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May 02, 2023

Stats that put James Harden's instant-classic Game 1 into context

James Harden had a historic evening for the Sixers in their Game 1 win over Boston. Here's a look at how monumental his stat line was.

With the Sixers never needing him to regain his vintage MVP form more, James Harden delivered. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals up in Boston, Harden sunk big shot after big shot against the Celtics, dropping 45 points as the Sixers stole a crucial 1-0 series lead. 

In what might be the most electric Sixers win since the iconic Stepover in 2001, Harden gave the fan base a night they won't soon forget. Doing this on the road? Against Boston? With Joel Embiid out? Every little thing stacked up in the Celtics' favor and Harden pierced through all that noise. 

After Harden's instant-classic performance, I want to put his stats in context of Sixers and playoff history. It was monumental.

Using the invaluable Stathead from basketball-reference for this little project, here's just how good Harden's Game 1 was:

• No Sixer has scored 45 or more points in a playoff game since Allen Iverson in Philadelphia's series-clinching first-round win over the Hornets in 2003, 20 years to the day of Harden's masterclass. That was Iverson's second 45-point game against New Orleans in that series. He dropped 55 in a Game 1, too. Before that, Iverson had scored 45-plus points five times during the franchise's run to the 2001 NBA Finals. There have been just 10 45-point playoff performances in Sixers history (not including the Syracuse Nationals). The names? Harden, Iverson, Billy Cunningham and Wilt Chamberlain. All Hall of Famers. 

• No Sixer has scored 45 or more points while attempting just four or fewer free throw attempts in the postseason since Iverson in Game 5 of the 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Raptors. Iverson attempted only two free throws that game, shooting 21-of-32 from the floor on his way to 52 points. Harden was a walking bucket in Game 1!

• Harden's seven made threes are only the fifth time that number has been reached in Sixers playoff history. Harden also made seven in the Sixers' Game 1 win over Brooklyn last month. Before that, Danny Green made seven in Game 3 against Miami last year and Seth Curry did so against the Hawks in Game 5 of the East Semifinals in 2021. The record for threes made in a Sixers postseason game belongs to, of course, Iverson, who made eight in that Game 5 win over Toronto in 2001. 

• 45 points ties a playoff career-high for Harden, who had previously hit that mark with the Rockets in Houston's Game 4 Western Conference Finals win over the Warriors in 2015. Harden went 2,898 days in between 45-point playoff games. Monday night was his 10th career 40-point postseason game and 46th career 30-point one. 

• Harden's seven made threes also ties a career playoff high. He's done so seven times. The earliest occasion? The Rockets' Game 5 first-round win over the Thunder in 2013, exactly 10 years to the day of last night's scoring bonanza. That's a 3,652-day span. 

• Harden is one of four guards to score 45 or more points this postseason. Steph Curry had his 50-point Game 7 win over the Kings. Devin Booker has a pair of them (45 and 47, respectively) and Ja Morant dropped 45 in a loss to the Lakers in Round 1.

• In that Game 1 victory, Harden had 45 points, seven made threes and six assists. That's only the ninth time that's happened in playoff history. Steph Curry did it in Golden State's Game 7 win over Sacramento this past weekend. Damian Lillard and Jamal Murray have each matched that twice. The other three times all involve the Sixers: Paul Pierce did that in Boston's series-clinching, winner-takes-all Game 5 victory over the Sixers in 2002. Iverson topped those marks with 52 points, eight threes and seven assists in that previously mentioned 2001 Game 5 over Toronto. On the flip side, Vince Carter did it in that same series, going off for 50 points with nine made threes and seven assists in the Raptors' Game 3 win. 

I'll close, however, with Carter's defining moment from that series:

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