Before their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series with the 76ers, Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks talked glowingly about Sixers forward Tobias Harris.
Brooks wondered before the series began why Harris wasn’t chosen to be an All-Star.
His opinion wasn’t altered after Harris scored a playoff career-high 37 points in Sunday’s opening 125-118 home win over the Wizards.
Game two will be 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center.
As if the Wizards didn’t have enough problems defending Joel Embiid, who scored 30 points in less than 30 minutes while getting into early foul trouble, a great deal of the film session after Sunday’s game centered on how to deal with Harris.
The only consolation was that, after getting torched for 28 first-half points by Harris, the Wizards held him to nine points over the final two quarters.
“I think our defense on Tobias was obviously much better than in the first half,” Brooks said after Monday’s practice. “I thought the first half we gave him a lot of comfort shots, a lot of comfort space. We didn’t challenge his dribble. We didn’t challenge his space. By the time we got to the second half we did a better job.”
The 6-foot-8 Harris still left Brooks shaking his head with the numerous ways in which he can score.
“He’s a professional scorer. Man, that guy, he scores all over the floor, too,” Brook said, “He posts up smaller players. He takes bigger players off the dribble. He’s a pick and roll player, a transition player. He gets to the free throw line.”
Seven of Harris’ 15 made field goals were from two-feet or less, indicating he was having great success, taking it to the basket.
Wizards second-year forward Rui Hachimura, who became the first Japanese player to appear in an NBA playoff game, opened the contest guarding Harris, and it was a humbling experience.
“They were running a lot of stuff. I kept getting screened and stuff,” Hachimura said. “I just got to avoid keep getting screened, and that is the key with guarding him.”
The 6-foot-8, 230-pound Hachimura said fighting though screens set by the likes of centers Embiid and Dwight Howard can be a daunting task.
“Those guys set great screens, and I just have to fight though them,” said Hachimura, who had 12 points and five rebounds.
Not all the scores were via screens. When isolated, Harris is dangerous on a turnaround jumper, which Hachimura had trouble defending.
According to NBA matchup stats, Hachimura was on Harris for 6 minutes, 55 seconds. In that time Harris scored 13 points, hitting 4-of-6, including 1-of-2 threes and all four foul shots.
The Wizards, from Brooks to the players, have suggested that the Sixers were the more physical team.
“They were hitting us first, and we were kind of taking it,” Hachimura said. “We just got to be more physical next game.”
Being more physical and playing with toughness comes in several ways.
“I think we can play with a little bit more toughness. Not that we didn’t play with toughness the entire game, but there were segments of the game where I would say toughness was not really the individuals but some of our game-scheme toughness,” Brooks said, “We have to be able to execute by being in the right spot. I think that is playing with toughness
“By challenging certain personnel tendencies, I think that is playing with toughness. I don’t know if we had that enough. But, that all said, we still had a chance to make it a one possession game under a minute.”
Of course, the Sixers feel they could also play better, although it’s hard to see Harris being able to duplicate his Game 1 performance.