James Harden stepped up as the Sixers defeated the Boston Celtics 119-115 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals without Joel Embiid. Despite being ruled out of the game 90 minutes before its tip-off due to a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee, the Sixers were able to steal back home court advantage with Harden scoring a playoff career high of 45 points. Embiid may receive the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award tonight, potentially disrupting his chances of an inspired return to the game.
Harden has been focused on team play and said that his role with the team was to facilitate and get the ball to Embiid throughout the season. However, with Embiid’s injury leading to his absence in the game, the team needed to adapt, with Harden being required to be more aggressive and acting as the key player for the Sixers, who embraced the challenge to win without Embiid.
The Sixers shifted their strategy from how they usually played and tried to win the math game by outshooting Boston from deep, making nearly as many 3-point attempts as the Celtics by shooting more than half the team’s attempts. Going into the game, Philadelphia’s chances were affected, but with their victory in Game 1, they have exceeded expectations. With the team taking pride in playing without Embiid, Star players such as Harden will have to continue their impressive performances if they are to progress to the next round.