Against All Odds, the Sixers Pull Out Game 1 … Sans Embiid!

We don't need no stinkin' moral victory, Boston.

james harden sixers celtics game 1

James Harden takes a shot against Derrick White. The Sixers beat the Celtics in Game 1 despite Embiid’s absence. / Photograph by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

B-Ball Paul was in the hot seat last night for the Sixers’ initial second-round game vs. the Celtics, starting for Joel Embiid, whose is-he-or-isn’t-he dance ended just hours before tip-off with a resounding: He ain’t. The Sixers were in the Celtics’ house, and the crowd was loud. Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Allie LaForce.

Harden started the game five-for-five; Maxey swished a long three. “He’s struggled against the Celtics,” Harlan opined. Yeah, suck this, Kev. Jaylen Brown was really hot at the start, and in the first, the Celts rolled off an 11-0 run. The Sixers’ offense was fine, but the D (looking at you, Georges) was rather … porous. The game was moving really quickly. Close of the first: 38-31 Boston. No turnovers for the Sixers, though!

In the second, a nice Maxey steal-and-run made it 38-36; he was really hustling. Harden sat for a bit, and the team didn’t disintegrate. Tie game! For a heartbeat, anyway. Niang lost the ball, and the Celtics soon converted. Jayson Tatum hit a three; Melton matched it. Harden came back in and took a fast break through two men to the bucket. What did you wear to the game, James?

Oh, Lord, another Tatum three. He had 21 points with five minutes left in the half. Harden promptly matched it, though, and had 19. Did I mention this game was fast? And another Tatum three: Day-um, 12-point game. The only solace was you knew he couldn’t possibly stay that hot. And a Melton three: He had 17 points with two minutes to go.

Reed was doing some nice offensive work inside. Thirty seconds left, two-point game — and Tucker threw the ball away. Still, Harris hit a three to cap a 13-4 Sixers run. At the half: 66-63 Boston. Man, it could have been so much worse.

The Sixers started the second with a steal (great!) and a shot-clock violation (not!). They did seem to be trying to slow things down, but the fouls were ticking up. I was adjusting my expectations. I didn’t need a win; just keeping it close would do! Maxey hit a gorgeous two, then made a steal on Jaylen Brown’s second straight turnover. Maxey tied the game with a two, and a hard-fought Harden layup gave the Sixers the lead, 74-72. And up 78-74!

But oh God no, Maxey was on the floor, clutching his knee. He hobbled to the bench, and under our basket, Harden went down hard. At least the refs called that a foul. Maxey headed for the bike. And he was playing so well …

sixers celtics game 1 james harden

The glorious pink shoes of James Harden in the Sixers’ Game 1 victory vs. the Celtics / Photograph by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Another Harden three gave him 30, and an 83-77 Sixer lead. Whatever Doc did with the D, it seemed to have helped. Or maybe Tatum really couldn’t stay that hot. The Celtics tied it back up with two minutes left in the third, then took a two-point lead. Maxey was back! And he put up a two to reclaim the tie … and Harden lost the ball. Two Celtics hit the floor! Maxey hit another two; Tatum hit another two. Tied at the quarter’s end, 87-87.

On to the fourth! A nice block by Melton saved a score. Boston inched ahead by four, and Doc called a time-out. A terrible foul call on Maxey got the announcers irate, but it wasn’t overturned. Jaylen Brown hit his third three; the Celts were up by five. Harden hit the Sixers’ first field goal of the quarter at 8:40 left.

Another terrible foul call, this one on P.J. Luckily, Smart bounced the ball off his foot and out of bounds. Harden took it to the rim for 36 points. And hit a three: 39, and the lead! A fifth foul was called on Maxey with 6:47 left. Uh-oh. Another Harden three!

Did P.J. do this on purpose? Boston fans thought so, but the refs begged to differ.

Some fancy Harris footwork tied it up again, and he then hit a three: 18 for him. Another terrible foul call, on Harden — his third — and then his quick fourth. Celts were up, 111-107. OMG, an offensive foul on Maxey. No, a blocking foul on Smart. They went to review, and the Smart foul was affirmed. Maxey’s basket counted, and he got a foul shot to boot. One-point game, 1:38 left. At the other end, though, the Celtics got all the rebounds and a three-point lead. “Are you surprised it’s this close with Embiid out of the game?” Harlan asked Miller.

A foul sent Reed to the line for the first time all game, and he sank them both. Boston tried to finesse the shot clock, and Maxey stole the ball and laid a layup in. Sixers up, 114-113, 26 seconds left. Harris was called for a foul, and Tatum made them both. Harden sank a three: 45 points! Two-point Sixer lead, 8.4 seconds left. Tatum fouled Reed under the basket: back to the foul line! Sank the first. Buried the second.

Holy hell, the Sixers won! B-Ball Paul comes through! How’s that feel, Boston?