Tobias Harris heard the boos and raised his arms to ask for more.
It’s not the sort of image that would usually be memorable after a 20-point home win, and yet the frustration between Harris and the fans at Wells Fargo Center was an unavoidable subplot Monday night.
None of it’s too difficult to figure out. Harris, who scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth quarter of the Sixers’ 133-113 victory over the Rockets, often plays a style that invites criticism when it doesn’t work. At his worst, he’s plodding, reliant on his mid-range jumper and insufficient as a complementary scorer. He’s shot 28.7 percent from three-point range this season and is in Year 3 of a five-year, $180 million contract.
No one is happy with Harris’ current production and Philadelphia fans don’t tend to see any point in hiding displeasure. Dan Burke, who moved to 2-0 as acting head coach with Doc Rivers in COVID-19 protocols, thought Harris’ back and forth with the fans was out of character.
“Since I’ve been here, (he’s been) one of the surprise guys for me with how professional he is and what a genuine good guy he is,” Burke said. “He really leads by example — not very vocal. So when I saw him raise his hands when they were booing … we talked about it at halftime: The only thing that matters is what’s in that locker room and who’s in that locker room.
“Part of where we have to grow, from my experience last year, is our focus. Shut out that noise. When we’re between those lines, it can’t be the officials, it can’t be the fans, it can’t be anything like that. So we talked about it at halftime. We ran the first play out of the half for him.
“The kid got six rebounds, three offensive that led to big buckets. He had six assists. I think he presses so hard on himself. And he’s got to understand, Doc has so much confidence in him, and we all do. And it was good, we pulled together and Joel (Embiid) was saying, ‘Call this play for Tobias, call that play for him.’ I saw teammates lifting him up. And if we have that every night, no matter what’s going on, we’re going to keep growing and going in the right direction. But Tobias … don’t put pressure on himself. There’s so many ways to help your team win a game, and that’s what he did tonight.”
Even during a 2019-20 season in which the Sixers went 29-2 at Wells Fargo Center, the in-game dynamic between the team and its fanbase hasn’t always been smooth.
Al Horford shushed the crowd in February of 2020. Ben Simmons responded to boos during the first game of the 2019 playoffs by saying, “If you’re going to boo, then stay on that side." And Embiid’s relationship with the fans hasn’t been complete mutual adoration either, as he recalled Monday.
“I thought it was nothing,” Embiid said following a 31-point triple-double. “He didn’t make shots today, but I thought he contributed when he was on the floor. … I thought he was pretty good. It happens to the best of us. Frustrating night; it’s hard when you’re not making shots. I think he’s fine. He’s going to be better. I have a lot of faith in him.
“Two years ago I did the same thing, so it’s whatever. But like I always say, fans are going to be fans. It doesn’t matter if we just went on a 15-0 run. If the other team scores, they’re going to boo. That’s Philly. I love it. And like I always say, if you give it, you’ve got to to be able to take it, too. I did that in the past and it’s all fun. It’s nothing. It’s nothing special.”
After Simmons’ offseason trade request, Embiid tweeted that Sixers fans needed to “be better.”
He clarified that comment at media day, indicating he’s fine with whatever boos might come his way.
“The fans, they have the right to act the way they want to,” Embiid said on Sept. 27, in part. “Personally, I would not want to be in another city. I like Philadelphia because — and I’m honest about this — they care. … They’re so invested in the team, so it’s only fair for them to be pissed off when we lose, (to) be mad. It doesn’t matter — I could be averaging 50 points and we lose, and they’re still going to be mad at me.
“That’s just the way it is. They work hard for the money they make, and we get paid based on them coming to games and (buying) jerseys and all that stuff. And I’m grateful for it. So I think they have the right to voice their frustrations.”