76ers: Harris could be difference-maker for Sixers
Tobias Harris holds the key to the 76ers’ halfcourt offense.
When Harris is aggressively looking for his shots — both 3-pointers and midrange jumpers/floaters — the Sixers’ spacing is better and the offense is more productive.
The Sixers will really benefit if he continues to attack like he did in the second half of Wednesday night’s 117-106 win over the Nets at the Wells Fargo Center. Harris scored 24 of his game-high 34 points in the final two quarters, including 11 in the fourth period.
Harris scored on 3-pointers (4 for 6 in the game), mid-range floaters, drives to the basket and post-ups when Brooklyn tried a smaller defender on him. He hit 14 of his 20 field goal attempts.
“I usually just take what the defense games me,” Harris said afterward. “The last couple games, there’s been a little bit of hesitation in the midrange just by determining where the defense is at. (Wednesday) I was focusing on if I got the space, just raise up and shoot it. You make it, you make it. You miss it, hopefully we get the rebound and we can go from there.”
That’s the attitude the Sixers need from Harris.
What happened was Brooklyn centers Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan stayed back in the lane and didn’t give much help to whoever was defending Harris. That opened up pretty much any and all possibilities for him.
Harris scored nine of the team’s final 11 points, highlighted by a 3-pointer as the 24-second clock expired to turn a two-point lead into a five-point edge. He exhorted the crowd following the bucket, which is not a regular occurrence, with 2 minutes, 20 seconds remaining.
“Shoot, I think the ball is going in when I shoot it,” said Harris, laughing. “But then when I saw it going in, I was hype.”
After coming to the Sixers in a February trade from the Clippers, Harris was too deferential to teammates like star center Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler because he wanted to fit in and not make waves.
That seemed to be the case at the outset of the season, too, but not anymore.
Harris averaged 17.6 points on 29.6% 3-point shooting and had six 20-point games in the first 19 games. Over the last 23, he is averaging 21.1 points while shooting 43.9% on 3s – and he has 14 20-point games.
Harris is clearly more comfortable in the offense, in addition to more efficient.
Perhaps trying to live up to the five-year, $180 million contract he signed in July affected him somewhat early in the season, but he seems to be moving past it.
“I think that there is a sincerity in him as a person and there is a genuine desire to win,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “You can’t dismiss that. You can see it in his face and his actions in a locker room. It matters. He cares a lot.
“We encourage (Harris shooting from midrange). I still want him hunting and growing his 3-point shot. But to think that’s going to go away because that’s not an analytically correct efficiency-type thing is not going to happen. I thought he was really good mixing it up.”
This is not to suggest that Harris has to score 30 a night or is going to make 70 percent of his field goal attempts on a regular basis. That’s not realistic.
But if he can stay in attack mode, it’ll make life easier for his teammates.
Shooting guard Josh Richardson has also been picking up the slack without the injured Embiid. He’s averaging 21.2 points over the past five games.
Twenty of the 26-16 Sixers’ 42 games so far have been decided by six points or less. They’re accustomed to being in down-to-the-wire affairs and have been much better at finishing the job at home — where they are 19-2 — than on the road (7-14). They host the Bulls Friday night.
“I think just the experience aspect of it that we’re gaining,” Harris said. “I think as a team we’re finding out what’s going to work out for us late. That’s playoff basketball.”
Once Embiid returns from torn ligaments in his left ring finger, which should be sometime in February or March, Harris probably won’t have as many touches or scoring opportunities.
But if Harris can maintain his recent approach, the Sixers will be more difficult to defeat in a seven-game playoff series.
Tom Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org; @TomMoorePhilly