Joel Embiid on James Harden: ‘He Needs to Be Aggressive and He Needs to Be Himself’

The 76ers have lost two straight in their first-round series with the Raptors but still hold a 3-2 lead going into Game 6 on Thursday.

With Joel Embiid somewhat hampered by a torn thumb on his shooting hand, his former MVP teammate, James Harden, had a chance to carry the Sixers to a Game 5 win to close out the series.

It looked that Harden had every intention to do so, scoring the first four points and giving the Sixers their only lead of the day when he sank a midrange jumper 18 seconds into the game and slammed home a fast-break dunk. Harden went 2-for-9 over the final 46 minutes, finishing Game 6 with 15 points (4-11 shooting, 2-6 from three-point territory), seven assists against five turnovers on 36 percent shooting from the field.

Freshly minted Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes led a stingy defensive effort as he stepped in at point guard while Fred VanVleet sat Game 5 out due to a strained hip flexor. Against the Raptors’ athletic, lengthy defense headlined by Barnes, Philly shot just 38 percent shooting from the field and shot 10-37 from long distance. Toronto also forced the 76ers into 16 turnovers; the Raptors scored 20 points off those turnovers.

Postgame, Embiid put the onus on Harden and Coach Doc Rivers to create a game plan where Harden can be more aggressive with the ball in his hands.

“I’ve been saying all season since he got here, he needs to be aggressive, and he needs to be himself,” Embiid said. “That’s not really my job. That’s probably on Coach to talk to him and tell him to take more shots, especially if they’re going to guard me the way they’ve been guarding. But that’s really not my job.”

Embiid also took accountability for the tough loss to the Raptors as the Sixers faced mounting pressure to close out their first-round matchup. Whoever wins the 76ers-Raptors series will take on the winner of the Heat-Hawks series in the second round.

“But we all need to be better offensively. We missed a bunch of wide-open shots. At times, I just felt like we just invited; when I was getting doubled, we were not aggressive attacking the ball. We just kept moving the ball around the perimeter, and that gave them time to recover, and that’s why we’re not able to get anything out of it.”

“So if that’s what they want to keep doing, we’ve got to take advantage of it.”