James Harden tied his career playoff high by scoring 45 points to help the visiting Philadelphia 76ers defeat the Boston Celtics 119-115 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday night.
Harden made 17 of his 30 field-goal attempts, including 7 of 14 from behind the 3-point arc. It was the 10th playoff game in which Harden has scored at least 40 points.
Harden's 3-pointer with 8.4 seconds to play gave the third-seeded 76ers a 117-115 lead. Jayson Tatum was called for a foul on the ensuing possession, and then Paul Reed capped the scoring by making two free throws with 4.6 seconds left. Philadelphia closed the game with a 12-4 run.
The 76ers played without Joel Embiid, who sustained a sprained LCL in his right knee during Game 3 of Philadelphia's first-round sweep of Brooklyn. Embiid led the NBA by averaging 33.1 points per game during the regular season.
Tatum led the second-seeded Celtics with 39 points and 11 rebounds. Boston received 23 points from Jaylen Brown, and 20 from Malcolm Brogdon.
Tyrese Maxey added 26 points for the 76ers, who received 10 points and 13 rebounds from Reed.
The Celtics made 17 of their 18 free-throw attempts. Philadelphia was 12-for-12 from the free-throw line.
Boston trailed 19-13 midway through the first but went on an 11-0 run to take a 24-19 lead with 4:37 left in the quarter. The Celtics made 17 of their 20 shots from the field in the period and led 38-31 entering the second. Boston connected on 14 of its first 15 field goal attempts.
The Celtics were up 62-50 -- their largest lead of the game -- with 3:31 to play in the second, but Philadelphia closed the first half on a 13-4 run and trailed 66-63 at halftime.
The game was tied, 87-87, entering the final 12 minutes.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series will be played Wednesday night in Boston.
Nuggets 97, Suns 87
Nikola Jokic scored 39 points and grabbed 16 rebounds as the host Denver Nuggets beat the Phoenix Suns 97-87 on Monday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
Aaron Gordon added 16 points, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 14 points and made all four of his 3-point attempts for the Nuggets, who held Phoenix to 14 points in the fourth quarter. Jamal Murray scored 10 points and dished out eight assists.
Devin Booker scored 35 points, Kevin Durant had 24 points and Deandre Ayton added 14 for the Suns, who lost Chris Paul to left groin tightness in the third quarter. Paul produced eight points and six assists in 25 minutes.
Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is scheduled for Friday in Phoenix.
The Suns led by three points entering the fourth quarter, but they missed their first nine shots of the final period. Denver grabbed a 78-73 lead on two 3-pointers from Caldwell-Pope and a short jumper by Murray.
Durant broke the drought with a fadeaway and driving layup to make it a one-point game with 7:36 left.
The lead stayed within a five-point margin until under the three-minute mark, with both teams having chances to make a run. Jokic put the Nuggets ahead 86-81 when Durant was called for goaltending.
Bruce Brown blocked a Durant shot, and after a timeout, Caldwell-Pope hit another 3-pointer to give Denver an 89-81 lead with 2:43 to go. Cameron Payne missed at the other end, and Murray made a jumper to give the Nuggets a 10-point advantage, and the hosts closed it out.
After a high-scoring Game 1 on Saturday night (a 125-107 Nuggets win), the defenses were in control in the first half of Game 2. Both teams struggled to make shots, but Phoenix used nine offensive rebounds to outscore Denver 8-0 in second-chance points and lead 42-40 at halftime.
The Suns started to surge in the third quarter. The game was tied at 48 before Durant hit a pair of free throws, Booker and Paul made pull-up jumpers, Durant drained a 3-pointer and Paul hit an 18-footer to give Phoenix a 59-51 lead.
The Nuggets got within 59-56 on a three-point play from Michael Porter Jr., but the Suns stretched the lead to 68-61 on a Booker jump shot. Jokic scored Denver's last nine points of the period to get the Nuggets within 73-70 heading into the fourth.