NBA playoffs: Tobias Harris scores 37 points in Sixers' Game 1 win over Wizards

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3 observations after Harris sensational in Sixers' Game 1 win over Wizards originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The first postseason game at Wells Fargo Center since May 9, 2019 was not short on big performances from big-name players.

The Sixers have more of those marquee names than the Wizards, and they beat Washington 125-118 Sunday in Game 1 of their first-round series.

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.

Game 2 of the series will be Wednesday night in Philadelphia. 

Here are observations on Game 1:

Harris’ sensational half

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 decisive 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 period. That lineup let an early 10-point Sixers lead slip, 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 make. Westbrook scored on a similar play in the second period. 

“I didn’t like (the transition defense) at all in the first half," Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said. “The second half, it was great. The first half, I’m going to say 20 of their points came off of our mess-ups in transition — guys running back to their own man, guys not loading to the ball.

“This team over all the teams, they’re going to force you to load to the ball and then get back out to your guy. I didn’t think we did a very good job of it. The second half, I thought it was great. So we have a blueprint now to watch tomorrow and go over.”

With the Sixers firing blanks 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 seemingly had the wind knocked out of him in a collision with Raul Neto late in the second quarter. Curry, who was scoreless in the first half, returned for the start of the third and broke his personal scoring ice with a three-pointer off of a Simmons offensive rebound and subsequent assist. 

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It legitimately sounded as if 20,000-plus fans were in the building after Curry’s third three of the quarter. Wells Fargo Center was at a season-high 50 percent capacity, and the increase in fans was palpable. 

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. 

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Hill was the Sixers' best bench player, scoring 11 points in 18 minutes. 

“He’s going to be huge," Rivers said. “He was great (today). Defensively, he has a great voice. He settles the second group down. They had that one stretch where they were struggling a little bit, and I thought George kind of took them over. You could see it out on the floor. It’s great to be able to put him on different guys defensively. You’re not going to fool him. He’s going to be solid. So he’s great to have on the team.”

Everyone was peripheral to Harris on Sunday. All-Star or not, he’s a third Sixers star. If he’s anywhere close to as good as he was in the first half of Game 1, the Sixers will be a very tough out for any playoff opponent.

Embiid works through foul trouble 

Before Sunday’s game, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks referred to Embiid as a “generational type of center.” His team is fully aware of Embiid’s tremendous talent. 

Embiid’s first of what is sure 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.

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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 Rivers.

“It is frustrating," Embiid said, “but I’ve got to stay focused, got to stay ready. … I just had to make sure my mind didn’t focus too much on that, and just get ready whenever I was going to get back on the court.”

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, Embiid's 12-for-13 game from the free throw line is a bit ominous for Washington.

More than his skill, which anyone who watched the Sixers during the regular season has grown accustomed to, Embiid’s effort jumped out after halftime. On one play, Embiid blitzed Beal at least 30 feet away from the hoop, forced him to cough the ball up in tandem with Thybulle, drew a foul and hit the ground.

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Embiid made three consecutive jumpers in a 70-second stretch from 2:54 to 1:44 left in the fourth quarter and scored 21 second-half points. 

Reasonable game plan against Beal and Westbrook 

Simmons started on Beal and Danny Green defended Russell Westbrook. Once Green subbed out, Thybulle unsurprisingly took on the difficult Beal assignment.

While the Sixers hedged and blitzed many ball screens involving Beal, they trusted Simmons to handle him.

Beal did a decent chunk of his damage 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.

Beal is an elite scorer and Simmons isn’t going to guard him for every second of every game. He’ll defend him in important moments, however, and likely do that job quite well. 

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 misfired on every one of his six free throw attempts, including two with 43.9 seconds remaining.

Green’s defensive approach on Westbrook (16 points on 7-for-17 shooting, 15 assists) was sound. With few exceptions, a Westbrook mid-range jumper is a mini-victory for the Sixers. 

“Just stopping his transition," Green said. “Loading to the ball. Him and Brad, it’s not a one-person job. It’s a team effort to stop them. But for me, I try to keep in front of the ball, stay in front of the ball. I had a couple lapses where I knew it was my mistake. I let him get by me in transition for a couple easy ones in that first half.

“The second half I was taking on the challenge and making sure I (didn’t) let him get in the paint, because he’s very dangerous when he gets to the rim, and finding people when he’s in the paint. But Russ is going to do what he does, get his triple-doubles. But we’ve got to take away their other guys, as well. ... Their bench played well for them. That’s what kept them rolling and into the game so much.”