With Joel Embiid sidelined, the Boston Celtics waltzed into Game 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers expecting a relatively easy win. Instead, they got the full force of James Harden. Combine that with a lackluster defensive effort, and the Celtics now find themselves down 0-1 in the series.
Harden got whatever he wanted all night long, as the Celtics were completely unable to find an answer for him. He even capped off his performance with the game-winning shot. However, Jayson Tatum still thinks Boston guarded him the correct way.
“Yeah, I do,” Tatum said when asked if he thinks the Celtics’ plan against Harden is the best approach. But, I mean, you ask me that question after he hit the shot–it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, we should have done something different.’ But we got a style. How we play.”
By the end of the night, Harden had built up one of the best statlines of his playoff career. He finished the game with 45 points, one rebound, six assists, and two steals. The Beard shot 17-of-30 from the field and 7-of-14 from behind the three-point line.
Meanwhile, guys like Tyrese Maxey (26 points), Tobias Harris (18 points), and De’Anthony Melton (17 points) all got going, too.
According to Tatum, the Celtics gave the 76ers role players too many easy looks, and they capitalized.
“I think those guys just got some easy ones,” Tatum said. “Some open threes early. I mean, guys in the NBA are talented. They see a couple go in, and the basket just gets a little bit bigger.”
As for Tatum, he put up some great numbers, but it wasn’t enough to lead the Celtics to a victory. He ended the game with 39 points, 11 boards, and five assists. Tatum shot 14-of-25 from the floor and 4-of-5 from beyond the three-point arc.
James Harden Puts Celtics on Notice After Game 1
Harden’s 45 points tied his career-high in the postseason, which is an impressive feat considering how many playoff runs he made with the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Even without Embiid, Harden was not only able to keep the 76ers afloat but give them a lead in the series. After the game, Harden sent a message to the Celtics, letting the world know that Philadelphia is looking to win Game 2 as well.
“We are here to win,” Harden said. “Even after this game, I told the guys, don’t get too happy. We’re even keel. We’re coming here to get Game 2 as well. That’s the mindset we have as a unit. Whether Joel comes back or not, we’ll be ready to go.”
Celtics on Defensive Gameplan vs. James Harden
Head coach Joe Mazzulla also had something to say about Boston’s approach when it came to guarding Harden, noting that the Celtics have to make him more uncomfortable.
“Yea, we gotta make him uncomfortable,” Mazzulla told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin. “We got some really good possessions. We have to make him uncomfortable [and] guard him as a team.”
Big man Al Horford chimed in, too, discussing Harden’s game-winning shot. Horford was on Harden but just couldn’t force the miss.
“I tried to guard him as best as I could,” said Horford. “He probably surprised me with how quick he shot the ball, I figured he would try to spend a little more time before going but I felt like I was right there…For me, it’s a good learning experience there, knowing how I’d handle it next time if I’m in the that position.”