James Harden comes back to save the 76ers in Game 4 to even the series.

James Harden comes back to save the 76ers in Game 4 to even the series.

Following James Harden’s two worst consecutive shooting performances of his career in Games 2 and 3 of the Philadelphia 76ers’ Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers wanted to remind his star guard of who he is going into Game 4.

“I sent him a gospel song,” Rivers later laughed. “It’s called ‘You Know My Name?’”

Harden subsequently explained everything.

“I’m on my way to the game, and I get a text from Doc,” Harden joked. “It’s a gospel song, and I’m thinking, ‘All right, whatever.’” So I just tell my friends, ‘Let’s play the song.’ “It’s a seven-minute song, but I let it play the entire time.”‘All right, there’s got to be some good juju in this song, or whichever he’s feeling, I want to feel like that,’ I thought. And it seems to have worked.”

It most definitely did. Harden ended with 42 points on 16-for-23 shooting, including 6-for-9 from 3-point range, eight rebounds, nine assists, four steals, a block, and just one turnover in 47 minutes. And he nailed the game-tying shot in the final seconds of regulation before hitting a corner 3-pointer with 19 seconds remaining to bring Philadelphia to a shocking 116-115 overtime win at Wells Fargo Centre on Sunday.

The Eastern Conference series now moves back to Boston for Game 5 on Tuesday, tied at two games each, since Harden recaptured his Game 1 magic, scoring 45 points to lead Philadelphia to a victory sans Joel Embiid. Then, in Games 2 and 3, he shot 5-for-28 from the field, the worst two-game shooting performance of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

On Sunday, there were no such problems.

“That’s what he needs to do every night,” said Embiid, who ended with 34 points, 14 rebounds, and four assists in 46 minutes after returning from a damaged lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. “Don’t even think about anything.”It isn’t about taking a lot of pictures. It’s all about being aggressive, hitting the rim, and finding players, and he did a terrific job today.”

Harden’s presence was critical for Philadelphia, as Embiid, in particular, looked to run out of steam in the game’s final minutes. Embiid’s jumper was blocked three times in the closing few minutes of the fourth quarter by longtime foe Al Horford, causing P.J. Tucker to give the newly minted MVP an impassioned pep talk on the floor to attempt to pump him up, with Embiid later admitting he didn’t play well.

“Nobody can guard Joel one-on-one,” Tucker said. “There isn’t any way. I apologise. It’s not a dig at [Horford] or anybody else. But I’ve been guarding him for years, and it’s difficult when he’s pushy and assertive. And I’ve seen him not do it two or three times in a row. And we’re not going to get it. It’s not going to happen. Not with the season at stake. It’s not going to happen.”

Fortunately for the 76ers, Harden was returning to his MVP form for the second time in a week. Harden hit a runner with 15 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, only for Marcus Smart to miss a possible game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer. Then, in overtime, Harden’s game-winning three-pointer came off a brilliantly crafted out-of-timeout play by Rivers that had Embiid lined up with Jayson Tatum inside, prompting Jaylen Brown to respond with a double-team that left Harden wide open in the corner.

“Just a bad read,” Brown said of his choice to double-team Embiid down low, allowing Harden to hit the game-winning shot. “That’s all there is to it. A bad bet at the worst possible moment. James Harden hit a big shot, but it was my fault. I accept full responsibility. It was just a lousy read.”

Sunday’s game winner, along with his game-winning three in the final seconds of Game 1, are two of Harden’s three go-ahead field goals in a playoff game with fewer than 30 seconds left in his career.

Harden entered this series 1-for-10 in such situations, according to ESPN Stats & Info statistics. He’s presently 2-0 in this series.

“I just want to win,” stated Harden. “I just want to win no matter what happens.”To be honest, this was a do-or-die situation for us. We found a way to win, and in the playoffs, that’s all that counts.”

And, although Harden was accurate about the stakes in the series if Philadelphia lost – especially with Boston returning home for Tuesday’s Game 5, as well as a possible Game 7 – it definitely seemed that way. With little over two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Boston seized a five-point lead after the 76ers had led by as many as 16.

The 76ers, though, found a means to survive.

“Our goal is to go to Boston and win,” stated Embiid. “I’ll improve. We simply need to go out there and win so we can come back here up 3-2.”

More in Sports: https://buzzing.today/sports/
Photo Credits: https://commons.wikimedia.org/