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HOUSTON — James Harden said it had been a while since he was in a zone. And when reflecting on his career with the Houston Rockets, scoring 40 or more points was the norm. 

"I haven't felt one of those zones in a minute," Harden said. "Just to be aggressive and shoot the basketball and do what I want."

Harden had a throwback performance in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Simi-Finals Monday night. He tied his playoff career-high of 45 points (17-30 FG, 7-14 3PT), to go along with six assists and two steals to lift the Philadelphia 76ers to a 119-115 victory over the Boston Celtics. 

His play was not just a vintage performance that reminded fans of his MVP stature with the Rockets. But inside TD Garden, Harden's play against the Celtics will go down as an iconic post-season game for the 10-time All-Star. He led the 76ers to a road victory without Joel Embiid — the presume league MVP. 

"I thought that he had just the perfect mindset tonight," coach Doc Rivers said. "He really did. I'm so happy for him because it just tells you what he can do on given nights...The guy is a Hall of Famer, and all you hear is the other stuff about him — he was fantastic."

The Rockets traded Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in January 2021. And Game 1 against the Celtics marked the fourth time since his departure Harden reached 40 or more points. 

He played for the Rockets for nine seasons, where he became one of the league's most prolific scorers. Harden eclipsed 40 points or more 101 times during his career in Houston.  

He averaged 29.6 points, 7.7 assists and 6.0 rebounds in 621 games. He won his lone MVP award in 2018 after leading the Rockets to a 65-17 record. Harden first scored a postseason career-high 45 points to help the Rockets avoid elimination in the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors in 2015.

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