The last time James Harden scored 45 points in a playoff game, it was 2015His Houston Rockets went 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals, but proudly won home games against the soon-to-be champion Golden State Warriors.
On Monday night, Harden had his best run into that career playoff in a much more important game.
With Philadelphia 76ers star and NBA scoring champion Joel Embiid sidelined with a knee sprain, Harden scored 45 again to give the Sixers an unexpected 1-0 lead and edge the top-seeded Celtics to 1-1. 0 leads. 119-115at TD Garden in Boston.
With points 43, 44 and 45 maxing out, they came in with a bloodless 3-pointer while Al Horford guarded tight to give the 76ers a 117-115 lead with just over eight seconds left. On the next play, Celtics’ Marcus Smart threw the ball into traffic under the basket and two free throws wrapped it up for Philadelphia.
“I was wondering if they would put two in the ball.” Harden talks possible double-team with go-ahead shot“It was one-on-one. shoot.”
Harden scored 17 goals on 30 shots, both his best of the season. He made his 7 of his 3-pointers on his 14 shots, both of which were also season highs. He also had a team-high six assists.
From the first possession, Harden, 33, landed a 10-foot jumper to score Philadelphia points.
“Whatever they gave me, I would get up and take the shot,” Harden said after the game.
When asked why there was no double team on the final shot, Celtics manager Joe Mazura: “He was one of the best defenders. He hit hard.”
Paul Reed had 13 rebounds at center for Embiid. He posted a career-high 15 in Game 4 of the Sixers’ Nets first-round sweep, a game that Embiid also missed.
Going into Monday night’s game, the Celtics were favored not only for the series, but also for the NBA title. They were his 9.5-point favorites to win Game 1 at home in Embiid’s absence.
Disturbingly for the rest of the series, the Celtics actually played quite well on Monday, hitting 58.7% of their shots and giving the 76ers 10 rebounds. However, it seems they were unable to stop Harden.
“I have a chance to bounce back,” Mazura said succinctly.
After winning three scoring titles and the Most Valuable Player award with the Houston Rockets, Harden has built an impressive legacy. However, that was marred somewhat by two unsuccessful seasons with the Nets and suffering from injuries. Basically it was to kick out Ben Simmons.
Harden fits well in Philadelphia as Embiid’s lieutenant.
Embiid ran around, but didn’t run in Monday’s practice. Manager Doc Rivers said he wasn’t sure if Embiid would play in Game 2 on Wednesday.
For at least one game, the Sixers didn’t need him, mostly thanks to Harden.