The Philadelphia 76ers drew a tough matchup in the first round of this year's playoffs, set to face off against the Toronto Raptors and their horde of long-armed, stingy defenders tutored by Nick Nurse. It is an especially problematic matchup because Matisse Thybulle, starting wing and All-Defense candidate, will not get vaccinated and thus will be unavailable for all games taking place in Canada. But the Sixers boast potential MVP Joel Embiid and former MVP James Harden, and the Raptors do not, so Philly remains the presumptive favorite.
It's an important postseason for the legacies of the Sixers' two superstars. This is the best year of Embiid's career to date and an early playoff exit would be disastrous. Similarly, Harden was acquired from the Nets specifically to give Philadelphia their best shot at a deep postseason run since the Jimmy Butler days. And it may very well be Harden's best shot at a championship, too. He isn't getting any younger and a history of playoff failure tends to linger over a superstar's legacy.
Despite that, Harden told the media that he does not feel any pressure at all to pull through during this playoff run. ESPN's Tim Legler was absolutely baffled Harden would say that out loud and spelled out exactly why Harden needs to feel that pressure to succeed, because it will be a storm of criticism if he doesn't.
Legler is right. Harden doesn't have the postseason resume to say he feels no pressure. He is certainly as accomplished as any regular-season player can be, what with his historical production and MVP award. But he has never gotten it done under the brightest of lights. More often than not, it was because Harden choked, too.
So, yeah. Legler doesn't think Harden has earned the right to brush off any suggestion that he's under some pressure to actually win this year. It's tough to disagree.