James Harden scores 45 to beat the Celtics

The final time James Harden scored 45 factors in a playoff sport, it was 2015. His Houston Rockets, down three video games to none in the Western Conference finals, had been successful a house sport for pleasure in opposition to the quickly to be champion Golden State Warriors.

On Monday night time, Harden matched that profession playoff excessive in a way more vital sport.

With the Philadelphia 76ers’ star and NBA scoring champion, Joel Embiid, out with a knee sprain, Harden scored 45 once more, and gave the Sixers an sudden one-game-to-none lead over the top-seeded Celtics, 119-115, in Boston Garden.

Points 43, 44 and 45 had been the greatest, approaching a cold 3-pointer whereas carefully guarded by Al Horford to give the 76ers a 117-115 lead with simply over 8 seconds left. On the subsequent play, Marcus Smart of the Celtics threw the ball away in visitors below the basket, and two free throws wrapped it up for Philadelphia.

“I used to be questioning in the event that they had been going to put two on the ball,” Harden mentioned of the chance of a double-team on the go-ahead shot. “It was a one on one. So then I’m wanting up, I’m simply, all proper, that is what I work on on daily basis. Get the finest accessible shot it doesn’t matter what it’s. Raise up and shoot it.”

Harden made 17 baskets on 30 photographs, each season highs. He made seven 3-pointers on 14 photographs, additionally each season highs. He additionally had a team-high six assists.

From the first possession, Harden, 33, took it upon himself to get Philadelphia factors, hitting a 10-foot jumper.

“Whatever they gave me, I rose up and took a shot,” Harden mentioned after the sport. “Whether it is a 3, whether or not it is a floater, whether or not it is a midrange jumper.”

Asked why there was no double staff on the final shot, Celtics Coach Joe Mazzulla mentioned: “That was one in all our greatest defenders. He made a giant shot.”

Paul Reed had 13 rebounds filling in at middle for Embiid. He had a profession excessive 15 in Game 4 of the Sixers’ first-round sweep of the Nets, a sport that Embiid additionally missed.

Going into Monday night time’s sport, the Celtics had been favored not simply in the collection however to win the NBA title. They had been 9.5-point favorites to win Game 1 at dwelling in the absence of Embiid.

Disquietingly for the remainder of the collection, the Celtics truly performed fairly nicely on Monday, hitting 58.7 p.c of their photographs and outrebounding the 76ers by 10. But they by no means appeared to have the ability to cease Harden.

“We have alternatives to bounce again,” a terse Mazzulla mentioned.

After three scoring titles and a (*45*) Valuable Player Award with the Houston Rockets, Harden had constructed a formidable legacy. But it was tarnished considerably with an abortive and injury-plagued two seasons with the Nets. When he was traded to the 76ers in early 2022, most of the focus was on the Sixers lastly eliminating Ben Simmons fairly on their acquisition of Harden.

Harden has slot in nicely as Embiid’s lieutenant in Philadelphia. Harden led the league in assists per sport this previous season with 10.7 and averaged 21 factors.

Embiid shot however didn’t run on Monday at observe. Coach Doc Rivers mentioned he did not know if Embiid would play in Game 2 on Wednesday.

For one sport no less than, thanks principally to Harden, they did not want him.

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