The Philadelphia 76ers played on Wednesday night like who they are, the Eastern Conference’s number one seed.
Their stars were stellar in a 120-95 win at the Wells Fargo Center over the Washington Wizards to give the team a 2-0 lead in its first-round playoff series.
Ben Simmons had 22 points on 11-for-15 shooting, nine rebounds, and eight assists. Tobias Harris posted 19 points on 9-for-13 shooting and nine rebounds. Joel Embiid put up 22 points and seven rebounds. No Sixer needed to play more than 29 minutes.
Here’s three takeaways:
Big 3 leads
It only took Simmons about eight and a half minutes to surpass his six points from game one.
The three-time All-Star ran his way liek a bull into and through bodies in the first quarter, including on a dunk where he knocked over Davis Bertans, then found himself all alone at the rim. He made his first three shots, drew early fouls on the Wizards by crashing the offensive glass, and was impossible to ignore. At one point, Simmons threw down three dunks within a 55-second stretch.
He finished the opening quarter with 12 points and five rebounds.
There’s no question at this point that he can heavily impact winning without scoring, but efficient, aggressive offense does not hurt at all.
Harris was both smooth and decisive, converting jumpers with ease over smaller defenders and making 8-of-9 field goals in the first half.
Harris was limping off the court in the second quarter when he rolled his knee. It didn’t take him very long to return on the wood and make a positive impact. There will be more on this later in the article.
Embiid handled the Wizards’ double teams patiently, giving the ball up when he faced real pressure and waiting to see how the play developed when help was near. He squeezed an early skip pass through to Seth Curry for a corner three.
The undisputed highlight of Embiid’s evening came in transition, a stumbling yet graceful and-one layup followed by a celebration.
Here’s another angle for pleasure:
Rivers went 11 player deep Wednesday before garbage time, playing an all-bench lineup of George Hill, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, and Dwight Howard late in the first and early in the second quarter.
Again, the fact that the Sixers started cold from three-point range (1-for-6) might have contributed to Korkmaz’s inclusion.
It’s clear Rivers likes Hill with his best players and thinks his second unit can holds it own in the playoffs. Beyond that, Rivers looks flexible. With the Sixers leading by a comfortable margin in the third period, he even went against his principle of avoiding lineups with Thybulle, Howard, and Simmons together.
Rivers still needs to assess exactly how much he’s able to play his stars without overtaxing them. They’ll see more minutes than in the regular season (in non-blowouts), but can Harris play effectively for 38 minutes every game? What’s the longest stint Embiid can play without fatigue being a factor?
For a few minutes, it seemed many of those questions might be rather insignificant. Harris exited with an apparent ankle injury and was replaced by Korkmaz.
He emerged from the locker room shortly after and returned to the court to loud, relieved cheers.
Curry left the game with 6:16 left in the third quarter and did not return due to left ankle soreness. A Sixers official said early in the fourth that Curry was questionable, which would seem to indicate he should be fine for game three.
Fan favorite Tyrese Maxey played 14 second-half minutes and scored 10 points. Even if he doesn’t yet have a consistent, clear role, he’ll clearly be in the mix moving forward.
1 man show for Washington wasn’t enough
The Wizards trailed by 14 points at halftime. If they didn’t have Bradley Beal, the score would’ve been a lot uglier for the Wizards a lot quicker.
Beal posted 24 first-half points on 11-for-15 shooting. He couldn’t keep that pace, and the Sixers started to pull away once Beal began missing a few shots. Still, Beal managed 33 points for the game. Beal was 1-for-6 from three-point range, while his teammates were 1-for-16 from long distance.
Russell Westbrook had 11 assists and drew 10 free throws but shot just 2-for-10 from the floor. He appeared to hurt his right ankle early in the fourth quarter. A fan poured popcorn on Westbrook as he went down the tunnel, which rightly made him very angry. Not something that should ever happen, let alone to an injured player.
The Sixers were so excellent offensively that Beal’s big night didn’t matter. Neither did several transition defense breakdowns in the first half. After a Howard layup, Daniel Gafford sealed Milton deep in the paint and converted an and-one layup, a play that frustrated Milton.
Washington scored 11 fast-break points in the first half, though the Sixers improved in the second. Attacking early in the shot clock is an obvious component of any opponent’s game plan against them. The Sixers were better than in game one at stopping the ball and communicating before Wizards ball handlers reached the paint.
Game three will be Saturday night in Washington, D.C.