By: Kylan Watson
The Philadelphia 76ers entered the 2023 NBA Playoffs the healthiest they’ve been in the Embiid era. Their health was put to the test today as they faced the Brooklyn Nets in game one of their first-round matchup. A team that really has nothing to lose and everything to gain in this series. It is up to the Sixers to show that they are the dominant team and they showed it tonight as they made it rain from the three-point range, making 21/40 three-pointers (a new franchise playoff record) and flooding the Nets right out of Philly beating them 121-101.
The Sixers showed some rust as the starters have not played meaningful basketball in six-days, and it showed during the first few minutes of the first quarter they started one-for-six from the field but were still able to get a lead over Brooklyn thanks to their advantage on the offensive boards. That was mostly the hustle of forward PJ Tucker (Six-points, seven-rebounds, and made two/four three-pointers), the guy that most fans wanted coming off the bench because he just was not meeting the expectations of his multi-year contract. However, within the first few minutes of this game Tucker had five of his seven rebounds on the offensive end and that created more shot opportunities for the Sixers that would not have happened without him. This will most likely be a four to five game series and if Tucker can continue to show his hustle, toughness, and three-point ability he will be worth all the money the Sixers are paying for the next three-years. James Harden was the main beneficiary of Tucker’s hustle. He held his own personal three-point parade on 3601 South Broad Street in the second quarter. He made five/seven three-pointers in the second quarter and scored 23-points, had 13-assists, and hit seven/12 three-pointers tonight. Harden is another one who benefitted from the rest and looked like his old self tonight, if he can continue to have the touch from beyond the arc like he showed all season this will not only be a short series, Philly will be able to go far in the postseason and compete with the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks for a spot in the NBA Finals.
On Harden’s performance tonight, “He looked amazing. And that’s great to see. He is the best playmaker in the league by far. I don’t want him to fall in love with just that,” said Sixers center Joel Embiid.
Despite the three-point barrage the Brooklyn Nets continued to fight in this game. Mikal Bridges led them in the contest, he scored 23 of his 30-points in the first-half. Bridges made Philly pay for daring to give him any space to operate. He used his size advantage to rise up over the smaller defenders. When Philly would take his shot away, he would attack the paint and get them in early foul trouble. Doc Rivers put Tobias Harris on him in the second-half and that made the difference in this game. Harris’ size and length made Bridges take more difficult shots and he only scored two-points in the second-half and none of his teammates picked up the scoring load. The Nets are already overmatched in this series, but this will be a sweep if the Nets do not get more scoring from somebody not named Mikal Bridges. They were able to cut the Sixers lead to five-points and Philly was able to increase their lead thanks to their defensive aggressiveness led by Harris.
This was a staple game on both sides of the ball for Harris. Not only did he put Bridges in jail in the second half he also had it working on the offensive side too. This is a great sign for Philly an aggressive Tobias Harris means great things for Philly. He attacked the basket tonight and scored 21-points and made all his three-point opportunities tonight he made three/three buckets from beyond the arc. He also was the defensive anchor tonight for the Sixers because of the job he did on Bridges. If he can get back to early season Tobias who was a two-way menace the Sixers will be a problem for every team they face in the postseason. Harris (21-points), Harden (23-points), and Embiid (26-points) combined for 70 of Philly’s 121-points in the contest they get that scoring every night that should scare any potential opponent in the playoffs.
On the X-factor tonight, “PJ was great…I thought our energy guys played a big part in our game. Those guys had a huge imprint on why we won tonight,” said Sixers Head Coach Doc Rivers.
The Sixers will now prepare for game two on Monday night and they will need to keep the defensive pressure on the Brooklyn Nets. They must stay attached to their man and forced Brooklyn to take more difficult shots and limit them to one possession like they did tonight. Additionally, on the offensive side they need to keep the ball moving to maximize their shooting opportunities. This is a tough team to beat when the ball is moving, and they can find the best shot in each possession. If the Sixers can continue to implement these things, they can win game two and be able to in this series in four games. That will allow them to get a few days off to prepare for a second-round matchup with the Boston Celtics or Atlanta Hawks.