Harden, Jokic inspire semi-final wins for 76ers, Denver

Lui Zacher
May 2, 2023 / 10:07 pm

Harden Jokic inspire semi final wins for 76ers Denver

James Harden has matched his NBA playoff career high with 45 points and hit a go-ahead, step-back three-pointer over Al Horford with 8.7 seconds left as Philadelphia beat hosts Boston 119-115 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semi-final matchup.

Tyrese Maxey added 26 points at TD Garden on Monday night, Tobias Harris finished with 18 and Paul Reed registered 10 points and 13 rebounds for the Sixers in the absence of MVP finalist Joel Embiid.

Embiid, who led the NBA by averaging 33.1 points per game during the regular season, sat out with the sprained right knee he sustained in Game 3 of the 76ers’ first-round series against Brooklyn.

Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 39 points and 11 rebounds, while Jaylen Brown added 23 points and Malcolm Brogdon finished with 20.

Boston host Game 2 on Wednesday night.

Harden scored 45 points for the Houston Rockets in a Western Conference finals win over Golden State on May 25, 2015.

He made 17 of his 30 field-goal attempts, including 7-of-14 from behind the three-point arc. It was the 10th playoff game in which Harden has scored at least 40 points.

Trailing 117-115, the Celtics had one final chance and got the ball to Tatum, but he fumbled it to Reed, who was fouled and hit a pair of game-sealing free throws.

Harden led the attack early for Philadelphia, hitting his first five attempts. Brown started 6-for-6 from the field for a Boston team that thrived without Embiid protecting the rim, at one point going on an 11-0 run.

Boston shot 74 per cent for the half but took only a 66-63 lead into halftime after the 76ers went 11-for-19 from the three-point line.

In Denver, Nikola Jokic scored 39 points and pulled down 16 rebounds on the eve of the NBA MVP announcement, rallying the Nuggets to a 97-87 win over Phoenix in the Western Conference semi-finals.

“Nikola’s an MVP for a reason,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “He can take over a game. He can beat you in a lot of ways.

“I love a guy who’s getting to the basket, imposing his will upon the other team.”

Devin Booker led Phoenix with 35 points and Kevin Durant added 24 but they combined to miss a whopping 32 shots, including 14 from long range.

The Suns have been outscored by 30 points from long range this series.

“You’ve got to believe that it’s going to come our way here soon,” Suns coach Monty Williams said.

“We’ve got to go home and take care of business. That’s where we are right now.”

AAP (C) 2023

James Harden had a game-high 45 points in the 76ers’ shock 119-115 win over the Celtics in Boston. (AP PHOTO)