Key details on Game 4:
- James Harden scored 15 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Sixers.
- Harden tied his playoff career-high with 45.
- Sixers held Celtics to 43.2% shooting in second half.
BOSTON – When the Philadelphia 76ers finished off their sweep of the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round of the 2023 NBA Playoffs, James Harden had one word that he emphasized in his post game press conference: sacrifice.
"I told myself this year, man, I'm all big on sacrifice. Whether it's the money or my role, just letting everything go and just sacrificing and seeing what it gives me," Harden said in Brooklyn. "I think about my role, and what I can control and impact on this team the best that I can, every single night."
Despite their first-round win, and the 54 regular-season wins that came before it, the Sixers came into this second round series against the Celtics as underdogs, primarily for three reasons.
First, the Celtics are a really good basketball team, with 57 wins of their own and a top-three ranking in both offensive and defensive rating.
Second, Joel Embiid, who could win his first MVP award when the winner is announced later tonight, has a sprain in his right knee, and both his availability, and effectiveness, are in question.
Third, there was ample skepticism whether Harden could dial back the clock, and that his evolution into being a setup man and a secondary option was notable and commendable, but also a necessary evolution of his game as he ages out of his physical prime.
Harden showed that, for one night at least, he could in fact dial the clock back. The former league MVP gave the Sixers a vintage Harden performance as he finished with 45 points on 17-30 shooting, making half of his 14 three-point attempts and dishing out six assists as the Sixers dropped a 133.7 offensive rating on the league's third-ranked defense to take a shocking 1-0 series lead and reclaim home-court advantage, despite Embiid watching from the bench.
"He was awesome. Kept his cool, knew when to attack, knew when to give it up. I thought he had just great patience overall," Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said of Harden's performance. "I thought that he had just the perfect mindset tonight. He really did."
Harden came out firing right from the jump, scoring 12 points in the first five minutes of play to keep Philadelphia close. He started the night off with a series of pull-up, midrange jumpers, then eventually stretched Boston's defense out to the 3-point line with a flurry of step-backs. He punished drop coverage all night, had a couple of nice drives on Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart, crossed up Jaylen Brown badly in the second half, and targeted Boston's big men, especially Al Horford, whenever they switched onto him.