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April 24, 2023

Tobias Harris finally has his signature Sixers moment

With a 25-point performance as the Sixers pulled off their first playoff sweep in decades, Tobias Harris is the choice for who "won the week" in Philly sports.

If you're a player signed to a contract worth $180 million, it's a little rough that your most noteworthy moment is the night you were traded to your current team, not anything you've actually done on the court. That's been the case of Tobias Harris' Sixers tenure, as a good-not-great player who's been thrown into a third banana role in Philly after being handed a gigantic deal that he didn't necessarily deserve, which says more about this organization's past front office management than Harris as a person.  

One first-round series win over a lowly sixth seed doesn't transform the entire trajectory of Harris' career, but he finally had his signature moment with this franchise in Saturday afternoon's Game 4 close-out win over the Nets in Brooklyn. 

With MVP candidate Joel Embiid sidelined, an easy series win over this lowly Nets squad might not have been as quick as Philadelphians would've liked. With James Harden delivering a classic playoff clunker, Tyrese Maxey shooting 30 percent from the field and unproven backup center Paul Reed playing major minutes, Harris put the team on his back. Dropping a game-high 25 points and grabbing 12 boards, Harris was the scoring force behind the Sixers' second-half comeback, as this offense surged to victory. 

For my weekly Monday feature here at PhillyVoice, Harris is my pick for the person who "won the week" in the Philadelphia sports scene. It's deserved for a guy who's been an afterthought and a punchline in this city, stepping up big time in Embiid's absence, a spot where many of Embiid's top sidekicks over the years have failed. 

One-on-one moves like this, where Harris is able to use his strength as a combo forward to back down smaller players in the post with his old-school game were huge on Saturday:

The emphatic and-1 on the make ignited a crowd at the Barclays Center that felt more and more like a Sixers home game as the game progressed. I was there sitting in the 200 level and "Let's Go Sixers!" chants broke out as Harris reached the line. The Sixers may have been a train ride away from home, but buckets like this from Harris brought some of that Philly energy out up in Brooklyn. 

There's something particularly demoralizing for a Nets fan base, and I use that phrase "fan base" loosely, to get sent packing with a killer Tobias Harris performance. Embiid was out. If the Nets were ever going to make some noise and have a great day that could bring some optimism for the future of the franchise, Saturday was it. Rough scene!

I was sitting across from the only hardcore Nets fan I've ever seen in my life. He was about my age. He was the only person in the upper level standing up and screaming, "DE-FENSE!" chants whenever the Sixers had possession in the second half. Amidst yells at the refs and Harden, I slowly saw Harris break this man, tearing out any hope from his body that he'd have a pleasant afternoon. It's a situation innumerable Philadelphia sports fans can relate to from their experiences over the years, but to see it happen to someone else in their building felt like a particular nail in the coffin from Harris. 

Let's be honest: if it's up to Harris to carry the load with Embiid still sidelined in a potential second-round matchup against the Celtics, it might be the Sixers who are on the receiving end of a sweep. Still, if Embiid finds his way back on the floor for good, Harden discovers how to make a layup again and Harris can find more ways to pick his spots and hit clutch shots against Boston, this could be a seven-game thriller. 

Runner up: Nick Castellanos 

After a career-worst campaign in his first year in Philadelphia in 2022, Nick Castellanos has rebounded so far this season. In his last seven games, Castellanos has homered twice while hitting .370 and posting a 1.023 OPS. Star power!

Last week's winner: Joel Embiid 

Who Won the Week 2023 Tally:

Joel Embiid: 5

James Harden: 2

Tobias Harris: 1

Bryson Stott: 1

Mac McClung: 1

Haason Reddick: 1

Kenny Gainwell: 1

DeVonta Smith: 1

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