Sixers Get Under the Skin of Historically Great James Harden, Rockets

After the Sixers demolished the Rockets Monday night, 121-93 (see observations), Joel Embiid had a clear memory of the second-quarter play in which he and MVP favorite James Harden each picked up a technical foul. 

He was in a good mood postgame, throwing in an apparent reference to Russell Westbrook and his heated objection to Embiid's hard foul on him in the fourth quarter of the Sixers' devastating loss Saturday (see story).

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I was just walking back to my basket and I think [Harden] pushed my leg and naturally I'm going to react, and I did. We both got technical fouls and we move on. To me, I'm having fun. I'm always having fun and a lot of guys take it seriously. Especially when it comes to that, we just had one guy our last game that was acting crazy. But it's fun to me. I love it.

Harden didn't have nearly as thorough an explanation for what happened on the play.

"I don't know," he said.

While Harden extended his incredible streak of 30-plus point games to 20 straight, scoring 37 to join Wilt Chamberlain as the only other player in NBA history with such a run, it was a frustrating night for him and the Rockets. 

Veteran Corey Brewer, hungry to earn more than a 10-day contract, made it his mission to irritate Harden, one of his many former teammates. He face-guarded him full court, tried his best to force the six-time All-Star into difficult looks, and theatrically exaggerated contact whenever Harden pushed back. 

"It's annoying," Harden said with a laugh of facing Brewer. "Nah, he's on a 10-day, he's fighting for his career. He did an unbelievable job being active, bringing the extras to the game, and using his opportunity. He took advantage of it."

Before the game, Sixers head coach Brett Brown was asked if holding Harden to 35 points would constitute a good night defensively. 

"I think it is," he said.

The Sixers just about did that, in large part because Harden sat on the bench during the fourth quarter of a game already decided. Houston head coach Mike D'Antoni thought Harden could have scored "50 or 60" if the game had been close until the end.

It wasn't, however, and that's a credit to both the hodgepodge of defensive looks the Sixers threw at Harden and his teammates' inability to knock down open shots.

Harden shot 12 for 26 from the floor, while his teammates were 19 for 60 (31.7 percent). 

"James saw a bunch of different looks," Brown said. "We hit him late, we hit him early. We denied him the ball as much as we could. You saw T.J. [McConnell] and Corey be the primary harass-type guys. 

"I think Corey just set the stage. He set the table that spilt over with a pretty solid 48-minute performance defensively on him. For [Harden] to [finish] with eight free throws in itself is a good accomplishment."

After back-to-back overtime games, D'Antoni thought his team's fatigue contributed to the Sixers getting under its skin. D'Antoni himself was given a technical at the end of the first half. 

"When you get tired, it's a little hard to control your emotions and we didn't do a good job of that," he said. "They didn't help us control our emotions. … But it is what is, we're going to just forget this one and keep going."

For the Sixers, though, Monday was the type of night they'd prefer to remember. 

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