The Washington Wizards lost to the Philadelphia 76ers 125-118 in Game 1 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs on Sunday afternoon. Here are five observations from what went down...
Sixers hold serve
No matter the path they took to get there, when an 8-seed plays a 1-seed, certain disadvantages are likely to surface over the course of a series. It took three quarters, but the Sixers were able to pull away from the Wizards because of their vaunted defense and impressive depth.
The Wizards played well, got Joel Embiid into early foul trouble and kept it close until late, but the top-seeded Sixers were too much in Game 1, as they escaped with a seven-point victory. The series will remain in Philly for Game 2, set for Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The Wizards were outscored 64-56 in the second half, with the Sixers going 7-for-15 from three. Meanwhile, Washington went cold late, even Bradley Beal, who had 17 points in the third quarter.
There was a key moment with 37.1 seconds left when an errant pass by Daniel Gafford led to Russell Westbrook stepping on the sideline and turning the ball over. An official review upheld the call, as the Wizards gave the ball away down five points. Westbrook, by the way, struggled by shooting just 7-for-17 despite posting a stat line of 16 points, 15 assists and five rebounds. He had six turnovers.
Whether the Wizards playing the Sixers close is an indication of how this series will go or not, it certainly seems like a lost opportunity to have the Sixers create separation so late after what was mostly a back-and-forth game.
The No. 1 objective for the Wizards in this series is do whatever they can to slow Embiid, an MVP candidate who presents a unique matchup problem due to his size and well-rounded game. He can beat defenses in so many different ways: in the paint, the midrange, the perimeter and the free-throw line.
The strategy for the Wizards early on appears to be a healthy dose of Alex Len, double-teams, and the hope of getting him in foul trouble. They even tried some triple-teams, like on one memorable play in the first half where Embiid scored an and-1 basket with three guys all over him.
The foul trouble strategy, though, was effective early. They got Embiid his third foul with 7:07 left in the first half. Big man fouls were a story in this game in general: Thanks to Embiid, the Wizards saw all three of their centers (Len, Daniel Gafford and Robin Lopez) pick up two fouls apiece by the 10:12 mark in the second quarter.
Embiid, though, stuck with it and had 30 points and six rebounds. He shot 9-for-16 from the field and 12-for-13 at the free-throw line.
Beal looked better
Beal had a big game statistically, with 33 points to go along with a playoff career-high 10 rebounds, but perhaps more notable was just how he looked running around. Beal had played the previous three games while dealing with a left hamstring strain and appears to have benefitted from the rare two days off before starting this series.
It was easy to tell Beal was more rested by how shifty he was in the halfcourt offense. He was gliding around defenders, using his impeccable footwork and tight handle to navigate double-teams and taller defenders. The Sixers have two special wing defenders in Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle, but Beal made him look average on some plays, which isn't easy to do.
If Beal can continue to improve physically, the Wizards' chances of doing damage in the playoffs will only increase.
Harris was a problem
While much of the focus was on Embiid, the guy who hurt the Wizards the most was Tobias Harris. The Sixers wing erupted for 28 points in the first half, just one off his playoff career high. He would end up setting a new mark with 37 points for the game.
The Wizards tried a few different looks with Rui Hachimura spending time on Harris and also guys like Raul Neto and Davis Bertans. Harris for the most part had no problem shooting over or around them. He's a versatile scorer and took whatever the Wizards gave him.
If Harris' scoring is going to be a big factor in this series, that should turn attention towards Hachimura, who has been a valuable defensive piece this season when the Wizards have been at their best. He's got the size and skills to limit Harris, but it won't be easy to do.
Bertans showed up early
In the second half of Thursday's play-in game against the Pacers, Bertans finally got some shots to fall. He knocked down two threes after beginning the postseason 0-for-10. The hope was that those buckets would help him get going, that he could build some confidence going into the actual playoffs.
That may have happened, as Bertans came out swinging in Game 1 with 11 points on three threes in the first half. He finished the game with 14 points, to key a 38-26 bench scoring advantage for the Wizards. Bertans went 4-for-8 from three and also added a big fast-break dunk assisted by Russell Westbrook.
That's a good sign for the Wizards, who could use someone like Bertans to step up. That's what they paid him to do: change games with his shooting. It could also be an encouraging development in the bigger picture, as Bertans entered this game shooting a hideous 29.8 percent from three in 23 career playoff games.