Tobias Harris didn’t have time for sentimentality Saturday night.
Yes, he was playing his former team in Detroit, the place where he took his game to another level by adding a more consistent three-point stroke.
But that was then. This was simply a business trip.
“Nah, I don't have [any feelings about it],” Harris said after practice Friday. “Maybe like when they traded me to the Clippers, go back and play the first time there's obviously some little bit of like feelings there and whatnot but not anymore. It's a brand-new season — ready to go, ready to play and ready to take down whoever is in front of us.”
While it got dicey at times, Harris and the Sixers were able to take down the Pistons, 117-111, at Little Casers Arena Saturday night (see observations). Harris may not have had any extra motivation, but with All-Star center Joel Embiid out of the lineup, he had one of his finest games as a Sixer.
Harris put up a team-high 29 points on 10 of 15 from the field and 4 of 6 from three. Through the first two games of the season, Harris has hit 16 of 26 overall and 6 of 11 from downtown. For a guy that has his eyes on the super-efficient 50-40-90 shooting line, it’s a solid start.
And the Sixers needed Harris to be “the man” with the team’s “crown jewel” out of the lineup.
Harris was the recipient of a five-year, $180 million contract this offseason — the richest in franchise history. After having an All-Star caliber first half with the Clippers last season, Harris struggled mightily down the stretch after being traded to the Sixers. The team no doubt thought with veterans Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick out of the picture that Harris could have the type of role he had Saturday.
Harris has been quick to say that the contract and the opportunity for an expanded role aren't motivating factors. Winning a championship was all he had in mind.
When GM Elton Brand was aggressive in locking up Harris at the start of free agency, nights like this are what he likely imagined.
“I mean, just go to the stat sheet,” Brett Brown said to reporters postgame. “He just exploded offensively, and I thought his defense was really good. We dug ourselves a hole at the start. We regrouped. I think about the eight-minute mark when [I called] a timeout and we came out and took off. I think we were down 13 points and he sure was a significant part of that third-quarter turnaround.”
He sure was.
After the Sixers called the aforementioned timeout, they went on a 12-0 run to make it a one-point game. Harris scored 10 of those 12. He scored 16 of his team’s 29 points in the third quarter overall.
Even more than that, Harris was apparently being vocal on the bench after the Sixers' shaky start. His teammates have raved about his leadership throughout training camp and the preseason. They've praised Harris for mostly leading by example with his work ethic and by organizing team activities.
On Saturday night, his leadership was of the vocal variety.
“He gave us a talk on the bench which kind of motivated us,” Ben Simmons said. “I had a sloppy first half. I kind of let too many things get involved in my head at the start of the game — foul calls — which took me out of the game for the first half and I know I needed to have a bigger second half. And Tobias was there to lead and give some words of encouragement that kind of motivated everybody to get that win.”
After the impressive individual performance, Harris was quick to deflect any credit.
“I just was taking good looks that my teammates got me, and all the looks were pretty much off [our] defense,” Harris said. “So I was able to just get in the flow with that so anytime it happens to be like that it's a lot easier.”
While his teammates picked up their play as well, it was his words that resonated with them and gave them a boost.
“I just remember him saying we got to pick the intensity up,” Josh Richardson said. “That was like the big message of it. And he was passionate about it so we all took the message.”
No extra motivation needed. Tobias Harris is ready to lead the Sixers.
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