James Harden got free in the lane for the finish at the basket midway through Saturday’s third quarter. About three minutes later, he zipped to the rim again. And with less than 7 minutes to play in the final period, Harden’s floater put the 76ers up 17 points in their eventual 133-120 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

It was a brief return of Harden, the reliable scorer, who has been absent for large chunks since the blockbuster trade that brought the perennial All-Star to Philly. After going 2-of-8 from the floor in the first half against the Pacers, Harden made 5 of his 8 attempts after the break to finish with 22 points in the Sixers’ second-to-last game of the regular season.

» READ MORE: Sixers ensured of home court in first round with 133-120 victory over Pacers; need help to get third seed

Whether Harden plays in Sunday’s finale against the Detroit Pistons or not, his shaky shooting is going to be a significant storyline heading into the playoffs.

“I know that I’m not making shots,” Harden said after the game. “But I’m one of the most confident players we have in this league because I put the work in. It is what it is. It’s a part of the game. … [I’ll] continue to work my [butt] off. Ain’t no other choice. Ain’t no time to feel sorry for nobody, feel sorry for myself.

“Continue to put the work in, continue to [stay in the] gym and you live with the results. That’s how I’m built.”

Harden has immediately carried his excellent playmaking over from his stint with the Brooklyn Nets, ranking second in the NBA behind Chris Paul with 10.3 assists per game. He dished out another 14 on Saturday afternoon, setting the offensive tone for a Sixers team that shot 55.6% from the floor against the Pacers and got an efficient 41 points on 14-of-17 shooting from the field from MVP contender Joel Embiid.

But Harden entered Saturday shooting 40% from the floor, including 33.3% from three-point range, in his 20 games since making his Sixers debut following the All-Star break. Those numbers were even uglier in the 16 games following a torrid start to the Harden era: 35.7% from the field, 29.6% from long range. Too many of Harden’s jumpers have clanked off the rim, and he has lacked his typical explosiveness to get to the bucket.

The 32-year-old Harden has repeatedly said that he is no longer bothered by a hamstring injury that occurred before the trade and kept him out until after the All-Star break. Sixers coach Doc Rivers added before Saturday’s game that “the last thing I worry about is a shooter not making a shot.”

“I like, overall, the shot attempts that James [has gotten],” Rivers said. “And if you are getting the shots that you want and it’s the guy that you want taking them, I don’t really get concerned a lot about that.”

Yet Harden has acknowledged he is still working through adjustments post-trade.

Appropriate spacing when Harden is surveying the floor at the top of the key or Embiid is getting double-teamed in the post is crucial for Harden’s attacks and for kick-out passes to shooters. Harden has already been part of a variety of lineup combinations, including a new-look starting group with veteran wing Danny Green that could be necessary should the Sixers play the Toronto Raptors in the first round because Matisse Thybulle is not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and ineligible to travel to and from Canada.

And after being an iso-heavy, ball-dominant player for eight seasons with the Houston Rockets, Harden is now getting far more catch-and-shoot opportunities. He hesitated once when the ball found him in the first half Saturday, but drained a three-pointer off a pass from Tyrese Maxey in the third quarter.

“I work on it every single day,” Harden said. " … I am playing with somebody like Joel Embiid, who creates a lot of attention, so those kick-out opportunities [are] going to be there for me. … Just let it fly.”

Harden’s “work” has also included getting back to the basic principles on his own shot form. He noticed Saturday that he was “kind of leaning” on a few of his attempts. Earlier in the week, Harden said he had been coming out of his shot too early and that he needed to “stick the landing.”

“When shots are going in,” Harden said, “and you’re hitting shots that are tough shots, you’re falling away, things are going great. But when you’re not … get back to the simple things, and that’s where I am right now.”

During Saturday’s first half, it looked like Harden was on his way to another shooting clunker. He missed a step-back three-pointer, then left a layup short, then got blocked on a drive. He expressed his frustration when two trips into traffic did not result in a foul call by standing front of the official with his arms stretched out to the side. As the first-half clock ticked down, his pull-up three-pointer on the Pacers’ Gabe York rimmed out.

Yet Harden’s rhythm arrived after the break. With less than four minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Harden held his follow-through at the top of the key as the ball rattled in to put the Sixers up, 122-107.

Harden said he “definitely” wants to play Sunday night, though acknowledged that was a point of discussion following Saturday’s win. Next week’s practices will also be crucial to Harden’s continued implementation with his new team, because, “You talk about it in film [but] it’s not the same as actually drilling and going over it.”

But Saturday’s second half was a glimpse at Harden, the reliable scorer, to complement Harden, the elite playmaker. Whether it was a brief cameo of that version of the former MVP, or a sign that Harden is regaining his shooting form just in time for the playoffs, is to be determined.

“It makes the game a lot easier,” Harden said of making shots. “Obviously, shooting the ball is great. You want to play well. You want to shoot the ball. But I bring so much to the table, more than just scoring.

“[I’m] finding other ways to impact the game. I think that’s what winners do. I think that’s what leaders do in the postseason.”