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Sixers' Tobias Harris picks up slack with Joel Embiid in foul trouble in Game 1 win against Wizards

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PHILADELPHIA — Tobias Harris saved the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday afternoon.

With foul trouble limiting MVP finalist Joel Embiid to 10 first-half minutes, Harris scored 28 of his career-playoff-high 37 points in the first half, helping the top-seeded Sixers to a 125-118 Game 1 playoff victory against the Washington Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center.

Harris’ previous postseason high was 29 in an April 18, 2019, road win against the Brooklyn Nets.

Since Washington utilizes a three-guard lineup, Doc Rivers and Harris took advantage of some mismatches on the 6-foot Ish Smith, 6-1 Raul Neto, 6-3 Bradley Beal and others for post-up opportunities that he converted. He finished 15 of 28 from the field.

Philadelphia 76ers' Tobias Harris, left, is grabbed by Washington Wizards' Rui Hachimura during the first half of Game 1.
Philadelphia 76ers' Tobias Harris, left, is grabbed by Washington Wizards' Rui Hachimura during the first half of Game 1.

“Tobias was huge,” Rivers said. “They do a lot of switching and our guys did a great job of finding where that switch was"

It was only the fourth time in 17 career playoff games that Harris scored 20 or more points and just the second time in his last 13.

Rivers, who also coached Harris with the Clippers, said he had "full faith" that Harris would become a playoff mainstay for the Sixers.

Harris and the Sixers host Game 2 on Wednesday night (7) before the best-of-seven series shifts to Washington for Games 3 (Saturday evening, 7) and 4 (Memorial Day, 7 p.m.).

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Despite having a week off since the Sixers’ regular-season finale – and nine days since the starters were on the court while the Wizards had a pair of play-in games – Rivers’ top-seeded team didn’t show signs of rust by hitting its first five shots.

“There’s not a lot I can do about it,” Rivers said beforehand. “We did a lot of live action – as much as we could without players getting hurt – and a lot of shooting, but, at the end of the day you can’t replace games. Going into this play-in tournament, a lot of the coaches were concerned that the teams that were playing in would have more basketball rhythm than the teams that are sitting around for a week.”

Embiid picked up two fouls in the first 5 1/2 minutes, forcing him to spend the rest of the quarter on the bench. He was assessed his third with 7 minutes, 7 seconds left in the second period and didn’t return until the third quarter.

Embiid, who averaged 30 points and hit 27 of 28 free throws in the Sixers’ three regular-season victories over the Wizards, finished with 30 points and went 12 for 13 from the line. The Sixers were plus-20 with Embiid on the floor.

Like everybody else, Embiid is a huge challenge for the Wizards, who start Alex Len at center and bring Robin Lopez and Daniel Gafford off the bench.

Wizards coach Scott Brooks, a former Sixers player, called Embiid “one of the generational centers. He’s a problem. … Fouling him is a mistake because he’s such a great free-throw shooter.”

Rivers went with a 10-man rotation, giving George Hill, Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz and Dwight Howard regular bench minutes in the first half and substituting rookie Tyrese Maxey in place of the ineffective Korkmaz (0 for 3 on 3-pointers) in the second half.

If not for Harris’ scoring, the reserves’ struggles could have turned out to be more costly.

Tom Moore: tmoore@couriertimes.com; @TomMoorePhilly

This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: NBA playoffs: Tobias Harris leads 76ers past Wizards