A resurgent James Harden led the way with 42 points and scored a last-gasp three-pointer as the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Boston Celtics 116-115 in overtime on Sunday to square their NBA Eastern Conference playoff series.
Harden drained a 24-foot corner three with just 19 seconds remaining in overtime at the Wells Fargo Center for a win that leaves the best-of-seven series finely balanced at 2-2.
In a nerve-shredding finale, Boston’s Marcus Smart nailed a potential buzzer-beating basket but it did not count as he was unable to get the shot off before time expired.
That left Philadelphia celebrating a gutsy victory that owed everything to the majestic performance of Harden, who bagged his second 40-point game of the series.
“I put the work in and it was all about being aggressive,”
“Tonight it was really do or die.
“We found a way to win and that’s all that’s matters in the postseason.”Said Harden afterwards.
Harden’s performance was especially sweet as it came in front of John Hao, a Chinese student left paralyzed in a mass shooting at Michigan State in February that left three students dead and five others injured.
“He’s my good luck charm,”
“He just gave me good luck, brought me good vibes, good energy. We knew this game was for him.”Said Harden, who has been in regular contact with Hao since the shooting tragedy.
Harden — who scored just 28 points across games two and three –- rediscovered his shooting form just in time as the Sixers fought back from a late attack of the jitters to claim a precious victory.
“James was awesome,”Said Sixers coach Doc Rivers, saluting Harden’s bounce-back performance after a limp game-three display.
“For a day and a half, James had to get himself back. No one did that but James,”
“I sent him a gospel song before the game called ‘Do You Know My Name’. And James Harden was James Harden tonight.”Rivers said.
Harden finished with 42 points from 16-of-23 shooting with six three-pointers. NBA Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid had 34 points while Tyrese Maxey added 14.
Jayson Tatum led Boston’s scorers with 24 points — all but two of them coming in the second half — while Jaylen Brown had 23.
The game had gone into overtime after a frenetic fourth quarter that saw Boston come roaring back from a nine-point deficit to take a 105-100 lead with just over two minutes remaining after Malcolm Brogdon knocked down a 25-foot three-pointer.
That hushed Philadelphia’s fans but the Sixers clawed their way back to parity after a Harden layup and three unanswered points from P.J. Tucker.
Two Smart free throws put the Celtics back in front at 107-105 with less than a minute remaining, and Al Horford denied Embiid with a superb block as the tension mounted.
But with just 16.4 seconds on the clock Harden tied it at 107-107 with a deft driving jump shot to set up a frantic finish.
A desperate attempted buzzer-beater by Smart bounced off the rim to send the game to overtime.
‘Awful’ non-foul call
Once again Boston looked ready to claim a decisive 3-1 series lead when Tatum sank a 27-foot three-pointer to make it 115-113 Boston with 38.1 seconds left in overtime.
The Tatum basket was tinged with controversy as he appeared to commit a clear offensive foul, pushing off on Tyrese Maxey, but the score stood and the Celtics were on the brink of victory.
Harden, however, had other ideas and he nervelessly knocked down the winning three.
Rivers was left fuming at the Tatum non-foul call.
“That was awful that that wasn’t called,”
“It was a push off. That could have decided the game.”Rivers said.
The series now heads back to Boston for game five on Tuesday.