Atlantic Notes: Harden, Celtics, D. White, Simmons

In Sunday’s Game 4 win over Miami, the Sixers got to see the version of James Harden they’ve been waiting for, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Harden looked like the perennial MVP candidate he was in Houston as he scored 31 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter, and made six three-pointers, his most in a single game since being acquired from the Nets in February.

Harden took control from the start, taking 18 shots and 10 three-point attempts, which marked his second-highest totals in both categories since coming to Philadelphia. He also shot 10 free throws, the most he’s had in a game since the playoffs began. With two straight wins since Joel Embiid returned, the Sixers are feeling good as they head back to Miami in a tied series.

“We’re getting more confident as the series goes on,” Harden said. “Those first two games [were] a blur. But obviously, having Joel and having our full team, we kind of know what to expect. We know where to execute on both ends of the ball. It just makes the job a lot easier. Think about: We’re still a fairly new team. We’re damn near two months. So when we finally catch a rhythm and finally find something that works, Joel goes off for a couple games. So we’re finally settling into the series, and we’ve had some great things that have worked tonight and that we can capitalize off in Game 5.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Celtics‘ turnaround can be traced to a January game at Washington, Bontemps observes in a separate story. Coming off a tough loss to the Trail Blazers, Boston took advantage of Jayson Tatum‘s 51-point night in a rout of the Wizards. From that point through the end of the regular season, the Celtics posted the NBA’s best record at 28-7 and led the league in both offensive and defensive rating. “After that game, we just had this mentality and mindset and this sense of urgency that we can feel that a change was starting,” Marcus Smart said. “Once that got rolling, and we got on the right track, it was just smooth sailing from there.”
  • Coach Ime Udoka believes the changes the Celtics made at the trade deadline were critical to the team’s success, Bontemps adds. They acquired Derrick White from the Spurs, filling the roles that previously belonged to Josh Richardson and Dennis Schroder. “If I could have picked the guy who would have been the perfect guy to come in and complement our group, it’s [White],” Udoka said. “He’s a better offensive player than J-Rich, and a much better defender than Dennis, so you kind of get those guys combined into one.”
  • Brian Lewis of The New York Post traces the significant events involving Nets forward Ben Simmons since he played his last game and suggests there’s increased optimism about next season in the wake of his back surgery.
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