They were in trouble, and then they weren’t, and Tobias Harris was right there in the middle of it, skipping and yelling and gesturing to a crowd that had been waiting nearly two hours to explode. Here it was, the climactic moment of an anticlimactic game, the Sixers seizing control of a 125-118 playoff-opening win with a stunning third-quarter run. And here was Harris, flexing his arms in a midcourt roar, as if to remind us how far they’d all come.

Six months to the day that his 37 points lifted the Sixers to victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Harris had arrived at a crossroads. Dec. 23 had had been a dismal night, the latest in a calendar year’s worth of disappointments for the veteran forward. Harris had entered the regular-season opener hoping it would be the first step toward reestablishing himself as the player who’d convinced the Sixers to hand him a max contract two summers earlier. After a lackluster 2019-20 campaign that saw him post some of the worst efficiency numbers of his career, the smooth-shooting 28-year-old had a new coach, a more complementary set of teammates, and a new offense that would play to his strengths as a scorer. Yet as he arrived home after a 3-for-13 performance in a season-opening win over the Wizards, Harris once again found himself ruing too many shots that did not fall.

“I went home, and I said to myself, ‘I didn’t have my best shooting night, but in this offense, I’m gonna get the looks I need to get night in and night out,’ ” Harris said on Sunday. “I knew who I was, and if I was going to continue to get those shots over and over again, I was going to make most of them.’”

» READ MORE: Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid combine for 67 points to propel Sixers to 125-118 Game 1 victory over Washington

He turned out to be right. Midway through the third quarter on Sunday afternoon, you looked down at the Wells Fargo Center court and saw one set of footprints in the sand. They belonged to Harris, who’d spent most of the game’s first 32 minutes carrying his team. He did it in the first quarter, when the rest of the team looked stung by the gravity of the moment as Joel Embiid sat on the bench with two early fouls. He did it in the second, when Embiid earned a third whistle and again withdrew from the game. And, most consequentially, he did it in the third, drilling a three-pointer and setting Seth Curry up for another during a 16-4 run that seized control of the game.

By the time it was over and the Sixers had officially survived, Harris had become the first Sixers player since Allen Iverson to score 37 points in a playoff game. Before Iverson did it 15 times, Hersey Hawkins had done it, and before him Charles Barkley, and Moses Malone, and Andrew Toney, and Julius Erving. The magnitude of the performance lies in those sorts of names. Harris didn’t just lead the Sixers to victory -- he added himself to the historical record alongside some of the franchise’s most recognizable faces.

“Tobias, I had full faith in,” said Sixers coach Doc Rivers, who coached Harris during his breakout seasons with the Clippers. “Just from the body of work, coaching him with the Clippers, knowing him and watching him, knowing what we were trying to do with him in training camp, I just really believed it would take over at some point. And it has.”

Is it a concern that the Sixers needed Harris to give them all that and more? That depends on your perspective. You would have liked to see more than six points from the franchise point guard. Instead, you got nine shot attempts and 0-for-6 from the foul line. You would have liked to see Ben Simmons be the guy with the ball in his hands as time is winding down. Instead, you got the center driving the lane, and bouncing his dribble off his knee. You would have liked to see guys like Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz make the most of their opportunity. Instead, you got Tyrese Maxey making what should be a definitive case for taking their minutes.

» READ MORE: Ben Simmons joins Wilt Chamberlain as only Sixers with at least 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a playoff game

At the same time, this was the first game of the playoffs, and it looked as it often does. Embiid’s absence alone should warrant a mulligan. By halftime, the big man had been on the court for just over 10 minutes, the result of three unfortunate fouls that were decidedly incidental.

In the playoffs, the number one goal is to survive, and the Sixers moved themselves closer to that goal. They got some encouraging play from Maxey, the rookie, and George Hill, the veteran. From Matisse Thybulle, they got the sort of defense that could pay serious dividends down the road.

“It’s funny, just playoff games in general, you make all these plans, and then a guy gets in foul trouble and everything goes out the window and you have to coach on the fly,” Rivers said. “I thought, overall, our guys reacted to it very well.”

Nobody reacted better than Harris. He entered Sunday in the midst of a renaissance season, having emerged as the third dependable scorer the Sixers have long known they’ve needed. In Game 1, the Sixers needed a shooter. This time, Harris gave them a maker.