The story of Tobias Harris’ Game 1 masterpiece began on a dark December night six months ago

They were in trouble, and then they weren’t, and Tobias Harris was right there in the middle, jumping, screaming and waving at a crowd that had been waiting for nearly two hours to explode. It was here, the climax of an anticlimactic game, with the Sixers taking control of a 125-118 playoff opener with a superb run in the third quarter. And here is Harris, flexing his arms in a midfield roar, as if to remind us how far they’ve all come.

Six months to the day that his 37 points secured the Sixers victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Harris had come to a crossroads. December 23 had been a dismal night, the last in a calendar year of disappointments for the veteran forward. Harris had entered the opener of the regular season hoping it would be the first step in re-establishing himself as the player who had convinced the Sixers to give him a maximum contract two summers earlier. After a lackluster 2019-20 campaign that saw him display some of the worst efficiency figures of his career, the 28-year-old with the fluid shot had a new coach, a more complementary set of teammates and a new offense that would play for his strengths as a goalscorer. Yet as he made his way home from a 3-on-13 performance in a season-opener win over the Wizards, Harris once again found himself ruining too many shots that didn’t fall.

“I came home and was like, ‘I haven’t had my best night of filming, but in this attack I’m going to have the looks I need to get in and out at night,’ ‘ Harris said on Sunday. . “I knew who I was, and if I was going to keep getting those hits over and over again, I was going to do most of them.”

READ MORE: Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid combine for 67 points to propel Sixers to 125-118 victory in Game 1 over Washington

He turned out to be right. In the middle of the third quarter Sunday afternoon, you looked at Wells Fargo Center court and saw a series of footprints in the sand. They belonged to Harris, who had spent most of the game’s opening 32 minutes carrying his team. He did so in the first quarter, when the rest of the team looked stung by the gravity of the moment as Joel Embiid sat on the bench with two early fouls. He did so in the second, when Embiid won a third whistle and again withdrew from the match. And, more consequentially, he did so in the third, drilling a three-runner and setting Seth Curry for another in a 16-4 run that took control of the game.

By the time it was over and the Sixers had officially survived, Harris had become the first Sixers player since Allen Iverson to score 37 points in a playoff game. Before Iverson did it 15 times, Hersey Hawkins had done it, and before him Charles Barkley, Moses Malone, Andrew Toney and Julius Erving. The breadth of performance lies in these kinds of names. Harris didn’t just lead the Sixers to victory – he added to the all-time record alongside some of the franchise’s most recognizable faces.

“Tobias, I had complete confidence,” said Sixers coach Doc Rivers, who coached Harris during his breakout seasons with the Clippers. “Just because of the work that was done, coaching him with the Clippers, knowing him and watching him, knowing what we were trying to do with him at training camp, I really believed that would take over at some point. And that’s the case.

Is it worrying that the Sixers need Harris to give them all of this and more? It depends on your point of view. You would have liked to see more than six points from the franchise leader. Instead, you had nine shot attempts and 0 for 6 from the foul line. You would have loved to see Ben Simmons be the guy with the ball in his hands as time goes by. Instead, you have the center lead the way and bounce his dribble off his knee. You would have loved to see guys like Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz make the most of their opportunity. Instead, Tyrese Maxey did what should be a definitive argument for taking his minutes.

READ MORE: Ben Simmons joins Wilt Chamberlain as only Sixers with at least 15 rebounds and 15 assists in playoff game

At the same time, it was the first game of the playoffs, and it looked like it often is. The mere absence of Embiid should justify a mulligan. At halftime, the big man had been on the pitch for just over 10 minutes, the result of three unfortunate fouls that were decidedly fortuitous.

In the playoffs, the number one goal is to survive, and the Sixers have come one step closer to that goal. They got encouraging play from rookie Maxey and veteran George Hill. From Matisse Thybulle, they got the kind of defense that could pay serious dividends on the road.

“It’s funny, just playoff games in general, you make all these shots and then some guy gets in trouble and everything comes out the window and you have to practice on the fly,” Rivers said. “I thought, overall, our guys reacted really well.”

No one reacted better than Harris. He entered Sunday in the middle of a rebirth season, having become the reliable third goalscorer the Sixers have long known they need. In Game 1, the Sixers needed a shooter. This time Harris gave them a maker.

About Douglas Torres

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