The final time James Harden scored 45 factors in a playoff sport, it was 2015. His Houston Rockets, down three video games to none within the Western Conference finals, have been successful a house sport for satisfaction towards the quickly to be champion Golden State Warriors.
On Monday night time, Harden matched that profession playoff excessive in a way more important sport.
With the Philadelphia 76ers’ star and N.B.A. scoring champion, Joel Embiid, out with a knee sprain, Harden scored 45 once more, and gave the Sixers an surprising one-game-to-none lead over the higher-seeded Celtics, 119-115, at TD Garden in Boston.
Points 43, 44 and 45 have been the largest, approaching a cold 3-pointer whereas intently guarded by Al Horford to present the 76ers a 117-115 lead with simply over eight seconds left. On the subsequent play, Marcus Smart of the Celtics threw the ball away in visitors beneath the basket, and two free throws wrapped it up for Philadelphia.
“I was wondering if they were going to put two on the ball,” Harden said of the possibility of a double-team on the go-ahead shot. “It was a one on one. So then I’m looking up, I’m just, all right, this is what I work on every day. Get the best available shot no matter what it is. Raise up and shoot it.”
Harden made 17 baskets on 30 pictures, each season highs. He made seven 3-pointers on 14 pictures, additionally each season highs. He additionally had a team-high six assists.
From the primary 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 stated after the sport. “Whether it’s a 3, whether it’s a floater, whether it’s a midrange jumper.”
Asked why there was no double-team on the final shot, Celtics Coach Joe Mazzulla said: “That was one of our best defenders. He made a big shot.”
Paul Reed had 13 rebounds filling in at middle for Embiid. He had a career-high 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 have been favored not simply within the sequence however to win the N.B.A. title. They have been 9.5-point favorites to win Game 1 at house within the absence of Embiid.
Disquietingly for the remainder of the sequence, the Celtics really performed fairly properly on Monday, hitting 58.7 p.c of their pictures and outrebounding the 76ers by 10. But they by no means appeared to have the ability to cease Harden.
“We have opportunities to bounce back,” a terse Mazzulla stated.
After three scoring titles and a Most Valuable Player Award with the Houston Rockets, Harden had constructed an spectacular 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, a lot of the focus was on the Sixers lastly eliminating Ben Simmons reasonably on their acquisition of Harden.
Harden has slot in properly as Embiid’s lieutenant in Philadelphia. He led the league in assists per sport this season with 10.7 and averaged 21 factors.
Embiid shot round, however didn’t run on Monday at observe. Coach Doc Rivers stated he didn’t know if Embiid would play in Game 2 on Wednesday.
For one sport a minimum of, thanks principally to Harden, the Sixers didn’t want him.