The first postseason game at the Wells Fargo Center since May 9, 2019 was nothing but big performances from big-name players.
The Philadelphia 76ers have more of those names, and they beat the Washington Wizards 125-118 in game one of their first-round series Sunday.
Tobias Harris scored a playoff career-high 37 points. Joel Embiid had 30 points, six rebounds and three assists. Ben Simmons played a team-high 38 minutes and recorded six points, 15 assists, and 15 rebounds.
Wizards star Bradley Beal had 33 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists.
Here’s three takeaways:
Harris’ sensational half, bench gets good minutes
Harris scored 12 of the Sixers’ 27 first-quarter points on 6-for-8 shooting. He was both aggressive and in total control, driving to the rim strongly, shooting jumpers over smaller defenders and finding open teammates when his own shot wasn’t available.
At his best, Harris either has a physicality or agility edge over whoever is guarding him. Everything was working for him in a 28-point first half. Rui Hachimura couldn’t stay in front of him, Harris was excellent at finishing through contact, and he punished the Wizards’ switches.
Harris was the last Sixers starter on the floor as the team played George Hill, Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton, and Dwight Howard around him late in the first quarter. That lineup threw away the Sixers’ early 10-point lead, in part because of familiar breakdowns in transition defense. Davis Bertans drained two consecutive threes. The second was a result of a Milton turnover and an ensuing transition possession in which Howard ended up on Bertans. He didn’t identify where the ball was until Bertans had caught a pass and was about to release his jumper. The Sixers also had a poor transition sequence when Ish Smith darted down the floor for an uncontested layup after a Hill basket. Westbrook scored on a similar play in the second quarter.
With the Sixers firing trash from three-point range, Furkan Korkmaz checked into the game at the beginning of the second quarter. He came up empty, too, missing three good first-half looks. The Sixers were 3-for-17 from long distance in the opening half.
Tyrese Maxey was the 11th Sixer to appear. He entered after Seth Curry had the wind knocked out of him in a collision with former Sixer Raul Neto with 1:42 remaining in the second quarter. Curry, who was scoreless in the first half, returned for the start of the third and broke his scoreless skid with a three-pointer off of a Simmons offensive rebound and following assist.
After posting 30 points in the Sixers’ regular-season finale, Maxey was immediately comfortable in the first playoff action of his career. Impressive stuff from the 20-year-old.
Embiid works well through foul trouble
Embiid’s first of what was to be many possessions in the series against a Washington double team was a good one. He sensed Hachimura helping from the baseline, turned toward the middle of the floor and made a jumper.
Embiid read the Wizards’ double teams effectively all afternoon. The MVP finalist didn’t score again in his first stint, though. Embiid missed two wide-open threes and picked up his second personal foul after sealing Alex Len deep in the paint and apparently scoring an and-one layup. The officials instead called Embiid for an offensive foul, which incensed him and head coach Doc Rivers.
The Wizards’ center trio of Len, Robin Lopez and Daniel Gafford accumulated seven total fouls within 15 minutes. Perhaps that could have become troublesome for Washington, but Embiid was whistled for his third foul with 7:07 left in the first half. In the larger picture of the series, it’s a bit ominous for Washington.
More than his skill, Embiid’s effort jumped out after halftime. On one play, Embiid blitzed Beal at least 30 feet away from the hoop, forced Beal to cough the ball up in tandem with Thybulle, drew a foul and hit the ground.
Fair game plan vs. Beal and Westbrook
Simmons started on Beal and Danny Green defended Russell Westbrook. Once Green subbed out, Thybulle unsurprisingly took on the difficult assignment of guarding Beal.
While the Sixers circled many ball screens involving Beal, they trusted Simmons to handle him.
Beal did a decent chunk of his damage came against Thybulle. Simmons made hardly any noticeable mistakes. His off-ball defense was stellar as he tracked Beal around screens without exposing himself to back door cuts.
Sunday’s game was another reminder of all the ways Simmons contributes to winning basketball besides scoring. His offensive rebounding, pace-pushing style, and assists to three-point shooters were all on display. The major downside of his afternoon is that he did not shoot well at all from either the field or the foul line. Simmons missed on all six of his free throws, including two with 43.9 seconds remaining.
Green’s defensive approach on Westbrook (16 points on 7-for-17 shooting, 15 assists) was fine. With few exceptions, a Westbrook mid-range jumper is a mini-victory for the Sixers.
Game two of the series will be Wednesday night in Philadelphia.