James Harden and Ben Simmons had one of the best battles of the NBA season thus far, each notching triple-doubles in this hard-fought contest in Houston.
The Rockets were able to edge the Philadelphia 76ers behind 44 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists from Harden, but his teammates stepped up to the challenge as well. In particular, centre Clint Capela had a monster performance, outplaying 76ers big man Joel Embiid to make a major difference in the final outcome.
For more on this marquee matchup between the Rockets and Sixers, we have you covered with takeaways below.
Defending James Harden
Prior to the start of the game, 76ers head coach Brett Brown said Harden "may be the greatest scorer in the history of our game." Harden backed that statement by putting on a scoring clinic against one of the best defensive teams in the NBA.
The Sixers tried trapping Harden at halfcourt but the guard was finding his teammates for open shots, making Philly's defence pay. They went away from the halfcourt trap and the league's leading scorer started attacking, again, making Philly's defence pay.
What it comes down to is that there is not much you can do to stop this man. He's a good enough playmaker to make any sort of janky defence suffer as long as his teammates are knocking down shots. If you try and defend him straight up with guys in the help, he's too good of an isolation scorer.
Maybe the 76ers should have tried more possessions with Defensive Player of the Year candidate Ben Simmons defending Harden one-on-one, but you can't fault Brown for trying something different.
Down the stretch of the game, Harden displayed just how locked in he was in this one with two ridiculously contested step-back 3s to seal the outcome.
Beard. Step-back. 44 for Harden 💦 pic.twitter.com/OS0VjzjJ5E- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 4, 2020
He torched the 76ers for his first triple-double of the season with 44 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, shooting 13-for-24 (54.2%) from the field with six 3-pointers. This was his 14th-career 40-point triple-double, ranking him second-most all-time behind Oscar Robertson, who has 22.
Simmons stars in Houston
Harden wasn't the only player to have a monster game in Houston - Simmons put together one of his best games of the season to keep the 76ers within striking distance.
Simmons looked like a completely different player in this one, attacking on the offensive end with aggression. The Aussie guard finished with his third triple-double of the season, going for 29 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.
.@BenSimmons25 (29 PTS, 13 REB, 11 AST, 3 STL, 4 BLK) records his 25th career triple-double for the @sixers in Houston. pic.twitter.com/Ijuf1WqOaa- NBA (@NBA) January 4, 2020
This marks the 25th triple-double of his career in just his 195th career game, making him the third-fastest player to reach 25 triple-doubles behind Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.
Simmons didn't just dominate on the offensive end. He brought it on the defensive end, too, despite Harden's final stat line. He finished with an impressive four blocks and three steals, which even strengthens the case that maybe he should have spent more time guarding Harden individually.
Despite the loss, it's an encouraging game from the motor that drives this 76ers team.
Capela outplays Embiid
It's no secret that when Joel Embiid plays well and dominates the game, the 76ers are a better team.
In this one, Capela undeniably got the better of him, and the outcome of the game reflects that.
Capela was a beast, going for 30 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block. He was an efficient 12-for-16 from the field and often found himself on the back-end of lobs, as he typically does, from his All-NBA teammate Harden.
Season-high 25 points for @CapelaClint! pic.twitter.com/e1OB5YpnSB- Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) January 4, 2020
His 30 points were a season-high.
Embiid was much quieter with a modest 20 points and 12 rebounds. He shot a forgettable 7-for-17 from the field and missed all three of his 3-point attempts, struggling to get much of anything going against Capela and the Rockets.
76ers road struggles continue
The Sixers own one of the best home records this season, boasting a 16-2 record at the Wells Fargo Center.
Their issue is that they have struggled to win on the road.
A team that is 16-2 at home has no business being in sixth place, where the 76ers currently stand in the Eastern Conference. That is because they are 7-12 away from Philadelphia. And although they competed in this contest, they weren't able to get over the hump down the stretch.
The 76ers only have one road win against a team over .500 - their victory at Boston against the Celtics a few weeks back. They are 1-7 on the road against teams that are above .500, and that is something that is going to have to change if this team is going to reach their ceiling assigned to them this offseason.
They have two tough tests coming up at home against the surging Oklahoma City Thunder and rival Celtics before getting another crack at a road game, traveling to Dallas to take on the Mavericks.
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