James Harden boosted by 'good luck charm' John Hao in special Game 4 vs. Celtics

Harden boosted by 'good luck charm' John Hao in special, clutch Game 4 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

James Harden was focused on his usual pregame routine before Sixers-Celtics Game 4 — jumpers, floaters, gearing up for the crucial game ahead.

He then spotted a familiar face seated along the baseline in John Hao. Harden was happy to break his concentration, smiling and jogging over for a hug and a few words.

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Harden first spoke with Hao via FaceTime in February, when Hao was in the hospital. The Michigan State student, who’s a big fan of Harden’s, survived a Feb. 13 mass shooting on campus and is now paralyzed.

After Harden hauled the Sixers to an overtime win with an exceptional performance — 42 points on 16-for-23 shooting, nine assists (and only one turnover), eight rebounds, four steals, and a go-ahead corner three-pointer — Hao had the 10-time All-Star’s signed shoes and a firm invitation to Game 6 in Philadelphia, too.

“He’s my good luck charm,” Harden said. “I’ve been keeping in contact with him. For a tragedy like that to happen … there’s a lot of nonsense that’s going on in the world. So for him to be a victim of that, it’s heartbreaking.


“But he’s strong, he’s bouncing back, he’s recovering very well. And I feel like it’s my job to just give him that light — that smile that he deserves, that he needs. Hopefully, today was one of those days where he’s smiling. That’s all I’m here for.”

Less seriously, Harden credited Sixers head coach Doc Rivers for an inspirational pregame song recommendation.

Harden played a tremendous Game 1, scoring 45 points in an upset victory with MVP Joel Embiid sidelined by a right knee sprain. He then shot 5 for 28 from the floor over the next two games, looked shaky and tentative at times in Game 3, and quite obviously needed to be much better Sunday for the Sixers to even their second-round series.

“James was awesome,” Rivers said. “For a day and a half, James had to get himself back. No one did that but James. Film was great and we talked, and 15,000 other people probably talked to him. But James … I sent him a gospel song before the game. The title of it is (‘You Know My Name.’) And James Harden was James Harden tonight.


“More importantly, Joel was Joel tonight, Tyrese (Maxey) was Tyrese tonight, Tobias (Harris) was Tobias tonight. That’s what we have to have. We can’t have one guy. We have to have everyone.”

Harden on Sunday had rapper Lil Baby among his friends sitting courtside. He appeared to be both bemused and amused by Rivers’ musical choice. The 33-year-old pulled out his phone during his postgame press conference to check the text message and confirm the name of the song.

He was glad he gave it a shot, though.

“I’m on my way to the game and I get a text from Doc,” Harden said, “and I’m like, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ … It was a gospel song. So I’m like, ‘All right, whatever.’ So I just tell my homies, ‘Let’s play the song.’ And it’s a seven-minute song.


“I let the whole song play and I’m like all right, there’s got to be some kind of good juju in this song. Whatever he’s feeling, I want to feel like that. I guess it worked.”

Harden referred to Game 4 as a “must-win” for the Sixers. While not true in a technical sense, it's certainly massive that the Celtics won't have the chance to eliminate the Sixers in Tuesday night's Game 5 at TD Garden. And that's largely because Harden punctuated a special day with a clutch catch-and-shoot three assisted by Embiid.

As was the case in Game 1, he was great at recognizing the best option on each possession and taking it with zero hesitation. His game-winner might not have been a comfortable look when he first came to Philadelphia, but Harden has fired that shot many times outside of the spotlight in his work alongside Sixers assistant coach Sam Cassell. He made 44 of 106 catch-and-shoot threes (41.5 percent) in the regular season, per NBA.com/Stats. In the playoffs, he’s now 8 for 14.

“I watched him this summer, we watch him every day, and he works on it,” Rivers said. “He works on it, but it’s something he hadn’t done his whole life. And the last shot to win this game was a catch-and-shoot shot from James.


“It should tell every freaking kid, ‘Work on your weaknesses, keep working on ‘em, and you never know.’ Tonight was that night for him.”

Whatever it takes to get a similar version of Harden moving forward, the Sixers will embrace it.

“You better play it again Tuesday,” P.J. Tucker said of Rivers’ handpicked song. “You better play it again.”