Sixers vs. Celtics: James Harden scores 42 points in dramatic Game 4 overtime victory

3 observations after Harden scores 42, saves Sixers in Game 4 OT win originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

James Harden bounced back to save the day Sunday.

The Sixers earned a wild, gigantic, much-needed win in overtime, a 116-115 decision at Wells Fargo Center over the Celtics. Their second-round series is now tied at two games apiece.

Harden posted 42 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and four steals.

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He made the go-ahead jumper with 19 seconds left in OT, a catch-and-shoot corner three assisted by Joel Embiid. Marcus Smart then drained a three, but he didn't get his jumper off before the final buzzer.

Embiid had 34 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.

Celtics star Jayson Tatum recorded 24 points, 18 rebounds, six assists and four blocks. Jaylen Brown had 23 points, Smart 21.

Game 5 will be Tuesday night at TD Garden. Here are observations on the Sixers' incredibly dramatic Game 4 victory:

Sixers bring plenty more to the table 

The Sixers’ opening burst contained much of the aggression and force they lacked in their Game 3 loss.


On the day’s first play, Harden drove downhill and dropped the ball off to Embiid for a layup. Tyrese Maxey went at Derrick White and sunk a step-back jumper over him, Tobias Harris scored in the post on Smart, and the Sixers took an 8-2 lead.

The Sixers’ defensive scrambling and activity on the offensive glass also improved. Maxey was particularly impressive early on both fronts. He did well on one first-quarter play as the Sixers’ low man to pick off a Smart pass intended for a cutting Tatum, and Harden scored a strong driving layup on the subsequent possession. While the Sixers conceded four early offensive rebounds — in part due to bad bounces and unfavorable situations after switches — they grabbed five of their own. That included a Maxey tip-in of his missed layup.

Embiid seized an offensive board and immediately drew the second foul on Brown with 8:37 left in the first quarter. Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla gambled by keeping Brown in for another four minutes or so, and it paid off. Brown scored 12 of Boston’s 19 first-period points.

Following Brown’s exit, Embiid led the Sixers to an excellent finish to the first. Georges Niang finally snapped an 0-for-7 Sixers start from three-point range with a catch-and-shoot jumper assisted by Embiid, and the MVP then scored the first quarter’s last five points with an and-one layup through Smart and a graceful baseline fadeaway jumper to give his team an eight-point edge.


Harden bounces back brilliantly 

Harden was good in the first quarter and downright sensational early in the second.

To begin the period, Harden lofted a well-weighted pick-and-roll pass to Paul Reed, who threw down a reverse dunk. The 33-year-old then entered a tremendous zone reminiscent of his 45-point Game 1, scoring nearly every time down and producing at all three levels. He made a step-back three after drawing Robert Williams III on a switch, converted a floater and a couple of savvy mid-range jumpers, and struck the ideal balance between attacking hard and patiently using his body to shield off defenders once he’d created an advantage.

Harden’s second three-pointer extended the Sixers’ lead to 44-33 and put him at 18 points on 7-for-8 shooting with three assists and no turnovers. Hard to imagine any better than that from Harden, who’d gone just 5 for 28 from the field over the past two games. Almost entirely thanks to him, the Sixers outscored Boston by three points in their first stint without Embiid.


The Sixers’ defensive effort was solid, and it also helped that one of the Celtics’ stars had a woeful half. Tatum began 0 for 8 from the floor. Though Harris and the Sixers did a nice job on the four-time All-Star, he settled for contested jumpers and scored a mere two points before intermission. When Harden made a long-distance feed to Embiid for a layup, the Sixers held a 56-40 lead.

The team executed badly to close out the second quarter, though, enabling the Celtics to cut their deficit to nine points by halftime. Brown scored shortly after rebounding his own missed free throw, Maxey air balled an unnecessarily hasty jumper with 38.1 seconds to go in the second, and Al Horford drained a tough corner three on Boston’s final first-half possession.

After a half in which Harden and Embiid totaled 40 points on 15-for-23 shooting, it felt like the Sixers should have led by double digits.

Sixers survive, scrap for win in OT

Tatum scored the second half’s first four points, but Harden again stepped up when needed.


He canned a pivotal step-back three late in the shot clock and soon eased right back into his world-class zone. He calmly navigated one possession to set up a side pick-and-roll with Embiid, who knocked down a shot from the wing. Two more Harden jumpers extended the Sixers’ edge to 76-61, prompted a Mazzulla timeout, and got the Sixers’ stars asking for increased volume from an already fired-up crowd.

The Sixers had some ups and downs over the remainder of the third quarter, but threes from Harris and Niang late in the period built the Sixers' lead back to 15 points. Niang was one of just three players to come off the Sixers' bench; Jalen McDaniels wasn't part of the team's eight-man rotation.

For the second straight period, the Sixers made mistakes to close a quarter, including Niang fouling Tatum about 35 feet from the hoop. They had a rough start to the fourth with Embiid on the bench, too. On the possession after a shot-clock violation, Niang missed a three and the Celtics' ensuing fast break ended with an easy White dunk to trim their deficit to 92-85. Rivers called timeout.

The Sixers piled up a bunch of fouls early in the fourth quarter, aiding Boston's comeback push. Both Harris and P.J. Tucker didn't shoot available threes, too, which contributed to many Sixers possessions using up most of the shot clock. Rivers subbed Tucker out and brought Niang back, but the 29-year-old forward was almost immediately whistled for his fifth foul.


Briefly, it appeared the Sixers had restored order. That didn't last long, though. Boston hit them with a 10-0 run to stunningly take a 98-96 lead. After Tatum blocked a Niang three and then went the other way for a transition layup, Rivers asked for timeout. Horford eventually put Boston in front by driving through the heart of the Sixers' disorganized defense and throwing down a big dunk.

Tatum set that slam up by beating the Sixers to an offensive board. While he, Horford and the Celtics overall were excellent down the stretch of the fourth quarter, the Sixers opened the door for Boston with their miscues and lack of composure. Once the game started to truly spiral, they seemed to be in serious trouble. Embiid couldn't deliver the run-stopping hoops he has so often this season, in large part because of Horford's sturdy 1-on-1 defense.

However, Harden was massive late in the fourth, keeping the Sixers afloat with a mid-range jumper and a driving hoop. A clutch Tucker put-back, and-one layup tied the game at 105 apiece.

Harden beat Horford off the dribble and sunk a game-tying floater with 16.4 seconds to go in regulation, and the Sixers survived a good three-point look by Smart at the buzzer, living to see overtime.


Unsurprisingly, the extra session was scrappy. The Sixers fought to secure many of the 50-50 balls that had eluded them in Games 2 and 3, including on one play where both Harris and Tucker battled to retain possession.

Two Embiid free throws lifted the Sixers to a 113-112 lead with 56 seconds left in OT, but Tatum replied with a three from the left wing. Rivers and the Sixers were furious that he wasn't whistled for an off-arm push on Maxey before sinking his jumper.

In the end, the Sixers were thrilled Harden had the ball in hands for the game's decisive shot. It was his day.