top guy.
And unfortunately for Harden, he ran into a team that knew his game and pitfalls all too well.
And even though the 76ers talk big about wanting the Nets to be a true rival — which can only be consummated by contentious playoff matchups — they look to be a franchise that wants no part of Brooklyn in a seven-game series.
The Nets are far from a polished product, and there’s no guarantee they emerge from the play-in tournament, considering Toronto has vaccine mandates Irving won’t be able to dance around even if New York lift its mandate toward private businesses any time soon.
But whenever Irving gets to dancing with the ball, he looks to be on a different plane than his defender. And Durant strikes fear any time he’s one of five Nets on the floor, reminding everybody he’s the baddest man on the planet as a healthy player — even if his leadership and possible enabling of Irving leaves much to be desired.