Game 1 takeaways: James Harden, turnovers crush C's in Game 1 loss


BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics have chosen the hard path yet again.

The Celtics entered Monday night as 10.5-point favorites against the Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series. But as was the case in their last game at TD Garden, they couldn't close out their short-handed opponent.

Celtics Talk POSTGAME POD: Harden's 45-point night stuns Celtics as Embiid-less Sixers take Game 1 | Listen & Subscribe

James Harden poured in 45 points and hit a dagger 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds remaining to lift the Sixers to a 118-115 upset victory.

Jayson Tatum racked up 39 points, 11 rebounds and five assists while Jaylen Brown added 26 points and Malcolm Brogdon chipped in 20 off the bench. Turnovers plagued the Celtics all night, however, including Brogdon's pass directly to Tyrese Maxey that gave Philly the late lead.

The Celtics will look to even the series Wednesday night in Game 2 at TD Garden, with the possibility of Embiid's return looming.

Our takeaways from a wild Game 1:

James Harden puts Philly on his back

The Celtics shot a blistering 71.8 percent in the first half yet only led by three at the break. That was because Harden torched them on the other end, with 21 first-half points on 9 of 14 shooting.

The Sixers star only got better as the night went on, however. Boston declined to double-team Harden for most of the night, and Harden responded by torching every defender he saw -- including 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart.

Harden has made sacrifices offensively this season playing alongside Embiid, but with Philly's top star sidelined, Harden reverted to the three-time scoring champ we saw in Houston, scoring at will from all three levels.

The Celtics will need to reconsider their defensive game plan against Harden in Game 2 if they want to avoid a 2-0 deficit.

Ball security is Celtics' Achilles heel

Harden deserves plenty of credit, but the Celtics would have won this game going away if they had cut back on the turnovers.

Boston committed 16 turnovers to Philly's six, allowing the Sixers to hang around in the first half despite the Celtics' strong offensive start. Philly scored 20 points off those 16 turnovers -- none more crucial than Brogdon's late-game gaffe.

Brogdon wasn't the main culprit, however. Smart (six turnovers) and Brown (four) combined for 10 of the team's 16 turnovers, as Brown now has committed four-plus turnovers in four of his last seven games.

The Celtics are now 8-9 when they commit at least 16 turnovers in a game, and 53-19 when they keep the turnovers under 16. Ball control will determine how long this team lasts in the postseason.

Playoff Tatum is back

Harden and Boston's carelessness with the ball spoiled a brilliant offensive performance by Tatum, who nearly matched Harden bucket-for-bucket.

The Celtics star exploded for a personal playoff record 20 points in the second quarter alone and finished the night 4 of 5 from 3-point range, in addition to getting to the rim with several strong drives.

Since scoring just 19 points on 8 of 21 shooting in a first-round Game 5 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Tatum, has amassed 69 points over his last two games, shooting 25 for 45 from the floor in that span. Similar to Harden against Boston's defense, Tatum was able to score against multiple Sixers defenders.

Tatum and the offense weren't the problem for Boston in Game 1. They'll need to tighten up on defense and ball security if they want to take Game 2.

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