James Harden beats Celtics in Game 1: Philadelphia shines without Joel Embiid

The 76ers defeated the Boston Celtics 119-115 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday. Here’s what you need to know:

  • James Harden tied his playoff career highs with 45 points, six rebounds and two steals.
  • Celtics All-Star Jayson Tatum had 39 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
  • 76ers star Joel Embiid missed the first game with a right knee injury.
  • Philadelphia leads the series 1-0.

AthleticInstant Analysis:

Hortons are stunning in the garden

With Embiid watching from the sideline, Harden was no better in Game 1 at TD Garden. Against the heavily favored Celtics, Harden scored 45 points on 17-for-30 shooting. And he put the Sixers ahead for good with a contested 3-pointer at the top of the key in an isolation against Al Horford as the Sixers fell one late.

Harden finished with six assists and just three turnovers despite having the ball in his hands the entire game. Harden’s playoff record has been heavily scrutinized, and perhaps rightly so. But with Philadelphia in a tough spot and needing to badly steal a win in Boston, Harden produced a masterpiece. — Hoffman

Sixers shine without Embiid

The Sixers went 13-5 without Joel Embiid this season, another example of a team that is resilient when shorthanded. Boston went 17-20 from the field in the first quarter, shooting layup after layup and driving the Sixers down the floor in transition. But the Sixers had impressive performances up and down the roster.

Tyrese Maxey’s 3-pointer didn’t fall, but after being shut out all season by Boston, he finished with 26 points. D’Anthony Melton went 5-of-6 from beyond the line and made some key defensive plays. Tobias Harris, usually a steady player, finished with 18 points on 8 of 16 shooting. Paul Reid chipped in with 10 points and 13 rebounds in Embiid’s place, including four big free throws down the stretch.

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The Sixers got plenty of stops, including Maxey’s “big-six” steal that gave them the lead in the final minute. Doc Rivers has done well with the Sixers during his 3-year tenure in Philly, but considering the opponent and circumstances, this is his best win yet. — Hoffman

Evaluating How the Celtics Protected Harden

Should the Celtics have doubled down on Harden? Didn’t they double him? It depends on who you ask after the game. Joe Mazzulla had reasons not to double-team Harden, who buried Horford, but they ultimately lost to an injured but ferocious Sixers team. This is a game the Celtics understand will be an uphill battle. They’ve been saying for the past few days that the Sixers are going to fire up and increase the pace and pressure without their MVP, but they still haven’t been able to sustain it. — Weiss

Celtic silver linings

The silver lining to this loss is that Harden threw it in one of the best games of his career. The bottom line is that Maxey had a poor shooting night and still had 26 points and a key steal in the final minute to turn the game around. Tatum was great, Malcolm Brockton led the offense at times, and Marcus Smart made some big plays. And then they threw it away at the end because only the Sixers didn’t give up. — Weiss

Backstory

Harden scored 15 of his 45 points in the fourth quarter to lead his team to victory without their MVP candidate, leading the 76ers’ 12-4 run to end the game. He joined Harden as the only 20-point scorer for Philadelphia with 26 points and four steals.

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Jaylen Brown added a solid performance, with 23 points, six rebounds and four assists on 8-of-10 shooting. Brockton, a 2023 sixth man, had 20 points, three rebounds and three assists off the bench.

Boston will host Game 2 on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.

Required reading

(Photo: Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

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