James Harden Scores 45, Hits Dagger, Sixers Stun Celtics in Game 1

It took a career-tying performance from James Harden, but somehow, someway, the 76ers lead their Eastern Conference semifinal series vs. the Celtics, 1-0.James Harden

That’s because Harden exploded for 45 points, including a clutch 3-pointer, lifting Philadelphia to a 119-115 victory over Boston in Game 1 on Thursday.

“I work on that shot every day,” Harden told TNT. “I got the confidence to shoot it.”

For the 76ers, the win not only came on the road, it came without All-Star center Joel Embiid, ruled out before the game with a knee issue. Embiid is said to remain questionable for Game 2, also in Boston, on Wednesday.

But seriously, who would’ve guessed that not only could the Sixers keep it close … but they would emerge with their biggest win over the year against a Celtics team that finished with the No. 2 seed in the East and had all its best players (Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, etc.).

And oh yeah, the Sixers have yet to lose in the playoffs after sweeping the Nets in the first round.

The dagger from Harden really kept it alive.

“(Al Horford is) one of our best defenders and has been all year,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla told reporters of the defense on Harden. “He made a big shot.”

Harden finished 17-of-30 from the field, including 7-of-14 on 3-pointers. Amazingly, he only took four free throws. Yet he tied a career playoff high in scoring.

Tyrese Maxey added 26 points, Tobias Harris scored 18 and De’Anthony Melton added an underrated 17 in reserve.

Not to be forgotten was the play of center Paul Reed, who filled in for Embiid to the tune of 10 points and 13 rebounds.

Tatum led the Celtics with 39 points, Brown scored 23 and Malcolm Brogdon had 20. It did seem for a while that Boston would be able to put it away near the end.

But it was Harden and the Sixers who made the big plays, and without Embiid, big plays are what it took.

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