BOSTON — Have Smokin’ Joe, The Executioner and Rocky given way to “Hands of Stone” Harden, Tenacious Tyrese, and Doc the Demolisher?
In a city known for producing some of the most legendary fighters in the sport of boxing — real and fictional — as well as a blue-collar ethos with its citizens, the Philadelphia 76ers showed their toughness and resilience all season long, and it answered the bell, withstood every haymaker and, eventually, landed a knockout blow in one of the more impressive victories in recent memory.
Without Joel Embiid, the presumptive 2023 NBA Most Valuable Player, the Sixers upset the apple cart by stealing home court advantage in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, defeating the Boston Celtics 119-115 in front of a sold-out TD Garden that expected the Celtics to have their way once again with Philadelphia. James Harden turned back the clock to his MVP days of 2018, scoring a playoff career-high 45 points, including the game-winning step-back three with 8.4 seconds remaining to give the 76ers the lead for good. Harden’s backcourt mate, Tyrese Maxey, scored 26 points and Paul Reed, in place of Embiid in the middle, produced a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds in 37 minutes.