The 76ers are clearly Joel Embiid’s team. But for them to reach the high expectations that coach Doc Rivers and the players have for themselves, Tobias Harris will have to emerge as the dependable No. 2 scorer.
Harris filled that role on a night when many of the others Sixers struggled offensively during Tuesday’s 100-93 win over the visiting Toronto Raptors.
While Embiid led the way with 29 points and 16 rebounds, Harris was right behind with 26 points, 11 rebounds, and a team-best plus-21 rating, three assists, two steals and two blocked shots in 37 minutes, 52 seconds.
Harris was the only Sixer to shoot at least 50%, hitting 11-of-20 shots, including 2-of-5 from three-point range.
It was Harris who put the Sixers (3-1) ahead for good, drilling a 19-footer to snap an 89-89 tie with 3:01 left.
“Tobias came up big,” Embiid said.
“I just thought, in the second half, he got very aggressive on both ends,” Rivers said of Harris.
The numbers back up Rivers’ assertion.
Harris shot 6-for-7 in the second half with 15 points and had a plus-20 rating. In the first half, he had some key baskets but shot 5-for-13 and was a plus-1.
Rivers has said in the past that he wants Harris to be a quick decision maker, and that is what he has been in the last three games.
A key for him is when he is shooting well from the perimeter it seems to boost his entire game. Harris also has been more aggressive creating his own shot off the dribble. Part of that can be attributed to Rivers’ offense, which gives players much more spacing.
“He was huge,” Ben Simmons said of Harris. “Whenever you have somebody going, you want to keep feeding him and going with that momentum.”
While Harris looked comfortable in the No. 2 scoring role, he briefly had to move up to the No. 1 option when Embiid left the game with 8:02 left in the third quarter. After committing a turnover, Embiid stayed on the floor for a while before getting up on his own power and heading to the locker room.
After the game, Embiid said he was fine. The Sixers don’t have practice Wednesday and will return to action on Thursday in Orlando against the Magic.
When Embiid departed, the Sixers trailed, 68-56. During his absence, the Sixers hung in there, still trailing by 11 points when Embiid returned with 4:01 left in the quarter. Harris kept the Sixers in the game, hitting two driving layups in Embiid’s absence.
Then, shortly after Embiid’s return, Harris hit a three-pointer, part of a 13-0 run to end the quarter, with the teams tied at 76.
“That leadership and that toughness he showed was terrific,” Rivers said of Harris.
After shooting 3-for-13, including 0-for-4 from three-point range in the Sixers’ opening 113-107 win over the Washington Wizards, Harris, was criticized for his performance.
Since then he has stepped up his game, beginning with 17 points and a plus-32 rating in Saturday’s 109-89 win over the host New York Knicks.
In the last three games, Harris has shot 23-for-44 from the field, including 8-of-16 from three-point range, the type of performance that the Sixers expect from their No. 2 scoring option.