James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers
#1 James Harden of the Philadelphia 76ers ESPN Stats & Info/Twitter


  • The Philadelphia 76ers took home a shocking victory against the Boston Celtics
  • The Denver Nuggets showed impressive poise in Game 3 drag-out victory
  • Both teams need to remain wary as a series upset is still very much possible.

Stars are made in the playoffs and with yesterday's slate of games, two teams made an early case for why they just might win it all this season.

In the Eastern Conference, Game 1 of the upper bracket of the semifinals saw the Philadelphia 76ers pull off a stunning victory against the Boston Celtics off the efforts James Harden.

With Joel Embiid remaining sidelined for Game 1 after suffering a knee injury against the Brooklyn Nets in the previous round, it was up to Harden to bring out his do-it-yourself kit as he tried to give the Sixers a shot at stealing away homecourt advantage.

"The Beard" succeeded as he flipped a switch as early as the first quarter, dropping 16 points in the opening frame, but the Sixers found themselves in a seven-point deficit against the Celtics.

That gap would narrow down to just three points by the end of the first half, but the final frame again proved why Harden was such a household name that took home the 2017-18 NBA MVP award.

As the Celtics threatened to pull away, Harden dropped an uber-efficient 15 points that featured him shooting 3-of-4 from beyond the arc.

After the final buzzer sounded and with a win in their pockets, Harden had logged 45 points on 17-of-30 shooting from the field, 7-of-14 from three-point land, alongside six assists and three steals.

The win speaks a lot about the Sixers' readiness to deal with the absence of Embiid and have rallied around Harden as Tyrese Maxey, De'Anthony Melton and Tobias Harris combined for 61 points.

James Harden
James Harden #1 (center), Tobias Harris #12 (left), and Tyrese Maxey #0 (right) of the Philadelphia 76ers during a game against the New York Knicks in March 2022. Getty Images/Mitchell Leff

On the other side of the fence, the Denver Nuggets found themselves in an all-out defensive war with the Phoenix Suns in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals to impose a 2-0 lead on the team that swept them in the 2021 playoffs.

Both teams could not buy a bucket to save their lives early on in the matchup as the Nuggets scored only 40 points in the first half while the Suns were only ahead by two entering the second half.

Similar to the Sixers game but also different in its own way, the Nuggets faced a Suns team with a well-balanced attack focused on Devin Booker's aggression combined with stout defense and were forced to find a breakthrough as Jamal Murray struggled from the field.

They did not need to wait long, however, as the Nuggets benefitted from the Suns going cold at the worst possible time in the fourth quarter, surging to a 73-70 lead that they would not let go of until the end of the game.

Denver did benefit from a reigning two-time MVP on their side as Nikola Jokic dropped 39 points and 16 rebounds to help his side survive the Suns' onslaught, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's 14 markers gave them the separation they needed to gut out a win.

While it would be easy to feel complacent with how the Sixers and Nuggets came out victorious, the two teams cannot afford to do so since it is a seven-game series; practically a race to four wins.

The 2023 NBA playoffs have already had their crazy moments such as the Memphis Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks being eliminated early on, and the current semis matchups have the potential to do it again.

Game 2 between the Sixers and Celtics takes place on Wednesday, May 3, while Game 3 between the Suns and Nuggets shifts to the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona on Friday, May 5.

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
#15 Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. Jake Coyne/Twitter