After winning the opening game of the series in explosive fashion, the Sixers return to the Wells Fargo Center to host the Wizards once more. Taking a 2-0 lead would obviously be a dream start to the teams’ playoff run and after the opener ended 125-118 following some foul trouble and a couple of offensive inefficiencies from the Sixers, they’ll be hoping that tonight’s game goes a lot more swimmingly. Here are the three biggest keys to ensuring that happens.
Avoiding foul trouble
The opening quarter was a strange one. Joel Embiid was public enemy #1 and received three very outlandish foul calls that limited to just 11 minutes in the first half. The MVP candidate made the Wizards pay though, posting up 30 points in as many minutes, with 21 of them coming in the second half. He ended with a +/- of 20 and had he played the entire game, the Sixers would’ve likely been able to nurse a larger lead.
With that said, it would hardly be surprising to see the Wizards try to up the ante when it comes to physicality. They actually get called for a league-leading 21.7 personal fouls per game as it is and if they’re able to find a way to agitate Joel Embiid, it may serve as their only hope to slowing down the Cameroonian. Expect plenty of chirping and a team that won’t be afraid to try and force the Sixers into a more intense style of basketball In a bid to capitalize on it at the other end of the court.
For the Sixers, keeping out of foul trouble will be huge. Not only would a situation like we saw in game one be costly, but we also know that Ben Simmons struggles from the free-throw line. If Embiid isn’t there to act as the engine of the offense late in the game and it’s down to Ben Simmons to convert from the charity stripe, it gives the Wizards a lifeline that they really shouldn’t have access too.
Keeping players rotated and out of foul trouble early will have to be a priority as there’s no doubting that the Wizards will be sniffing blood in the water after game one.
Sixers need to limit Bradley Beal
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Bradley Beal was a big problem in game one. Second to only Steph Curry in scoring this season, Beal entered the playoffs with a spring in his step. He ended the night with 33 points, 10 boards, 6 assists, and a steal. It was down to Matisse Thybulle to contain The veteran and slow him down to whatever extent he could and while that worked at times, the Wizards found plenty of success from range thanks to their high-tempo offense that demanded the Sixers to transition quickly – something they have struggled with at times this year.
Guarding Bradley Beal is a lot of pressure to put on a young player, but Thybulle did just enough to tame him while the Sixers went on a fourth quarter run to seal the deal. The best thing the Sixers can do is try to take away those secondary options like Davis Bertans, who remains a lethal threat from beyond the arc, and force Beal into one-on-one matchups. While he usually wins them, it’s all about damage limitation and trying to force Beal to go toe-to-toe with a young DPOY candidate with his perimeter options blanketed would be a great way to slow down their high-octane offense that ranked first in pace and third in scoring at the end of the regular season.
Let the rookie shine
The Sixers bench was led by George Hill in game one, but as the series progresses, the rotation needs to be afforded ample opportunities to shine. If there’s one player deserving of a boost, it’s rookie Tyrese Maxey. He only played in seven minutes, but drew plenty of praise from Doc Rivers after the matchup.
“He’s going to keep earning more, that would be my guess.” Rivers said when asked about the possibility of Maxey garnering more playing time “Every series is different, but getting downhill in this series is very important and he’s one of the guys that can do that.”
Maxey would very much be one of those two-way pieces who could help to neutralize the fast-paced Wizards offense, especially if the Sixers are able to jump out to an early lead.
The Sixers will tip off against the Wizards at 7PM EST.
Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire