PHILADELPHIA — During most of his first nine appearances as a sixer, James Harden was a dependable, selfless, and prolific point guard.
Especially in the fourth quarter of his 10th appearance, amid Friday’s 111-101 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Harden was the late-game superstar worthy of spreading championship vision.
“I got more aggressive,” Harden said. “I was in attack mode.”
Through three quarters of a challenge by another championship-focused team, Harden had 13 points, eight assists and five rebounds. In the fourth alone, he scored 11 points, racked up seven rebounds and provided four assists. It is no coincidence that the Sixers drew 8:2 with him in the line-up.
“I attacked, attacked, attacked,” Harden said. “And when I do that, playmaking comes along.”
That’s what Doc Rivers had in mind recently when he challenged Harden to become more offensively aggressive.
It may have just taken a while.
“Ten games,” Harden said. “It runs fine. But in the end my aggressiveness will help the team a lot.”
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Not that the Sixers expected much when they took him on in the Harden deal, but Paul Millsap hasn’t played in any of his last six games. That included Friday when Rivers didn’t let him roll into the final minute of bench idle time.
Wouldn’t that be four-time All-Star Paul Millsap?
“Some people wouldn’t accept that,” Rivers said. “But Paul was very good at all of that.”
Millsap, 36, is on his third team for the past two years and has played 31 games combined for the Sixers and Brooklyn this season. He had some knee problems but he was far from a pain in the dressing room.
“He was a high-profile NBA player, an all-star,” Rivers said. “It is, and he has to accept his role. Late in my playing career I accepted it and I was good at it. And Paul took it very well.”
In seven games for the Sixers, Millsap has averaged 10.4 minutes and four points.
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The Sixers play six games in nine days. That includes a visit to the Raptors on Sunday night at 8:30 a.m. and a game on Monday at 7 a.m. against the Gast Heat.
“It’s a tough little situation,” Rivers said. “All I can say is that every team goes through this. You want it to be at the beginning of the season, not at the end. But there’s a national hockey game on Sunday and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
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Despite some fresh back pain, Joel Embiid scored 32 points in 34 minutes on Friday, but some stress management is still due. Rivers was asked if he would prefer Harden and Embiid to postpone their days off.
“I’d rather,” he joked, “they played all 82.”
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Matisse Thybulle, not always a reliable shot, was 3-on-3 on Friday, including 2-on-2 from long range.
“I see him working on his shot every day,” Harden said. “The more work he puts into filming, the more things will open up for us. And he works so hard on defense, he deserves it.”