BOSTON — Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden may be the greatest isolation scorer ever to pick up basketball. If not, he’s on a very short list. Eastern Monday night, with Game 1 of the conference semifinals remaining, he wasn’t sure if the Boston Celtics would give him a one-on-one chance against Horford.
“PJ (Tucker) set the screen and I walked off the screen, wondering if they were going to put in two balls,” Harden said. “And when I pulled the ball back it was just ‘Stay Home’ and it was one-on-one. I’m here. “
Tucker set up a screen for Harden and the Celtics didn’t double. Harden went into his isolation routine and shot a 3-pointer to Horford. This gave the Sixers a two-point lead with his 8.4 seconds remaining in his TD garden.
The Sixers beat Boston 119-115. There were several reasons for that, but Harden’s 3-pointer against Horford was a fitting coda for a spectacular individual performance by one of the all-time players in the sport: in 17 of 30 games off the field. He had 45 points, 6 assists and just 3 turnovers. The Sixers are leading 1-0 over the title favorites Celtics, largely because Harden wanted them.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said, “I’m very happy with him because he’ll tell you what he can do that night.” Wow, he’s in the Hall of Fame and I’ve only heard other things about him.
Exactly one year ago this week, the Sixers went to Miami in the same situation. Joel Embiid had an injury that saw him miss two games (although the Sixers have not ruled him out for Game 2 of this series). The team was trying to steal the game. After Embiid’s return to the series, they were dragged twice with little room for error.
We only needed one game this time. As Rivers puts it, “That’s the difference between this year’s team and last year’s team. There’s a lot of Street Fighter.”
One of those street fighters is Embiid’s replacement, Paul Reed. In those games, as it did in Miami last season, the Sixers chose DeAndre Jordan to start in defense of Reed’s foul. Fast forward a year and Reid is a much more disciplined player. After his career-high 32 minutes against Brooklyn, he played 37 minutes in Game 1 against Boston.
The man also known as “Bball Paul” overcame career adversity, but he also overcame Game 1 guts. With him 1 minute and 14 seconds left in regulation, Horford beat Boston his 113–110 after the Celtics recorded his rebounds on his two offenses. Most nights, possession of that type is fatal.
According to Rivers, the Sixers certainly reacted as if it were a potential traitor. After Boston scored on their third chance, PJ Tucker turned his anger on Reed.
“A few guys were really into him and it was almost overkill,” Rivers said. Do it.’ But it was pretty tough. Perhaps with him we have to improve it. “
Rivers has coached Reed diligently his entire career, so anything he says carries extra weight. On the next possession, Harden gave him the runway with a pocket pass, and Reed made his two pressure free throws after he was fouled.
And after stealing the Celtics’ go-ahead possession, he made two more free throws to win the game. Reed was already a fan favorite in Philadelphia, but with a performance like this, he quickly reaches folk hero status. Reed’s ability to keep his cool in key moments has proven to be a huge asset for the Sixers.
“In professional sports, everyone wants to win and the tension is high,” said Reid. “But it’s important to stay calm, calm and collected when tensions rise. We have to be together in those moments. I wasn’t surprised, I was just happy.
There were other reasons why the Sixers were different from last season. After being shut down by Boston for the season without a touch from the three-point range and bumping his knee during the game, Tyrese Maxie continued the offense for 26 points. Tobias Harris delivered another solid performance with 18 points.
De’Anthony Melton scored 17 points in 5 of 6 from across the arc and provided some big minutes. Sixers Basketball Operations President Daryl Morey targeted tough players like Tucker, Melton and Reed this offseason, helping the Sixers win possession on nights when Boston was running the ball to the Sixers. rice field.
The stats for the first quarter were the Grizzlies. Boston shot 17 of 20 from the field and he scored a whopping 26 points in the paint. At halftime, the Sixers were giving up 72% of his shots.
“And we’re only three points (down),” Harden said.
The Sixers mixed in some zones and played well defense, especially in the stretch. Perhaps the game’s biggest swing came when the Sixers were one down with 30 seconds left. They had his best defensive possession in the game and forced a 24-second violation, but he has one problem. Malcolm Brogdon threw the ball directly at Maxxie.
If Maxey caught the ball in time, there were tenths of a second left on the shot clock. So he raced to the other side and made the biggest play of the game, not sure if it counted.
“I’m running and I don’t know if I heard the whistle or the horn,” Maxie said. “I was trying to pick up the ball and I’m so glad I kept doing it. But man, it’s the right place, the right time.
Throughout the season, it was thought that all the Sixers needed was a capable version of Harden to be able to do a postseason deep run, something as efficient as the 16 and 10, and the offense. But that was when Embiid was healthy and was destroying the entire NBA. Embiid was unavailable against the Celtics, so the Sixers needed a vintage Harden performance. They got it.
And one of the schematic keys was setting up the screen near Harden’s halfcourt. Horford and the Celtics were mostly in deep drop coverage, which put Harden on his way to a pullup 3.
“I was aggressive. It’s not that I can’t do it, that’s my role on the team. If you want me to (score) tonight, I can too. Many I don’t think a player can do that.”
What made this performance even better was that it was unclear if Harden was still capable of such a thing. He went 10 for 16 against Boston at 1.
Part of that is likely due to Rivers’ excellent game plan as he continues to do his best in shorthanded coaching. And part of that is likely due to Harden taking eight days off between series, as he looks fresher than ever since injuring his Achilles tendon in late May. , blew out Boston defenders as in 2017.
After the game, Harden was seen waving his celebrating teammates off the floor.
“It’s one game,” he yelled at them.
It was one game, but it was also a signature performance by a player who has been criticized for his turbulent playoff history. was.
“I never felt one of these zones for a minute,” Harden said. “And it felt really good.”
(Top photo of James Harden and Al Horford: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)