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Sixers vs. Celtics prediction: Bet on some James Harden regression in Game 5

Philly needs another big game from James Harden on Tuesday. Will he deliver? Don’t bet on it

James Harden scored 45 and 42 points and hit the game-winning shots in the Philadelphia 76ers’ two victories over the Boston Celtics in their best-of-7 playoff series. However, the All-Star point guard scored a total of just 28 points in the Sixers’ two defeats. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
James Harden scored 45 and 42 points and hit the game-winning shots in the Philadelphia 76ers’ two victories over the Boston Celtics in their best-of-7 playoff series. However, the All-Star point guard scored a total of just 28 points in the Sixers’ two defeats. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)Read moreTimothy Nwachukwu / Getty Images

As James Harden goes, so go the Philadelphia 76ers.

That’s been the storyline through the first four games of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference semifinal series against the rival Boston Celtics.

Harden was a beast in the scoring department in Games 1 and 4, pouring in a combined 97 points while leading Philadelphia to two victories by a total of five points.

But the former NBA MVP was a no show in the middle two contests, tallying 28 total points as the 76ers twice got drubbed by double digits.

Whichever Harden shows up in Tuesday’s pivotal Game 5 in Boston likely will determine which team will prevail and take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series.

Unfortunately for the 76ers, Harden hasn’t “brought it” in back-to-back games — not only in this series but the entire playoffs so far. So we have no choice but to bet on “Bad Harden” showing up in Game 5. Which means betting against the Sixers.

Odds updated as of 10:15 a.m. ET on May 9.

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76ers vs. Celtics Prediction

  1. Celtics -7.5 (at BetMGM)

  2. Note: Stick with this bet up to Celtics -8

76ers vs. Celtics Prediction: Analysis

Make no mistake: The Sixers players, coaches and staff would be busy packing for a tropical summer vacation right now if not for Harden’s heroics.

The All-Star point guard hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining in Game 1 to secure a 119-115 win in Boston; he hit a game-tying basket with 16 seconds remaining to force overtime in Game 4; and he hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 19 seconds remaining Sunday to turn a 115-113 deficit into a 116-115 series-tying victory.

Without those high-pressure buckets, the Celtics would have swept the series.

» READ MORE: The Sixers are facing their most important games in a quarter-century. Maybe longer.

That’s not to say Harden’s teammates didn’t contribute in Philadelphia’s two victories.

In fact, Tyrese Maxey and De’Anthony Melton came up huge in Game 1, combining for 43 points in the absence of injured center Joel Embiid. And Embiid himself had his best game of the series Sunday with 34 points and 13 rebounds.

Nor is it to say that those teammates didn’t play poorly in Philadelphia’s 34-point road loss in Game 2 and 12-point home setback in Game 3.

But the throughline in this series — at least from the Sixers’ perspective — cuts right through Harden. The numbers back that up.

Harden shot 62.3% overall (17-for-53) and 56.5% from 3-point range (13-for-23) in Games 1 and 4. He finished with 45 and 42 points, respectively.

Conversely, he made just 5 of 28 shots (17.9%) — including 2 of 13 (15.4%) from deep — in Games 2 and 3. He finished with 12 and 16 points.

» READ MORE: The Sixers were out of gas, out of luck, out of time. Now, they’re alive.

And as already noted, Harden has been absolutely clutch when Philly needed him most.

The problem for the Sixers is that Harden is constantly swinging on a pendulum. In his last 15 games dating to March 29, Harden has:

  1. Had six games with double-digit points and assists, but only two have come in consecutive outings (March 29 and 31 against Dallas and Toronto)

  2. Scored 20 or more points six times, but not once in consecutive games

  3. Averaged 12.4 points in the game immediately following a 20-point scoring effort

The Sixers’ record in Harden’s last six points/assists double-doubles: 5-1 (the lone defeat was Game 3 against the Celtics, when he had 16 points and 11 assists).

The Sixers’ record in the seven games he’s failed to reach 20 points since March 29: 3-4 (including 0-2 against Boston).

» READ MORE: Full sports betting coverage from The Philadelphia Inquirer

This is a long way of saying that, barring some sudden 50-point outbursts from Embiid, Philadelphia cannot beat the Celtics unless Harden produces at a high level. Because even when he produces at the highest level — while also receiving significant help from his teammates — it’s still difficult for the 76ers to put away their arch nemesis.

Well, the next time Harden has back-to-back monster games — that being at least 40 combined points, rebounds and assists, while shooting at least 50% overall and 40% from 3-point land — will be the first time since Jan. 14-15.

In consecutive road games on those two days, Harden had 31 points, 11 rebounds and six assists at Utah, and 24 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists at the L.A. Lakers. He shot 20-for-34 overall and 8-for-17 from distance.

And guess what? The Sixers won both games … by a single point.

Harden may very well dig deep Tuesday night and do something he hasn’t done in nearly four months. But that’s a big long shot to gamble on — especially since the Celtics are 8-0 SU and 7-1 ATS following a loss since March 8 (including 3-0 SU and ATS in the playoffs).

Boston also is 18-9 ATS overall since March 8 and has cashed in seven straight games following a non-cover.

Finally, the last six times the Celtics were favored after a non-cover, they bounced back to win the next game by the following point margins: 14, 23, 41, 8, 8 and 34.

Boston was on the road for five of those games. The exception: The 121-87 Game 2 thrashing of the Sixers in Boston six days ago.

76ers vs. Celtics Odds (via BetMGM):

  1. Point spread: 76ers (+7.5) @ Celtics (-7.5)

  2. Moneyline: 76ers (+240) @ Celtics (-300)

  3. Total: 213.5 points

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