James Harden Finds His Old Groove and Gets the Sixers Back on Track

“Quite frankly,” Harden said, “today was do or die.”

The 76ers have been a staple of the N.B.A. playoffs over the past six seasons, making five appearances in the conference semifinals. But those second-round series are where the road has tended to end for them. The last time they made the conference finals was in 2001, when Allen Iverson led them past the Milwaukee Bucks and into the N.B.A. finals. (The 76ers wound up losing in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers.)

The collective patience of Philadelphians seems to be wearing thin. Before Game 3, when N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver presented 76ers center Joel Embiid with his first Most Valuable Player Award, it was the fulfillment — on at least one level — of the franchise’s dust-covered, team-building blueprint known as the Process. Without getting into too many of the messy specifics, it involved the team playing abysmal basketball for several seasons while collecting a slew of top draft picks, one of which they used to select Embiid from the University of Kansas.

The challenge for the 76ers, of course, is that the Process was never about winning individual honors, though those are nice. The mandate now, on players like Embiid and Harden, but also on Rivers and Daryl Morey, the team’s president of basketball operations, is to vie for a championship. Embiid is 29. The 76ers traded for Harden last season. Before Game 4, Rivers was asked about his team’s level of urgency.

“Do I really need to answer that question?” he said, laughing. “You worked on that question for 48 hours, and that’s what you came up with? Whatever high is, I’m going to assume it’s high.”

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