No one said the first-round series against the Washington Wizards was going to be an easy one for the Philadelphia 76ers. The Wizards are a team that has played much better basketball since the All-Star break, and had they not been hit hard by health and injury issues early in the season, they likely would have finished higher in the standings in the Eastern Conference. That was evident on Sunday afternoon, as the No. 8 Wizards gave the top-seeded Sixers all they could handle in the first game of the best-of-seven series between the teams.
Despite a strong start from Philly, the Wizards led by one point heading into halftime, and they basically had the Sixers sweating all the way until the final buzzer. A team with two players as talented as Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook will do that to you. Ultimately, though, the Sixers showed why they were one of the best teams in the league all season as they were able to close out the game down the stretch for a 125-118 victory. With the win, the Sixers were able to protect their home-court advantage and take a 1-0 lead in the series.
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Tobias Harris led the way for the Sixers with a playoff career-high 37 points. Joel Embiid was hampered by foul trouble in the first half, but he still finished the game with 30 points and six rebounds, while Ben Simmons added six points, 15 assists and 15 rebounds. In the process, Harris and Embiid became the first pair of Sixers teammates to each score 30-plus points in the same playoff game since 1990.
On the other side of the floor, Beal did his thing for the Wizards. He tallied 33 points, 10 rebounds and six assists while shooting 13 of 23 from the floor. Beal needed a bit more help, though. The next highest scoring Wizards player, Westbrook, had just 16 points. Overall, the game was hard-fought and pretty well played, but neither team has too long to dwell on it now, as they’ll be back at it for Game 2 on Wednesday night. Before looking ahead to that one, here’s a look at three key takeaways from Philadelphia’s Game 1 win.
1. Harris put Sixers on his back in first half
Tobias Harris was heavily criticized by Sixers fans and media members alike for his relatively poor performance in the playoffs last season. In four playoff games against the Celtics in the Orlando bubble, Harris averaged just 15.8 points per performance while shooting 38 percent from the field — numbers that represented a significant drop from his regular-season averages. As a result, his contract was criticized, as was his heart. Clearly, Harris wasn’t going to allow for a repeat performance this year. He came out confident and focused on Sunday afternoon, and he put Philadelphia on his back over the first 24 minutes of action. Thanks to three early fouls, Embiid was limited to just 10 minutes of playing time in the first half, so the Sixers needed to find point production elsewhere, and Harris answered the call. With Embiid stationed on the sideline with a towel draped over his head, Harris went to work.
Heading into Game 1, Harris’ playoff career-high was 29 points. He nearly matched that in the first half against the Wizards. Instead, he had to wait until the second half to set a new career high, as he finished the first half with 28 points on 12 of 19 shooting from the floor. In that first half, Harris scored in every way imaginable — from beyond the arc, on drives, with his back to the basket, and in the midrange. The full arsenal was on display.
Harris’ production was huge for the Sixers as they would have been down by much more than one at the half if not for his Herculean effort. By keeping the score close while Embiid was out of the game, the Sixers were able to put themselves in position to come back and pull out the win in the second half — which they did. In all, Harris finished the game with 37 points while shooting over 50 percent (15 of 29) from the floor. Harris’ play earned the praise of his teammates after the game, especially Embiid, who appreciated that Harris was able to pick up the slack in his absence.
“He was huge especially in that time when I was on the bench,” Embiid said of Harris. “We needed a scorer, and he showed up the whole game really, but especially in that first half … Him keeping us in the game while I was on the bench was huge.”
Harris obviously isn’t going to drop 35-plus points every night for Philadelphia, but when he’s playing with confidence and in attack mode like he was on Sunday, they become an infinitely better team. If he can continue to channel the energy and focus that he had in Game 1, the Sixers will be tough to topple.
2. A tale of two halves for Seth Curry
Seth Curry had a forgettable first half in Game 1. He was unable to connect on a single shot, as he was held scoreless. In fact, the most notable thing he did during the first 24 minutes was get inadvertently hit below the belt:
The hit caused Curry to exit the game, and provided Philadelphia fans with a quick scare. Luckily, Curry was fine and able to return to action in the second half, and he looked like a completely different player. Finally able to shake off the rust that accumulates after over a week without a game, Curry connected on six shots — and three 3s — in the second half, and his point production was crucial for Philadelphia to close out the game with a win. He finished the game with 15 points and he also added four rebounds, two steals and an assist for good measure.
Even when Curry isn’t hitting his shots, he’s a valuable presence out on the floor for Philadelphia due to the attention he draws, and in turn the space he creates for others. But, as we saw in the second half on Sunday, they’re way more dangerous when he’s hunting shots and knocking them down. Look for him to get off to a bit better of a start in Game 2 on Wednesday.
3. Beal got his, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for Philly
Bradley Beal is one of the best scorers in the NBA. That’s no secret. He finished second to Stephen Curry in scoring this season, and he has lit the Sixers up plenty in the past. With this in mind, Sixers coach Doc Rivers decided to employ his two best perimeter defenders — Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle — on Beal over the course of the contest. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the final stat sheet, but Simmons and Thybulle actually did a decent job on Beal. They didn’t give him open looks. They made him work for his shots and they forced him into committing a game-high six turnovers. But Beal, being the scorer that he is, still got his as he finished the game with 33 points on 13 of 23 shooting.
Sure, the Sixers will try to make things even more difficult on Beal moving forward in the series, but here’s the thing: Beal putting up points doesn’t necessarily correlate to wins for Washington. Earlier this season, Beal became the first player in NBA history to lose 10 straight games in which he scored 40 or more points. A game against the Sixers from earlier this season is an excellent example of this. On Jan. 6, Beal dropped a career high 60 points on the Sixers, but the Wizards still lost that game 141-136. The fact that Beal can score so much without winning can obviously be looked at as an indictment of his supporting cast, and it’s also something that the Sixers can find some solace in. Beal is going to put up points regardless of who is on him, but often, him simply scoring a lot isn’t enough for Washington to win, and that was the case in Game 1.