James Harden Lifts Philadelphia 76ers to Improbable Game 1 Win Over Boston Celtics

For at least one night, James Harden was a postseason hero. In Game 1 of the Philadelphia 76ers' Eastern Conference Second-Round Series with the Boston Celtics, the 10-time All-Star compiled 45 points, one rebound and six assists in a shocking 119-115 win. Harden hit 17 of his 30 field goal attempts, including seven of 14 from behind the arc. The 45 points tied a personal postseason-best set way back in 2015 with the Houston Rockets, but that was in a largely meaningless Game 4 in which the Golden State Warriors already carried a 3-0 lead in the series. There's a real case to be made Monday's win was the greatest and most impactful playoff performance of Harden's Hall of Fame career.

Fair or not, Harden has established a reputation as an underwhelming postseason performer. In short, he has never won a title, and his career marks of 22.9 points per game and .426 field goal percentage in the playoffs leave something to desire compared to his regular season averages of 24.7 points per game with a .442 field goal percentage.

Still, Harden clearly came through in the clutch last night with the stakes frighteningly high. The 76ers entered the game as massive 10.5-point underdogs with leading scorer Joel Embiid unavailable due to a knee injury. With one transcendent road win, Harden has given the 76ers hope in a series where many had written them off.

Embiid's status remains unclear for at least Game 2, but the 76ers should feel like they've already accomplished what they need to in Boston. If Embiid would benefit at all from another few days' rest and recovery, the 76ers may be better off holding him out until Game 3. The Celtics host the 76ers for Game 2 on Wednesday night before the series moves to Philadelphia on Friday.

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