The Philadelphia 76ers have landed the first punch, taking Game 1 against the Brooklyn Nets. In what ended as a comfortable affair, the Sixers established themselves as the dominant team and will look to continue this momentum throughout the rest of this season and beyond.
A familiar slow start for the Sixers
While all ended well enough, the start of the game was not as reassuring as the finish. Despite putting up a solid 30 points in the first quarter, it certainly wasn’t pretty. The Sixers shot just 35.7% from the field, missing 18 of their 28 shots, including a 3/12 performance in the paint.
It wasn’t overly surprising to see the sluggish start, as it’s been a constant of the team all season. “Too much rest” has been an issue for the Sixers on occasion, and today was no exception. The difference? The offensive rebounding efforts of the team led by the playoff version of one PJ Tucker.
James Harden, in particular, struggled in the first half, scoring five points on less than 29% shooting. In the second quarter, though, Harden would shake off the rust that plagued him.
James Harden catches fire
Just when the Sixers needed him, James Harden caught the hot hand as the team looked to add some separation between themselves and the Nets. He would begin the quarter racking up assists with the bench unit before taking the scoring load for the team.
While he was clearly limited on drives to start the game, Harden’s legs returned under him as time went on.
It was quite the odd game for Harden compared to what many would expect. He did not attempt a single free throw, which seemed a side-effect of a generally tight whistle, but instead of allowing himself to become frustrated, Harden instead adapted. Changing his focus from the paint to the perimeter, Harden would hit four of his five three-point attempts in the second quarter.
His playmaking and shot selection opened up the floor for the entire team. Joel Embiid even echoed that statement after the game when asked about Harden.
For the Sixers and their fans, this is certainly great to see, as James Harden appears to be far more himself than he was during his infamous playoff stretch with the team last season. Harden, by all appearances, is healthy, happy, and motivated. That’s great news for the Sixers and terrible news for their opponents.
Second half adjustments
Harden’s second quarter was key to this victory, there is no doubt, but perhaps even more crucial were the second-half adjustments made by the team. In particular, the approach to defending Mikal Bridges.
After a 23-point third quarter, budding star Mikal Bridges was held to just seven points in the entire second half. After the game, Sixers’ head coach Doc Rivers spoke on the adjustment the team made.
That schematic pivot worked like a wonder, frustrating Bridges offensively and allowing the Sixers to pull away and even put the game out of reach with three minutes left in the fourth.
The Sixers will ride this momentum into Game 2 on Monday night. If they can handle their business then as well as they did Saturday afternoon, it might be time to invest in some brooms.