Embrace Maxey Mania, and Trust the endless Process, and behold the resurrection of Tobias Harris, but know this:

The Sixers don’t beat the Raptors in Game 1 on Saturday without a virtuoso performance from The Beard.

No one had more at stake. No one felt more pressure. And James Harden responded with his smoothest game since he became the Sixers’ mercenary point guard: Twenty-two points, 14 assists, and one — 1 — turnover. And that one was Harris’ fault.

If this is all that Harden is, this year, and the next, and the next, then that is fine. That is wonderful. He’s 32, in his 13th season, and he’s lived and played as hard as anyone in that span. If this is what a $46 million opt-in buys for next season, and what $270 million buys for the five seasons beyond, so be it.

This is as much as the Sixers could have hoped for when they traded Ben Simmons and two veterans to the Nets. Harden might not ever challenge for a scoring title again, and he has a host of playoffs ghosts to exorcise, but the Sixers finally have a real point guard; a pass-first facilitator who understands how to create the best shots for the best players. That’s what he did Saturday.

» READ MORE: Now with the Sixers, James Harden has a golden opportunity to change his playoff reputation

Maxey dropped 38, Joel Embiid processed 19 points and 15 rebounds, and Harris managed at least 20 points (26) for just the second time since Harden arrived Feb. 10. They all owe their bounty to the Beard.

“He was great,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse, who beat the Sixers with Philly’s own Kyle Lowry as his All Star point guard, then groomed Fred VanVleet to replace K-Low. “I thought he controlled the game. I thought when he needed to go in there and knock people over and lay it in, he did. When he needed to step back and make a three, he did.”

The coup de foudre vs. our Canadian friends: an overhead, soccer-style, halfcourt bounce pass, diagonally, through traffic, with top spin, which made it bounce forward into the hands of Tyrese Maxey, who made a reverse layup. It was the sweetest play of the Sixers’ season, and yes, Harden put that English on it intentionally.

“Thank you for the compliment; I appreciate that,” Harden said, to chuckles all around. “It feels good. I just tried to get the ball there however I could.”

Like the rest of us, Maxey was gobsmacked: “How did you see me?” he asked Harden on the bench.

Maxey’s 38 points were a career high. Harden assisted on 14 of them. That one came in the middle of the third quarter, part of the James Harden run — three-pointer, layup, mind-bending assist — that pushed the Sixers’ lead from 11 to 18 in a span of 52 seconds.

“I’m not fast at all. And he is. I’ve just been trying to do a better job of advancing the ball and pushing our pace up,” Harden said. “He’s running. You’ve got to reward him.”

It was just the third time Harden had had one or zero turnovers and double-digit assists in a playoff game, and both of those were wins, too. And this time, it happened against one of the NBA’s most larcenous teams.

Master of puppets

The Raptors forced 15.1 turnovers per game this season, second best in the NBA, which spurred their 22.5 transition points per game, which ranked fifth. They forced only three turnovers Saturday, and scored just 10 fast-break points.

“We weren’t able to force turnovers today,” said Precious Achiuwa, stunned.

The same fans who watched Hall of Fame point guard Maurice Cheeks orchestrate beauty for 11 seasons have watched their Sixers stumble through the last eight years without a true floor general; Simmons was a star, but he played point forward for four years, to mixed results. Sam Hinkie traded the last one, Jrue Holiday, in Hinkie’s first draft; Holiday won a ring last year with Milwaukee.


Even The Process was impressed; well, a little impressed, anyway.

“I thought he was fine. I thought he could still be better,” Embiid said. “I don’t think we’ve seen really what he could do.

“He was comfortable tonight. Made the right plays. Found guys. Went to the line a couple of times, even though they weren’t calling obvious fouls for him.”

» READ MORE: Tyrese Maxey’s transcendent performance leads Sixers to 131-111 win over the Raptors to start NBA playoffs

Game of adjustments

That’s one of the biggest issues, really. Harden looks to be about 90 percent of the player he was in Houston two years ago, before trades to the Nets, then the Sixers, were clouded by lingering hamstring problems. Now, he’s a victim of the NBA’s emphasis on not calling fouls when the offense initiates contact. Harden hit six of his seven free throws Saturday, and one of those was a technical foul shot, so, really, he had only six free throws. He probably should have gotten 10, but the standard has been set, so he must adjust.

And while he did hit 4 of 7 threes Saturday, that means he made just 2 of 10 two-pointers.

So no, Harden wasn’t perfect. But he was brilliant.

“He had a really efficient night,” Nurse said. “He really controlled the offense. He got the ball where he wanted it to go. He ran the show really well tonight.”

Harden seemed satisfied.

“Just try to make the right plays, man,” Harden said. “It’s not all about scoring. It’s about doing the little things and making the right plays.”

That was enough to win. That was enough for him.

That should be enough for everyone.