PHILADELPHIA (AP) — James Harden hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 18 seconds left in overtime and scored 42 points to help the Philadelphia 76ers stave off a wild Boston Celtics comeback in a 116-115 victory on Sunday that evened their playoff series at 2-2.
Marcus Smart’s potential winner was a tick too late and the Celtics now head home for Tuesday’s Game 5. The 76ers are guaranteed to return home for Game 6 on Thursday.
Smart and Jayson Tatum keyed a Celtics rally from 15 points down with 2 minutes left in the third quarter in hopes of seizing control of the series.
The Sixers were on the brink of defeat numerous times over the final 17 minutes, none more than when Joel Embiid crashed into Smart on a driving, one-handed bank shot with 1:49 left but was whistled for an offensive foul. The play was reviewed and the call stood. Boston kept its 112-111 lead with 1:49 left in OT.
Embiid, the NBA MVP, kept his composure and eventually got to the line to sink two free throws with 59 seconds left and the season in the balance.
Embiid had 34 points and 13 rebounds. Harden added nine assists and eight rebounds.
Tatum struggled to score early but finished with 24 points, 18 rebounds, six assists and four blocks. Jaylen Brown scored 23 points and Smart had 21.
They went to overtime tied 107-all after Smart was short on a 3 at the horn on one of the few clutch shots Boston missed in the fourth quarter.
Boston’s fun began in the period when Smart and Brown buried consecutive 3-pointers and Tatum attacked the rim for a bucket that wiped out an eight-point hole in 90 seconds. Al Horford put them ahead 98-90 — on a possession that started on the other end when Tyrese Maxey had his shot blocked — and shimmied for the crowd as boos rained on him.
Yes, the 76ers had home court but fans tensed up as memories all those second-round exits since 2001 stirred inside the building. Smart and Malcolm Brogdon hit consecutive 3s for a 105-100 lead.
But it was P.J. Tucker, the heart and guts of the Sixers, who again did the dirty work on a defensive rebound a bucket. He made the free throw with 1:05 left and the tie game gave them new life.
Good Game James showed up in Game 4 for the 76ers and Embiid played more like the MVP he was in the regular season than the banged-up edition with a sprained right knee of the last two games.
Harden played in Game 1 like he was still the MVP in Houston and dropped 45 points to spur the upset road victory. Then, his game disappeared and he played two of the worst games of his career. Harden’s 5-for-28 combined shooting in Games 2 and 3 was worst effort for him over any two-game span in his career — regular season or playoffs.
The best the 76ers could do ahead of Game 4 was hope for a productive Harden.
Philly got him.
Harden hit all three 3s in the first half and scored 21 points, five more than his Game 3 total. Embiid was as potent as he needed to perform and had 19 points and 11 boards to give the 76ers a 59-50 lead.
Boston suffered this time from a lack of star power. Tatum missed his first eight shots before he scored a bucket just before the half, just one woeful effort in a half where the Celtics shot 38% from the floor.
Celtics: Horford joined Tatum as Celtics with one basket in the first half. Brown tried to help with a 7-of-11 effort for 16 points.
76ers: Julius Erving was in the house. ... Embiid and Harden are the first Sixers teammates with 30 points each in a playoff game since Embiid and Seth Curry did it in June 2021 against Atlanta.