Though Joel Embiid raised his efficiency numbers to career-highs this season, that's not the main reason why he is a finalist for the MVP trophy. As good as Embiid was individually, he had a lot more help from his teammates. That led the Philadelphia 76ers to secure the No. 1 seed in the East for the first time in 20 years, and Embiid has received proper credit for leading the charge.
The Sixers front office, led by the newly-installed president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, built a deeper and more balanced roster around Embiid and his All-Star running mate Ben Simmons. So, in a seven-game playoff series like the Wizards are currently locked in with the Sixers, it can be a matter of pick your poison.
On Sunday in Game 1, the Wizards overloaded their defense to stop Embiid. They made further efforts to get him into foul trouble.
Both strategies worked to varying degrees, but while they were employed, other Sixers players made them pay for the extra attention turned in Embiid's direction. Most notably, Tobias Harris went off.
Though Harris was in Philly last year, he, too, has thrived on a deeper roster and under the leadership of head coach Doc Rivers. He posted the most efficient season of his career and carried that over on Sunday with a playoff career-high 37 points, including 28 in the first half.
"They’ve got so many good players on that team, it’s hard," Davis Bertans said. "If we put all of our attention on Tobias Harris, then Embiid is going to go off. Then, you could ask me the same question about Embiid."
Bertans spent some time guarding Harris, though his primary defender was Rui Hachimura. The second-year forward did not address the media after the game, but his head coach said his performance was a good baseline for improvement. It was Hachimura's first career playoff game.
"We knew going into the series that he’s right there for being an All-Star player. The first half, he just made every shot. We weren’t giving him every shot, but he was making the tough ones," Brooks said.
"Then, he got open in transition and was able to attack. He’s a tough guard. Rui’s going to be better next game, but it wasn’t just all Rui. We switched off on him."
Harris shot 15-for-29 (51.7%) from the field and 2-for-5 from three. He added six rebounds, two steals and two assists.
Harris proved a tough matchup for the Wizards simply because of his size. At 6-foot-8 and a fluid athlete, the Wizards do not have ideal options to defend him. Hachimura would be the most obvious choice, but he struggled.
Going small did not work out at all. Harris just shot over guys like Raul Neto. Ish Smith did block him once in the midrange, but it was an anomaly in a game where Harris mostly had his way on offense.
The Wizards will have to make some adjustments from here. Several pointed out limiting transition threes for Harris, that those were the easy ones they would like to cut out. They also want to eliminate his driving lanes.
"I think we miscommunicated on a couple of his pick-and-rolls with the switches and coverages we had planned for him," Bradley Beal said. "I think he was a bit too comfortable. He got off and he was getting downhill. Every time I turned, he was getting downhill and getting layups, midrange jumpers."
Perhaps the Wizards could try Chandler Hutchison or Anthony Gill or maybe even Garrison Matthews. None of them appeared in Game 1 as Brooks cut down his rotation for the playoffs. Harris is a tough guard, but figuring him out could be a big key to this series given how things went the first go-around.