‘They always are [expletive] In my name!’ Not now, the Sixers sweep after Tobias Harris was worth every penny

Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey celebrates his third quarter three-point basket with teammate forward Tobias Harris against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 4 of the first round Eastern Conference playoffs on Saturday, April 22, 2023 in New York.

NEW YORK — There have been times over the past five years when the hatred for Tobias Harris in Philly has become palpable. He is overpaid. He misses big shots. He is not that person.

Maybe Saturday’s effort will bring him some love.

In the absence of Joel Embiid and the struggles of James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, Harris scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in Game 4. It’s the biggest reason why the Sixers beat the Nets and won 96-88.

Embiid missed the game with a knee injury. Maxey and Harden combined to shoot 10-for-38. Harris was 11-for-19. For the analytically-minded, that was a game-high plus-15.

“He was great. He was attacking the basket. Finishing around the rim. Knocking down threes. Defensively, being great,” Harden said. “It’s a special performance for him in the close out and we needed it.”

» Read more: Quick thoughts: Nets sweep of Sixers gives injured Joel Embiid plenty of time to recover

They needed it when it mattered most. That’s unusual, at least lately. Harris has his moments, but the Sixers usually ask Embiid to make big shots and big stops late in the game. Maxey and Harden are also more prominent offensive options. Mostly, Harris is a safety valve. On Saturday, when the Sixers needed a hoop or a turnover, they went to Harris. Again and again, Harris delivers.

With 8 minutes, 40 seconds to play, Harris re-entered the game, called Bridges on defense, then forced a turnover, knocking the ball out of Bridges’ hands and at his feet.

Seventy seconds later, Harris left Spencer Dinwiddie retreating into the paint with a left elbow, turned, rose, dropped a jumper through a foul by the Nets guard and made a free throw: a four-point lead. About three minutes later, Harris fouled Dinwiddie again (no foul this time) and gave the Sixers a nine-point lead. The Nets lost interest, and the Sixers swept their first best-of-seven series in 38 years.

Finally, with 1:37 to play, Harris put the game away with his second three-pointer.

It was his ninth 20-point double-double in 48 career playoff games. It was probably his finest hour.

“Yes,” said Harris. “I would say so.”

The Sixers locker room was abuzz with Harris’ play.

“Back-down, back-down, back-down, fadeaway,” Maxey called to Harris. “Backdown, backdown, backdown, fadeaway!”

» READ MORE: Sixers top Brooklyn Nets, 96-88, to sweep first-round series without Joel Embiid

Harris is often criticized for what he is not. He is not an All Star. It’s not worth $180 million. That’s not Jimmy Butler.

It’s hard to argue any of those points, but there’s no fault of that. He has played on teams with Joel Embiid and James Harden or Ben Simmons. He didn’t pay himself, the Sixers did. And Butler’s story isn’t exactly accurate.

Harris hears every word: “They always are [expletive] In my name!” Harris said.

Unfortunately, Harris has not been appreciated for that is.

He plays hard. He plays almost every sport. He plays whatever role the team likes. With Simmons running things, he had to become a back-down scorer, an off-the-dribble one-on-one specialist. Along with Harden, a ball-dominant shooter, Harris has been a spot-up shooter, slasher and dunker.

He is the consummate professional. The ultimate companion. Truly, the perfect Philly athlete: humble, unselfish, blue-collar. But Philly doesn’t love him.

Go figure.

“No one on our team talks about Tobias enough,” PJ Tucker said. “To be able to switch. Guard bigger. Guards. Take advantage of teams with smaller guards.”

Harris hasn’t been asked to do that since the Sixers traded Simmons for Harden at the trade deadline last season. He has played a more passive role, averaging 14.7 points and 5.7 rebounds, nearly four points below his career averages over the past six seasons. Then came the 2023 playoffs.

Harris entered Game 4 on Saturday averaging 18.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in the postseason. On Saturday, he showed everyone that, at 31 with just one year left on his contract, he’s still got it.

“I missed it,” Harris admitted. “I work on my craft for moments like this. I understand what kind of game the playoffs are: it’s for the Hoopers to shine and showcase their ability to score in different spots and at different times.”

That’s why he cost the Sixers so much.

In 2019, the Sixers traded two first-round picks, two second-round picks and Landry Shamet. If you want to believe the post-2019 playoff drama in which the Sixers reportedly chose to sign Harris over Butler, it cost them Jimmy Butler.

In fact, Butler’s corrosive relationship with coach Brett Brown and his personality clash with Ben Simmons made it impossible for him to return.

And no, Tobias Harris is not Jimmy Butler. And no, maybe Harris isn’t worth the $39.3 million he’s making this season. Not every game, anyway.

It was worth every penny on a Saturday afternoon.

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