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James Harden hits game-winning shot as 76ers steal Game 1 over Celtics

The Celtics knew the 76ers would still pose a challenge even without Joel Embiid. They said they respected their second-round opponent even without their star big man and the likely MVP.

And yet, once again, they found a way to make life harder on themselves.



Game 1 was not what the Celtics designed, and it was another MVP who put them in a hole. James Harden scored 45 points in an electrifying performance – including the game-winning 3-pointer with seconds remaining – as the 76ers went into TD Garden and stole Game 1 with a stunning 119-115 victory.

Jayson Tatum scored 39 points, Jaylen Brown added 23 points and Malcolm Brogdon scored 20, but they couldn’t overcome 16 turnovers – several of them coming in bad spots with the game on the line – or Harden’s 45 points, which included seven 3-pointers. It included a devastating step-back triple over Al Horford with 8.1 seconds remaining, which quieted the Garden crowd.

And even though they knew Embiid was out, and talked as a team about avoiding a mental letdown because of it, they couldn’t.

“As much as you don’t want to say it wasn’t a factor, I think it was,” Horford said. “We have to be better. We have to understand that we have to be able to play with whatever happens, whatever variables. But with our team, I’ve just seen it happen for us for whatever reason.”

The Celtics were not locked in on either end of the floor, even though they shot the ball well at 58.7 percent. The 76ers’ zone defense gave them fits, forcing them into several costly turnovers. Defensively, they couldn’t stop the shot-making of Harden, or Tyrese Maxey, or even De’Anthony Melton, who hit five 3-pointers. Brogdon thought they doubled Harden too much. Joe Mazzulla took the blame for some poor coaching decisions.

“I don’t think there was a sense of urgency on the defensive end,” Horford said. “I know we shot well on offense, but that first half and even in the second half. We did defend better in the third, I’d say that. But that sense of urgency was not there consistently like it needed to be. …

“The game speaks for itself, and defensively we were not at the level we were supposed to be as a team, and we all have to look in the mirror with that and make sure that we have to be better for Game 2 on Wednesday.”

The game came down to poor late-game execution, as the Celtics made too many ill-timed turnovers.

After Harden’s go-ahead 3-pointer to put the Sixers up 117-115, Marcus Smart committed his sixth turnover on the next play on what looked to be a miscommunication between he and Tatum, who then committed a foul. Then, Paul Reed’s two free throws sealed the win and a 1-0 series lead for the Sixers.

The Celtics had several leads late, and took a 96-91 lead after Brown’s long 3-pointer before they gave up an 8-0 run, which included an outstanding stretch from Harden. He hit a step-back 3 to give Philly a 99-96 lead, and then another moments later to put them up 102-100.

Boston answered with a quick run to retake the lead after Tatum found Brogdon for a go-ahead layup and a 104-102 lead. Tatum was inadvertently hit in the groin by PJ Tucker, but re-entered after a quick break.

The C’s and Sixers continued trading blows. Tobias Harris hit a game-tying triple before the Celtics took a 111-107 lead on Marcus Smart’s three-point play. With 1:38 to go, Tyrese Maxey drew a three-point play, beating Smart to the spot on a bang-bang play that forced the officials to go to the monitor. After a review, the ruling stood and Maxey hit the free throw to make it 111-110.

On the ensuing possession, the Celtics grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds and converted on the third try when Al Horford finished a layup. Paul Reed made two free throws with 57 seconds left before the C’s committed a turnover in a costly spot. As the shot clock expired, Brogdon threw the ball away right to Maxey, who took it home for a go-ahead layup and 114-113 Sixers lead.

The Celtics called timeout before drawing up a play for Tatum, who was fouled and made two go-ahead free throws as the C’s retook the lead. But on the next trip, Harden hit the biggest shot of the night, pulling up and draining a 3-pointer over Horford to give the Sixers a 117-115 lead.

After a mostly strong first half, the Celtics faded late in the second quarter and it carried over into the third. They committed four turnovers in the opening 4:16 of the second half. Despite shooting the lights out, even though the Sixers didn’t have Embiid, the Celtics found themselves trailing. They were down six after Harden drilled a tough, step-back 3 in the corner with 5:06 left in the third.

But then the Celtics finally started getting some stops. Smart hit a floater, Tatum made two free throws and then Malcolm Brogdon made back-to-back buckets, including the go-ahead layup that put them up 85-83. Suddenly there was some life inside TD Garden.

Maxey didn’t let it last for long. The Celtics held the Sixers scoreless for more than four minutes before the guard hit a tough floater over Robert Williams. He hit another jumper with 10 seconds left before Tatum’s drive with 0.5 seconds to go tied the game at 87 heading to the fourth.

Source: Berkshire mont

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