Sixers take 1-0 series lead against the Washington Wizards

Audrey Becker, Staff writer

Philadelphia 76ers Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid led Philadelphia to a 125-118 victory Sunday over the Washington Wizards in their first playoff game of the season.

Heading into Game 1, the frequently-injured Sixers had the luxury of a fully healthy lineup, and the starting five of Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid (who posted a 27-5 record when they all took the court together) hoped to continue their winning ways in the playoffs. The Wizards, however, were missing rookie forward Deni Avdija (ankle) and up-and-coming center Thomas Bryant (ACL), so the load would fall largely on guards Bradley Beal and Russell Westrbook’s shoulders.

In the past, both Beal and Westbrook have had individual success against the Sixers, Beal dropping 60 points in their first faceoff (a loss) in January and Westbrook continually putting up his signature triple doubles over the years. In addition, there is no love lost between Embiid and Westbrook, who have had several scuffles in the past, making this matchup a highly anticipated one; 10,000 eager fans showed up to the Wells Fargo Center that afternoon, nearly tripling the amount of fans that had been allowed to attend games in the last few weeks of the regular season. As soon as Westbrook touched the ball, “[&*$#] you, Westbrook!” chants broke out amongst Philly fans.

From the opening tip, almost everything seemed to be going the Sixers’ way on both ends of the court. In an effort led by Tobias Harris, who would eventually continue to score a playoff career high 37 points, Philadelphia started the game 5/5 from the field. When Simmons was on the floor, the defense was stellar, allowing the Sixers to take an early lead. However, as Coach Doc Rivers subbed his all-bench lineup in, the defense weakened and the lead began to slip, largely at the hands of Beal. The first quarter ended in a one-point Washington lead, and the Sixers sought to prioritize defense in the upcoming quarters: Harris was providing steady offense, as was Embiid, but the all star center had picked up two early fouls, and Philadelphia needed to lock in on the defensive side of the ball.

The second quarter unfolded similarly to the first: Tobias Harris went off, consistently getting defensive mismatches and scoring with ease, while the perimeter defense needed solidifying. Davis Bertans, “the Latvian Laser,” drained three three-pointers and Beal continued to get his share of the offense. To counter this, Coach Rivers put defensive monsters Simmons and Matisse Thybulle on the floor together. The results were almost immediate, the two forcing a total of 12 turnovers from Beal and Westbrook alone. To put that into perspective, the entire Sixers team had 11 turnovers when the final buzzer sounded.

“Our turnovers really kicked our butt,” Beal said in a postgame interview, via ESPN. “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.”

Additionally, Simmons, who was recently announced as a Defensive Player of the Year finalist, had a steal, a block, and a playoff career high 15 rebounds and 15 assists, all while holding Beal to a single field goal when the two matched up. Thybulle, despite scoring zero points, put up two steals and two blocks.

In the second half, Harris’ offense would slow down slightly, only adding nine points after putting up an impressive 28 in the first. Fortunately, Embiid and Curry were there to pick up the slack. Embiid would finish the night with 30 points, getting to the basket at will, with none of Washington’s centers being able to mount a serious defensive challenge, and Curry would find himself in rhythm for three timely three pointers that would give the Sixers enough momentum to close out the game. Despite the Wizards loss, Beal would finish the game with 33 points, and Westbrook with 16 points and 14 assists.

“They did a pretty good job,” said Rivers in his postgame press conference, via, “I mean, [Westbrook’s] terrific. He’s just a tough cover every night. We forced six turnovers, which is big for us, but he’s good, man. He’s Westbrook. We knew that coming in and the other guy, his name is Bradley Beal, and we knew that coming in so we’re going to guard him, make it as tough as possible on them, and yet we know they still may have success.” 

The two teams will be back at the Wells Fargo center to face off on Wednesday evening,  as the Sixers look to extend their series lead before playing games 3 and 4 on the road in Washington.

“I think this whole playoff series, game in and game out, you’re gonna see dogfights all around the league,” said Tobias Harris in a postgame press conference, per ESPN. “Washington, they’ve been one of the hottest teams after the All-Star break in the whole NBA. For us, we know the power that they have and the guys that can make shots on the team so that just adds to our focus as a group, and knowing how locked in we need to be for this whole series.”