Instant Observations: Sixers Begin Postseason With Dominant Win Over Nets in Game 1

Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) reacts after making a three point basket against the Brooklyn Nets during the second quarter of game one of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers could not have asked for a better start to their postseason. They blew out the Brooklyn Nets 121-101 in Game 1 on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

Joel Embiid totaled 26 points, five rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks. James Harden recorded 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting from 3-point range to go with four rebounds and 13 assists.

The Nets were led by Mikal Bridges’ 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting. Ben Simmons was the lone player listed on the injury report for Brooklyn. He was out with a back nerve impingement.

Game 2 of the series is at 7:30 p.m. on Monday at the Wells Fargo Center. Here are some instant observations from the win in Game 1:

– Everyone knew what the Nets’ game plan for defending Embiid was going to be: Send constant double teams to force the ball out of his hand. They succeeded in that plan early on, effectively preventing Embiid from being able to get anything going. Embiid did make solid reads out of the double teams, something that is going to be tested throughout this series.

In order for the big fella to produce as a scorer, he is going to have to make quick moves with the ball. He made a few buckets in the first half from attacking instantly off the catch. That is how he is going to have to do his damage if the Nets continue to double team him nearly every time he touches the ball.

The Sixers’ best path to freeing up Embiid from some of those double teams will be to knock down 3-pointers at a high level. They punished the Nets by swinging the ball around to find the man they doubled off of. Brooklyn sold out on defending Embiid, and the Sixers made them pay. The Sixers set a new team record for 3-pointers in a playoff game, shooting 21-of-43 from long distance. The key to their success in this game came from crisp ball movement to effectively find the open man. Embiid’s ability to successfully pass out of double teams was huge in kickstarting that.

– Things did not look good for Harden in the game’s first few minutes. He aggressively drove the basket, but could not buy a shot from around the rim. However, he was nearly automatic from beyond the arc. He turned things up a notch in the middle of the second quarter, beginning by hitting a 3-pointer after putting Spencer Dinwiddie on ice.

The floodgates opened for Harden over the final two minutes of the first half. He knocked down a trio of his patented step-back 3-pointers during that stretch. One of those shots was a pull-up from well beyond the 3-point line that rocked the Wells Fargo Center crowd.

Harden also spent much of the game picking apart the Nets defense. His playmaking abilities were on full display. With the Nets blitzing Embiid with constant double teams, Harden had more space to work. He took advantage, dissecting Brooklyn’s defense. It was a good start to the postseason for Harden.

– Bridges put on a clinic against the Sixers in the first half, scoring an efficient 23 points. The Sixers primarily utilize drop coverage against pick-and-rolls, and that continued into the first half. Bridges destroyed them in the mid-range until head coach Doc Rivers finally adjusted the Sixers’ defense. Embiid, beginning late in the first half, stepped up and started defending more around the free-throw line. The combination of a more aggressive defensive strategy and sending some doubles towards Bridges were enough to slow him down in the second half.

– Playoff P.J. Tucker is a real thing. He impacted the game right from the opening tip, making one hustle play after another. The Sixers got off to a bit of a slow start, shooting just 10-of-28 from the field in the first quarter. However, Tucker’s energy and extra effort on the glass gave them some extra possessions. He was a machine on the offensive glass, pulling down five offensive rebounds against the Nets. His energy level also showed up defensively in the form of five steals.

Tucker also showed more of a willingness to shoot from beyond the arc than he has for most of this season. He attempted five shots from long distance, knocking down two of them.

A lot of Sixers fans did not show a lot of love towards Tucker throughout the regular season. His performance in the regular season was often underappreciated. However, it is games like this that represent why the Sixers signed him last offseason.

– The Nets are not the more talented team in this series. In order for them to overcome that disadvantage, they will have to win the hustle plays and take care of the basketball. In Game 1, the Sixers dominated in both those categories. They won the offensive rebounding battle 14-5 and the turnover battle 20-9. The 20 Nets turnovers they forced led to 31 points. The result was a blowout win for the Sixers despite the Nets shooting 55.7% from the field.

Tobias Harris had one of his better games over the last few weeks. He was efficient from 3-point range, connecting on all three of his attempts. He also played with physicality, grabbing two tough offensive rebounds. Defensively there were a few rough moments as the Sixers used him at times to defend Bridges in the first half. However, overall he put together an efficient offensive showing. He finished the game with 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting to go with four rebounds and four assists.

– For years the Sixers’ Achilles heel would be the minutes with Embiid off the court. That has not been as much of a problem for them over the last few months. The Sixers finished a plus-2 in the non-Embiid minutes in the first half, and things only got better from there.

Paul Reed excelled as the team’s backup center in Game 1. The majority of his production came in the second half. He made the highlight reel play of the day early in the fourth quarter. After grabbing an offensive rebound, he dribbled in between his legs before making an up-and-under layup.

Reed also showcased his defensive versatility. On one play in the first half, he got switched onto Seth Curry. He followed him around the court before forcing a shot clock violation. Later on in that stretch, he deflected a pass from Joe Harris that resulted in a De’Anthony Melton 3-pointer on the fast break. Reed finished with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting to go with four rebounds and two steals.

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