The 2023 NBA Playoffs began on a Saturday afternoon in South Philadelphia, with Game 1 between the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers in the first round.
The 76ers got the job done and took home the win in a series in which they are heavily favorited. The final score was 121-101.
Here are the biggest storylines for Philadelphia from the win.
Joel Embiid’s Development Against Double Teams
When Joel Embiid’s career began, and throughout his first few seasons, he struggled a lot with double teams. Whether it was finding the open man, taking contact or drawing attention away from himself, Embiid often turned the ball over when double teamed.
Saturday’s playoff game was a clear sign of his growth against double teams. Before he would even get the ball, Brooklyn defenders were often leaving their man to help on Embiid.
Each time, he made the right read and made them pay for it. It led to a lot of open shots from deep for the 76ers, while Embiid still got his 26 points.
Embiid’s development in handling double teams, plus the spacing his teammates offered for him to do so, is a great sign of success for Philadelphia. The Nets may have held him below his regular season scoring average, but Embiid was as dominant as ever in Game 1 because of his basketball IQ.
Tobias Harris, Paul Reed, PJ Tucker Step Up
Come playoff time, every team needs some of their role players to step up a bit. For the 76ers, it was Tobias Harris, Paul Reed and PJ Tucker who did exactly that in Game 1.
Harris went for 21 points on 9-14 shooting. His scoring is huge for the 76ers, who can always use more players to balance out the offensive attack with Harden, Embiid and Maxey. As the playoffs move along, Harris’ shooting from deep and aggressiveness scoring the ball will continue to be an X-Factor.
Reed, meanwhile, hasn’t had a consistent role this season off the bench. His high-motor, physical game as the backup center was key for the playoff environment, and he fought multiple times to score in the paint. Reed ended up with 11 points and four rebounds off the bench.
Finally, Tucker proved why he’s a known playoff performer. His energy on the defensive end, work on the glass and shooting from deep was infectious for Philadelphia. When he’s on, they’re on, and Tucker had two three-pointers, five steals and five offensive rebounds on Saturday.
James Harden’s Aggresiveness Helps Unlock Offense
With the past week off, James Harden got a chance to get his legs back under him — he had been dealing with an Achillies issue for weeks.
Game 1 saw Harden’s offensive aggresiveness amplify on a bigger stage. He still got his 13 assists, but also had seven threes en route to 23 points.
More importantly, Harden looked aggressive as a scorer, making quicker movements than he sometimes does to get into the paint and create looks for himself and others.
Philadelphia has a lot of X-Factors, as previously mentioned with Harris and Tucker. But when Harden makes himself a true scoring threat and avoids playing a fully-passive playmaking role, the 76ers offense can look unstoppable.
Franchise Record for Three-Pointers in Playoff Game
Between Embiid being double-teamed nearly every posession, Harden letting it fly from deep and other players stepping up, Philadelphia notched 21 three-pointers, which is a new playoff record for them in a game.
Tyrese Maxey had three of the long-range buckets, while Georges Niang and De’Anthony Melton both had two three-pointers off the bench.
The 76ers led the regular season in three-point percentage, with seven different rotation players shooting at least 38% from three.
The Game 1 shooting was yet another good sign for the team’s playoff offense. When shooters like Harris, Maxey and Tucker are effectively spacing the floor, the Embiid-Harden pick and roll game is truly an offensive juggernaut.
Struggling to Stop Mikal Bridges, but Doesn’t Matter
The only Nets player the Sixers repeatedly couldn’t slow down was Mikal Bridges, who has broken out in Brooklyn as a first-option scorer.
Bridges went for 30 points on 12-18 shooting from the floor. In this game, it didn’t matter, as just three other Nets players reached double-figure points.
But in both the remaining games in this series and a potential Round 2 matchup with Boston, stopping wing scorers will be the key defensively. Bridges getting hot in another game this series could easily spark a Brooklyn win, especially on the road in Games 3 and 4.
Tucker, Harris and other 76ers wings will have to a better job defensively against Bridges, especially with more talented wings in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum likely waiting in the next round.
Featured image courtesy of Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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