James. Freaking. Harden.
The Beard poured in 45 points as the Sixers stole Game 1 against the Celtics in Boston Monday, 119-115.
The Sixers were without their leader Joel Embiid, who suffered a sprained LCL in the right knee on April 20. In his absence, Philadelphia was led by Harden with a massive 45 points. Tyrese Maxey followed with 26 points and Tobias Harris had 18. De’Anthony Melton led the bench with 17 points, shooting 5-of-6 from three-point range.
Jayson Tatum (39 points) and Jaylen Brown (23 points) led the Celtics’ effort.
Game 2 is set for Wednesday night in Boston at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Monday that there has been “improvement” for Embiid and even that he’s been told there’s “optimism” that Embiid can return to action for that contest.
For now, here are some thoughts at the buzzer:
- With Embiid sidelined, Paul Reed picks up his second consecutive playoff start at center for the Sixers. In the closeout Game 4 of the first round vs. the Brooklyn Nets, Reed put up a 10-point, 15-rebound double-double.
- After a rough first series shooting (just 34.3 percent from the field over the four games), Harden kicked off the second round hot. He started off this one 5-for-5 from the floor including two triples before missing his first shot. Harden ended up with 16 points in the first on 70 percent shooting.
- The Celtics’ ball movement sliced through the Sixers with ease in the first frame, earning Boston more than a handful of easy looks from within the paint through what seemed like nonexistent Philadelphia rim protection. Of Boston’s 36 first-period points, 26 came from within the paint.
- Boston shot 85 percent from the field in the period (17-for-20). They were a perfect 11-for-11 at the rim. Embiid’s absence was felt early and often.
- After being eviscerated in the first, the Sixers shifted to a zone defense to open the second, which seemed to lead to a few more stops and forced turnovers by Philadelphia.
- De’Anthony Melton breathed life into the Sixers’ offense off the bench during the Harden-less minutes. In his first 11 minutes on the floor, Melton dropped 11 points on 4-for-6 field goal shooting (3-for-3 from beyond the arc). He finished the half with 17 points, shooting a perfect 5-for-5 on three-pointers.
- Jayson Tatum was left to basically do whatever he wanted in the first half, and he clearly felt like cooking. Tatum shot 76.9 percent from the floor, 4-for-4 from three-point range, in the half for 24 points to lead the Celtics.
- Doc Rivers called a timeout down nine with a few minutes to play before the break. The Sixers followed the pause with a 10-4 run to close the half and keep the Celtics within three at the break.
- After scoring 10 in the first half, Tyrese Maxey looked to make a bigger impact early in the second half. After scoring five back-to-back points for the Sixers himself, Maxey found a wide open Reed under the basket for an easy feed and score to tie the game for the Sixers in the third.
- Maxey briefly hit the bench to be assessed after falling and grabbing at his left knee after colliding with Jaylen Brown. Maxey returned to action just a few minutes later.
- The Sixers took their first free throws of the night with 5:37 to play in the third.
- Philadelphia had snagged a narrow lead in the third, but it was whittled away by a four-minute scoring drought for the Sixers, missing seven consecutive shots. Maxey ended the drought with a driving floating jump-shot and closed the period with another jumper to complete his 10-point third.
- After entering the final period tied at 87, the Celtics were able to take the advantage over the Sixers thanks to Philadelphia not hitting their first field goal of the frame until over three minutes in.
- Harden continued to find success within and beyond the arc on Monday night, tying the game for the Sixers with a driving lay-up and following it up with a triple to take the Sixers lead on the next possession. After the Celtics retook the lead, Harden snatched it right back with another triple.
- Marcus Smart kept Boston in the lead with two back-to-back and-one plays, earning the Celtics a four-point lead with three minutes to play. After the Sixers brought it within one, Al Horford (*shudders*) grabbed two offensive rebounds for a lay-up to extend the Boston advantage to three with 1:14 to play.
- Of course it had to end like this. It’s not a Sixers game if you aren’t experiencing heightened blood pressure right up until the end. Maxey picked up a steal for a breakaway lay-up to give the Sixers a one-point lead with 28.9 seconds to go. Boston retakes the lead on two Tatum free throws.
- Then, as he did basically all game, Harden put the Sixers on his back, sinking a triple with 8.4 seconds to play to give Philadelphia the 117-115 lead. Tatum commits a personal foul on Boston’s possession, sending Reed to the line to hit two free throws, capturing Game 1 119-115 for the Sixers.
- Game 2 is set to tip-off in Boston at 8:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday.