It wasn’t always pretty, but the 76ers took a 1-0 lead in their opening-round Eastern Conference playoff series Sunday with a 125-118 victory over the Washington Wizards.
There are many obvious reasons for the win, starting with Tobias Harris’ playoff career-high 37-points or Joel Embiid’s 30 points and plus-20 rating in just under 30 minutes. In addition, Ben Simmons had playoff career highs of 15 rebounds and 15 assists.
The entire key to this series, however, is how the Wizards’ prized backcourt of Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook performs. Statistically, the two had good games, but their miscues were a major reason the Wizards couldn’t steal Game 1.
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The stars turning it over
Beal andWestbrook both had double-doubles in the loss to the Sixers. Beal totaled 33 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook added 16 points and 14 assists. The two combined to shoot 50% (20-for-40).
While that all looks good, it was negated by their miscues. The two star guards combined to commit 12 turnovers, six each. To put that in perspective, the entire Sixers team had 11.
The underdog Wizards need almost everything clicking to have a chance to be competitive in this series. They can’t have their top two players turning it over more than the Sixers team.
“Our turnovers really kicked our butt,” Beal said. “I had six of them. We are not going to win games like that. We had 15 total and have to take care of the ball a lot better and get back and play defense.”
Ben Simmons was the primary defender on Beal, and Danny Green on Westbrook. According to NBA.com stats, Simmons had 7 minutes and 25 seconds of matchup time against Beal. The Wizards guard scored two points over that stretch, shooting 1-for-6 from the field, including 0-for-4 from three-point range. He had three assists, but committed three of his turnovers with Simmons on him.
Simmons credited Embiid for helping defend Beal on pick-and-roll plays.
“When he comes off pick-and-roll, he has to see bodies; he can’t have it easy,” Simmons said. “I think Jo did a good job being able to smother him in terms of putting his hands up, making it tough on him.”
Green had 7:38 of matchup minutes guarding Westbrook, who shot 3-for-9, including 0-for-1 from three, totaling three assists but also four turnovers against the Sixers’ veteran swingman.
Green said that stopping Westbrook in transition is key to attempting to slow him. And just as Embiid helped Simmons with Beal, Green said that Westbrook and Beal are too talented to stop one-on-one all the time.
“[Westbrook] and Brad, it’s not a one-person job — it is a team effort to stop him,” Green said.
Westbrook is so difficult to defend because he is always on the move and has great quickness in taking the ball to the basket.
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“For me, I try to keep in front of the ball,” Green said. “I had a couple of lapses where I know it was my mistake. I let him get by me in transition for a couple of easy ones in the first half.”
Green said the second half was a different story.
In the second half, Westbrook was limited to six points on 2-for-7 shooting, committing four turnovers. That wasn’t all against Green, but the entire team did a good job on Westbrook over the final two quarters.
“The second half, I took on the challenge and made sure I didn’t let him get to the paint because he is very dangerous when he gets to the rim and finding people when he gets to the paint,” Green said.
Game 2 will be Wednesday, so both teams have time to make adjustments, but for the Wizards, it all starts with cutting down the turnovers.
“When you are turning the ball over, they are pushing and they got guys who can flat-out shoot across the board,” Beal said. “So, respectfully so, we have to be better and take care of the ball.”
David Murphy writes that even after Tobias Harris had a rough opening game six months ago against the Wizards, he knew good things would come for him and the Sixers.
Keith Pompey writes about the major impact Doc Rivers has had in his first season coaching the Sixers.
Damichael Cole has all the entertaining social media reaction to the Sixers-Wizards opener.
Murphy and Karla Ovalle detail five key statistics to watch in the Sixers’ title chase.
Tobias’ top scoring postseason games
Sunday was the fifth time in Harris’ career that he has scored 20 or more points in a playoff game.
In scoring 37, the 28-year-old Harris shot 15-for-29, including 2-for-5 from three-point range, hitting all five of his free throws.
Here are the other four playoff games in which he scored 20 or more points.
April, 24, 2016: Harris had 23 points, but his Detroit Pistons lost, 100-98, to the Cleveland Cavaliers and were eliminated in the first round, four games to none. Kyrie Irving had 31 points and LeBron James added 22 for the Cavs.
April 18, 2019: With 29 points, Harris gave the Sixers a 2-1 edge over Brooklyn in the opening-round series. Most notable was that Harris hit all six of his three-pointers.
April 20, 2019: In the next game of the Brooklyn series, Harris scored 24 points in a 112-108 win at Brooklyn that gave the Sixers a 3-1 lead in a series they would win in five games.
Aug. 23, 2020: The Sixers were swept in the first round last year by Boston and in the final game, Harris scored 20 points in a 110-106 loss.
Wednesday: Game 2, Washington at Sixers, 7 p.m., Wells Fargo Center, NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBA TV
Saturday: Game 3, Sixers at Washington, 7 p.m., Capital One Arena, NBC Sports Philadelphia, ESPN
Monday, May 31: Game 4, Sixers at Washington, 7 p.m., Capital One Arena, NBC Sports Philadelphia, TNT
Wednesday, June 2: *Game 5, Washington at Sixers, TBD, Wells Fargo Center, TBD
Friday, June 4: *Game 6, Sixers at Washington, TBD, Capital One Arena, TBD
Sunday, June 6: *Game 7, Washington at Sixers, TBD, Wells Fargo Center, TBD
Passing the rock
Question: What did you think of Sixers’ performance [Sunday] and how far can they go? — Dan Tuna on Facebook
Answer: Thanks for the question, Dan. I think the Sixers looked like a team whose starters hadn’t played in eight days. They were rusty, the early foul trouble by Embiid didn’t help, and they allowed the Wizards to shoot 55.7% from the field, including 40% from three-point range. Yet, they did what they had to do to win.
I thought the Wizards’ best chance to steal a game was this one because they had been competing in the play-in tournament and the Sixers were idle. Yet the Sixers won despite all the imperfections. I said before the series that I liked the Sixers in five games, and nothing I saw changes my opinion.