For most of this season, the 76ers have requested James Harden to act as a facilitator for their club, centered on the play of Joel Embiid, their star center.
Because the leading candidate for Most Valuable Player could not play in the first game of his team’s second-round playoff series against the Celtics, Philadelphia turned to a more experienced version of Harden.
On Monday night, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals took place, and it was played without Embiid for the 76ers. Despite the absence of Embiid, the 76ers were able to rally and defeat the Boston Celtics by a score of 119-115. Harden tied his career-best for points scored in the playoffs with 45, and he nailed the game-winning step-back 3-pointer from behind Al Horford with 8.7 seconds remaining.
“We did not enter the game with the mindset that we would come out on the losing end. Harden said that their team’s goal was to win. We will be prepared to go on regardless of whether Jo returns.
Tobias Harris ended with 18 points, and Tyrese Maxey added 26 for the Sixers, who hit 17 three-pointers as Joel Embiid sat on the bench and watched. During the third game of Philadelphia’s first-round sweep of the Brooklyn Nets, he suffered a sprain to his right knee.
Harden was patient and understood when to attack and when to pass, according to 76ers head coach Doc Rivers, who spoke after his team had to face an early scoring assault at the hands of the Celtics.
Rivers emphasized the importance of having a full week to be ready for the possibility that Embiid would miss some time.
“That is the primary difference between the squad from last year and the squad from this year. Rivers said that his team included a number of individuals who were skilled in street fighting. We knew that if we could make it to the final period of play, we would be victorious. We felt the same way.”
The Celtics were led by Jayson Tatum, who scored 39 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. Both Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon contributed 23 and 20 points, respectively, to the team total.
Tatum said that the other team made many significant shots, and he believed they were playing in a rhythm for the whole game.
On Wednesday evening, Game 2 will be played at Boston’s venue.
On May 25, 2015, Harden led the Houston Rockets to victory against the Golden State Warriors by scoring 45 points in the Western Conference Finals game.
The Celtics had one more opportunity and got the ball to Tatum when they were down 117-115. However, Tatum turned the ball over to Paul Reed, who was fouled and made both free throws. The Celtics ultimately lost by one point.
At the start of the back-and-forth, action-packed final period, the score was tied at 87 apiece.
After making both free throws with 26.1 seconds remaining, Tatum gave the Celtics their last game lead, 115-114.
Before that, Boston stopped the shot clock. Then, Maxey intercepted a pass thrown by Brogdon and drove in for a basket, putting the 76ers in ahead 114-113.
Maxey said, “I was about to pick the ball up, but I’m glad I kept running.”
When Harden committed the offensive foul on Horford, Boston already had a 108-107 lead in the game. Following that, Horford made a pass to Marcus Smart, who attempted a layup but was fouled while doing so. The score was revised to 111-107 after he finished the three-point play.
In response, Maxey completed his three-point play, giving him the lead.
At that point in the game, the score was tied at 102, and with 5:04 left to play, Brogdon broke loose on a fast break, grabbed a feed from Tatum, and scored a layup.
P.J. Tucker made contact with Tatum after the play in what seemed to be a fit of irrational rage, as seen by his uncontrolled swinging. It sparked a brief melee, which was eventually dispersed by the authorities.
Reed started in place of Embiid, just as he did when Embiid was out for the last game of the Nets series. As was to be anticipated, the lack of Embiid in the center helped to quicken the tempo of the game.
It was to the benefit of both sides that they employed it.
Thanks to their aggressive play, the Celtics were successful in the paint on 13 of their first 14 attempts. The 76ers opened up the floor and forced Boston to spread out their defense by making eight of their first ten shots from the field.
Harden took the early initiative in the offense for Philadelphia and made his first five shots, including two 3-pointers. He guided the team to an early lead. Brown began the game shooting perfectly from the floor for a Boston club that flourished without Embiid guarding the rim, going on an 11-0 run at one point.
Even though Boston had a shooting percentage of 74% for the half, they only led by one point, 66-63, because Philadelphia had a shooting percentage of 55% from beyond the arc.
Maxey described the event as a “dogfight.” “Everyone that stepped onto the court for us was a fighter, and we were victorious because of it.”
De’Anthony Melton of the 76ers scored 17 points in the first half, converting all five of his 3-point shot attempts. Stathead says he is tied with Maxey (May 6, 2022, against. Miami) as the only 76ers to hit at least five threes without missing in a playoff half since at least the 1997 playoffs. Melton, on the other hand, did not register any points in the second half. In the first period of the game, Harden had 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field.
Brown had 14 points in the first quarter for the Celtics, and Tatum had 20 points in the second quarter, which was his greatest total in a playoff quarter. During the first quarter, Boston had a shooting percentage of 85% (17 of 20) and outscored Philadelphia in the paint by a score of 26-8.