PHILADELPHIA – There was a nervous energy at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday evening as the Philadelphia 76ers prepared to play Game 1 of their first away playoff series against the Toronto Raptors.
The Pacers have star power that should be eliminated by most other teams, but their Stars already had problems in the playoffs. Joel Embiid, who led the NBA in points per game during the regular season, has never gone through the second half of the playoffs. James Harden, who won the league’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2017-18, hasn’t passed in the conference finals since reaching the NBA Finals with Oklahoma City Saturday in 2012.
Did fans in the building expect this team to win the franchise’s first championship since 1983?
Can Harden and Embiid get together quickly enough, despite only putting together 21 regular-season games?
The 76ers defeated the Raptors, 131-111, to avoid losses that they have already caught against Toronto. They eliminated the Raptors. They made only one rebound in the first 44 minutes of the game. Game 1 offered hope.
But hopefully it has its limitations. If they are to prove that this group can succeed where past prescriptions failed, the 76ers should build on Saturday night’s performance. The pressure on Embiid and Harden did not end with the victory.
“It’s just a game,” Embiid said, repeatedly, during his post-game news conference.
Embiid had 19 points and 15 rebounds. Harden scored 22 points and had 14 assists. But the real star of the game for the 76ers was Tyrus Maxi, who scored 38 points, making 14 of his 21 shot attempts.
Late in the third quarter, Harden hit Maxi with the Raptors on the court and with both hands the ball was thrown to Maxi with a perfectly placed bounce pass that went three-quarters of a length across the court. Maxi caught it and scored in reverse order.
That game provided an example of a 21-year-old guard worth Philadelphia.
“He’s like a full player,” Harden said, adding to Max’s ability to take advantage of time before he and Embiid hit multiple defenders.
Maxi couldn’t smile as she last checked. He was standing on the bench on the bench and a scoreboard camera was set on him as the crowd repeated his name. After the game, though, don’t forget about her happiness.
“The only thing I’m going to miss is our winning,” said Maxi. “It’s all important at the moment. Now it’s in my back mirror.
The combination of joy and relief that happened with the group – which seemed to reduce the tension in Philadelphia’s performance building – has grown. But there is an intense awareness that winning Game 1 does not mean that you will win the series.
Harden knows what it’s like to lose a series after winning the first game. In fact, this has happened with him the past two seasons. Last year, his Nets expanded the series to seven games before winning Game 1 of a second-round series against Milwaukee. Two years ago, his Rockets won Game 1 of a second-round series against the Lakers before losing the next four games.
True or not, this post will be the start of a referendum on the Season Team that has been assembled in Philadelphia.
The Pacers replaced Ben Simmons, who was the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, with Harden back in February.
Immediately after the trade, the 76ers began hitting their opponents. They won the first game the Hornets won for them, defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves by 31 points. Harden scored 27, and while he was in the game, the 76ers outscored the Timberwolves.
Philadelphia’s hiccups, though, have been about since the Harden’s. In the first game between the teams after the trade, the Suns lost 29 points to the net. They lost to the Raptors twice in the last month of the season.
Simmons has yet to play for the Nets, but one could argue that the Nets are better prepared to make the playoff run than Philadelphia, despite being the seventh seed in the East, despite the high potential of Kerry Irving and Corey Thornton. From the
The hardware wasn’t particularly effective against the Raptors on Saturday. He made 6 of 17 shots and only 2 2-pointers out of 10. He made an impact in helping his teammates.
“I don’t think we really know what he can do,” Embiid said. “But he was comfortable tonight: He played right, got the guys, went to the line twice, even though they weren’t calling him all his fault for it. But he did look good on the offensive.
Coach Doc Rivers agreed that Hardin felt comfortable with the offense.
“You can sing. You can see it out there, “Rivers said. “He called himself the play.”
Rivers attributed that as part of his decision to simplifying the team’s playbook and focusing on a few players he knew they could run well.
Max’s help was also critical to their project. He sat on the podium in front of Harden on Saturday night and showed a naughty grin as Harden talked about his post-season experiences.
“I’ve been in the playoffs for 13 years,” Harden said.
Maxie called him an old man.
“Sorry,” said Maxie, as if he were a child who had been mistreated, before looking away and then smiling back at the 32-year-old.
“I just want to play good,” Harden said. “I personally want to make sure I’m doing the right thing, it’s important for our team to win. Tonight I feel that individually I had a good game, but this is one for you. Is the best team.
Get the 76ers they need for Game 1, but there is no guarantee the same formula will be enough as the playoffs progress – or even if the series moves to Game 2 on Monday.