James Harden has rightfully become the storyline in the aftermath of the Philadelphia 76ers’ shocking Game 1 win over the Boston Celtics.
Scoring 45 points for just the second time in his postseason career, Harden stepped up in the absence of Joel Embiid.
However, there was a lot more that went into the big victory. Here’s a look at four things that also contributed to the Sixers going up 1-0 on the Celtics.
Doc Rivers thoroughly out-coached Joe Mazzulla
Joe Mazzulla had a brutal series against the Atlanta Hawks, helping contribute to the Hawks’ ability to send that series to six games.
Late in the game on Monday night, his inability to adjust and dissect an opponents’ game plan was on full display. Doc Rivers had the 76ers disguising defenses, switching between a man and zone look to throw the Celtics off. In the latter stages of the game, it paid dividends on Tyrese Maxey’s pivotal steal and score on an errant Malcolm Brogdon pass.
“We started out looking like a zone when it was really man, because we wanted to show zone,” Rivers said postgame. “We switched everything, we kept them in front. And then, when it got down to 3 or 4 seconds….when they were driving…. When Tyrese caught the ball, even I was like… wait a minute… and I looked and there was no one… it was maybe one of the strangest plays I’ve ever seen.”
The Celtics really struggled against the zone and in Mazzulla’s attempt to best that zone, he fell victim to a well-thought out look by Rivers to play man while in the appearance of zone.
After the game, Mazzulla took the blame for his team’s lackluster offense.
“I have to be better at play calling, getting us into our spacing quicker,” Mazzulla said. “Sometimes in situations like that when you’re scrambled, you can’t pass up good looks. So it’s a little bit on me, and it’s a little bit of just we just have to have the freedom to shoot the ball, knock down open shots.”
On the defensive side of the floor, the Celtics also did not double Harden on the game changing three pointer. Rivers pointed out postgame that he didn’t want to take a timeout in that situation to allow Harden to be free flowing and not let the Celtics adjust.
Doc Rivers 1, Joe Mazzulla 0.
De’Anthony Melton’s Torrid First Half
One of the knocks on De’Anthony Melton’s game was his postseason performances in Memphis.
He made that narrative seem like a thing of the past on Monday night.
Melton kept the 76ers alive early in the game, knocking down his first five three pointers. Finishing with a postseason career high 17 points, he was offered a spark plug off the bench.
“James and De’Anthony pretty much saved us in the first half,” Rivers said. “That game could’ve gotten away from us. De’Anthony Melton just makes shots. He really does. He was just ready to play, made big shots, made some great defensive plays with his hands.”
Tobias Harris Late Game Shots
Lost in the lunacy of Tyrese Maxey’s big steal and score and James Harden’s go ahead three, Tobias Harris had a pair of game tying buckets.
With the 76ers trailing 104-102 and less than five minutes remaining in the game, Harris ran Al Horford in circles trying to get a bucket. As the shot clock was winding down, Harris spun from the right wing and charged down the left side of the paint for a layup.
After Boston recaptured a 107-104 advantage, Harden drove down the lane and found a wide open Harris at the top of the key. Despite only knocking down one three prior to the shot, Harris showed no hesitation and tied the game at 107.
A much maligned player throughout his Philadelphia career, Harris came through in the clutch.
Paul Reed is OUT THE MUD
There was no way you can talk about this game without Paul Reed.
Four clutch free throws in the guts of the game, including two that clinched the win. The confidence was oozing from Reed in his postgame presser as he discussed what Harden said to him prior to his final free throw.
“I think he said, if I miss one, then we’re fouling,” Reed said. “But in my mind, I was like, ‘What? I’m not missing.’ So that’s what I was thinking.”
The defensive play that led to those final free throws was equally as impressive.
Really awesome defensive play from Paul Reed before knocking down a pair of game-sealing free throws pic.twitter.com/Ta8bffhiLj— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) May 2, 2023
Monday also marked the second straight game in which Reed finished with a double-double while starting in Embiid’s absence, the first time he’s done that in his NBA career.