James Harden's future in spotlight again following Sixers' Game 7 loss to Celtics

With a too-familiar ending, Harden's future in spotlight again originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

BOSTON — In the Sixers’ final loss of the 2021-22 season, James Harden scored zero second-half points. He was 0 for 2 from the field after intermission in the Sixers’ Round 2, Game 6 defeat to the Heat

On Sunday afternoon at TD Garden, he scored three second-half points. The Celtics then immediately piled up 18 in a row as the Sixers crumbled on their way to another second-round playoff exit, losing Game 7 in a blowout.

Harden had nine points on 3-for-11 shooting, seven assists, six rebounds and five turnovers. Across the Sixers’ four losses in the series, he made a mere 12 of 55 field goals (21.8 percent). While Harden was brilliant in Games 1 and 4 and very solid in Game 5, he and the Sixers were not nearly good enough with the season at stake.

Head coach Doc Rivers gave a generous spin on the 10-time All-Star’s outing.

“I thought James came to play,” Rivers said. “I really did. I thought he was trying to see the game. I thought he played downhill a lot. Where he passed the ball was the right decisions tonight, and we didn’t get anything out of it. I get it. James, (Joel Embiid), me ... I know we’ve got to point somewhere, right? But I thought James, in particular, he was trying to do the right things tonight. I really did.”

Harden, who will turn 34 years old in August, missed 24 games this season, including four in March with left Achilles soreness that he said had been bothering him “for some months.” When healthy, he regularly created excellent shots for everyone around him with inch-perfect hit-ahead feeds, smooth pick-and-roll passes, and well-timed kick-outs. After starting 12-12, the Sixers went an NBA-best 42-16 and were second in offensive rating. Harden led the league in assists for a second time with 10.7 per game.

For next season, he has a player option of $35.6 million.

“James has a decision to make this summer, and he’ll make it,” Rivers said. “I think he overall enjoyed being here. It’s tough for him. We asked him to play a little differently than he’s always been accustomed to. I think it made us a better team. And unfortunately, I thought for James at times, it wasn’t always best for him. But he still did it. You appreciate that as a coach.”

Speaking minutes later in the visiting locker room, Harden didn’t provide much to supplement his coach’s comments on that subject.

“I haven’t even thought about it,” he said of his player option.

What is he looking for next?

“I just want to have a chance to compete,” Harden said. “Compete.”

Harden also offered little when asked about Rivers, whom he’d called “one of the best coaches to ever coach the game of basketball” at his introductory Sixers press conference last February.

“Our relationship is OK,” he said.

Harden did agree with the notion that he and Embiid can further grow their partnership.

“Definitely,” he said. “I feel like we had a pretty solid team. Obviously, you always look to get better, whether it’s the personnel you have now or adding pieces. We’ll see how it goes.”

By next postseason, Embiid will be 30 years old.

“We’ve got an unfinished job,” the MVP big man said. “We haven’t won anything, and I think we’ve got a chance to win. Obviously, going to seven games and having a chance to close it out at home, which we didn’t do. I still believe we’ve got the chance to win. We’ve got what it takes to win. ... I know (Harden) has a player option or they can extend him, but that’s on those guys to figure it out. I’m going to stay out of it, but I still believe that me and him, we’ve got the chance to win.

“It’s going to take more than us. We’ve all got to look at ourselves. I’ve got to be better and I will be better. That’s what I’m focused on. All of us, we’ve got to come back and find ways to just keep improving and help the team. You can’t win alone. I can’t win alone. Me and James, we just can’t win alone. That’s why basketball, it’s played 5-on-5. We just need everybody to keep trying to find ways to get better, and we’ll be fine.”