A resurgent James Harden scored 42 points, including a last-gasp three-pointer to lift the Philadelphia 76ers over Boston 116-115 in overtime on Sunday to level their NBA playoff series.
But in Phoenix, not even a career playoff-high 53 points were not enough for Nikola Jokic to spark the Denver Nuggets to a victory over the Suns.
Harden drained a 24-foot corner three with just 19 seconds remaining in overtime at the Wells Fargo Center for a win that leaves the Eastern Conference best-of-seven second round series squared at 2-2.
In a nerve-shredding finale, Boston’s Marcus Smart nailed a potential buzzer-beating basket but it did not count as he was unable to get the shot off before time expired.
That left Philadelphia celebrating a gutsy victory that owed everything to the majestic performance of Harden, who bagged his second 40-point game of the series, which continues Tuesday at Boston.
“I put the work in and it was all about being aggressive,” said Harden afterward. “Tonight it was really do or die.
“We found a way to win and that’s all that matters in the post-season.”
In the Western Conference, two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Jokic’s heroics were not enough as Kevin Durant and Devin Booker each scored 36 to lead the Suns over the Nuggets 129-124 to equalize their series at 2-2 with game five Tuesday at Denver.
“It’s our job to protect home court,” Booker said. “They say a series doesn’t start until someone wins on the road so we’re going to try to do that in game five.”
Jokic could be looking at a suspension after he was issued a technical foul for shoving a spectator, none other than Suns owner Mat Ishbia, after the ball went into the crowd in the first half.
But Booker, who added 12 assists, is fine with Jokic scoring big — if he still loses.
“It’s a tough matchup,” Booker said. “He’s either scoring or getting his teammates involved or doing both. Every possession, just try to make it hard on him.
“He can have 50 all he wants as long as we get the win.”
Harden’s performance was especially sweet as it came in front of John Hao, a Chinese student left paralyzed in a mass shooting at Michigan State in February that left three students dead and five others injured.
“He’s my good luck charm,” said Harden, who has been in regular contact with Hao since the shooting tragedy.
“He just gave me good luck, brought me good vibes, good energy. We knew this game was for him.”
Harden — who scored just 28 points across games two and three –- rediscovered his shooting form just in time.
“James was awesome,” said Sixers coach Doc Rivers. “For a day and a half, James had to get himself back. No one did that but James.”
Harden made 16-of-23 shots from the floor with six three-pointers. NBA Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid had 34 points. Tyrese Maxey added 14.
Jayson Tatum led Boston with 24 points while Jaylen Brown had 23.
Tatum sank a 27-foot three-pointer for a 115-113 Boston lead late in overtime, a foul going uncalled after he appeared to push off on Maxey.
“That was awful that that wasn’t called,” Rivers said. “It was a push off. That could have decided the game.”
The Suns hit 14-of-18 shots in the third quarter, their best-shooting quarter of the season, for a 98-92 edge entering the fourth.
A Jokic three-point play and Aaron Gordon’s tip-in put the Nuggets within 121-118, but T.J. Warren’s two free throws gave Phoenix a five-point edge, Jokic missed a layup and the Suns, whose reserves outscored Denver’s bench 42-11, cruised home.
“The two games in Denver I felt our defense was great. We left it somewhere in the desert. It didn’t arrive in Phoenix,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
“Going home, that has got to be paramount. If we’re getting control of the series again, it has to start with defense. And it has to be everybody. They are scoring too easy.”
“It’s an even series now,” said Suns coach Monty Williams. “But we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
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