Tobias Harris played in 82 games last season, 80 the year before that and 82 in 2016-17. This year, he’s taken part in all 58 Sixers games and has totaled 1,997 minutes, third-most in the NBA.
It sure seems like it would have made sense for Monday to be a rare night off.
Instead, Harris suited up and scored 25 points in the Sixers’ 129-112 victory over the Hawks (see observations). He’d been originally listed as doubtful with a right knee contusion, then upgraded to questionable in the middle of the day, and made available after his typical workout wrapped up about two hours before the game.
Tobias Harris goes through his pregame workout. He’s currently questionable with a right knee contusion. pic.twitter.com/fs1AyjGpVC— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) February 24, 2020
The Sixers had kept Harris in the game Saturday night against the Bucks after he appeared to injure his knee on a second-quarter drive, grabbing at it and coming up gimpy.
So, how was his knee feeling after the win over Atlanta?
“Obviously still battling through it a little bit,” he said. “I always say if I can give anything to help my team win, any percentage where I feel like I’m not putting myself in danger, then I’m going to go out there and play and be effective.”
That doesn’t sound great …
Let’s give the Sixers the benefit of the doubt on all fronts here. Let’s acknowledge that we are not medical experts and the professionals on the Sixers’ staff are most qualified to make decisions on these matters. Let’s assume the team was sure playing Harris wouldn’t do him future harm.
His desire to compete despite not feeling his best is commendable, but it’s also common in high-level athletes.
“Any time I get on the floor and I’m up and down, it’s no excuses — you’re 100 percent,” he said. “That’s kind of how I look at it. Yesterday I was probably like 60. Today in the morning, 70. And then game time, 100. So, that’s how I go about it.”
If we just take Harris at his word, a player — one in the first year of a five-year, $180 million contract — played after assessing himself at around 70 percent health the morning of the game, being doubtful the day before, and having run up and down the floor many times two nights prior following an injury that immediately caused him to hold his knee.
The situation would, of course, be different if this had been a playoff matchup or a game the Sixers needed to win to secure a postseason spot. But this was a February game against a 17-win team.
It was uncomfortably close for much of the second half because of a poor third quarter, and Harris helped the Sixers win, sure. And yes, the Sixers, who are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference standings, can’t afford to drop games to inferior opponents if they want to gain home court advantage.
Still, those factors don’t equate to Harris’ presence being necessary or advisable.
Especially in the context of Ben Simmons’ irritating his lower back injury Saturday night, the thought of playing another injured starter, one who admitted he was “battling through it a little bit,” is open to scrutiny. Simmons' injury falls under that category, too.
Even if there are no long-term consequences and the only impact of Harris playing Monday night is the Sixers having had a better chance to beat the Hawks, the decision has to give one — again, an observer without access to expert medical knowledge or all the pertinent information — some pause.
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