Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris remembers leaving the arena on the opening night of the 2020-21 season in a narrow win over the Washington Wizards having shot just 3-of-13 for 10 points — a disappointing start to a promising campaign.
“I was looking at old highlights and I remember going home from the game and I didn’t have my best shooting night, but I said to myself in this offense… I’m going to get the looks I need to get,” Harris said. “I know who I was at that time and I know if I continued to get those shots over and over again, I would make them.”
Fast-forward five months and Harris was the man responsible for dismantling the Wizards in Game 1 of the Sixers’ Eastern Conference first-round series in a 125-118 lead, scoring a postseason career-high 37 points including 28 of them in the first half.
“Just being able to go out there and find a balance of being aggressive and doing what I can to make the right plays, winning plays, and getting in a good rhythm, it was a good game,” Harris said. “We’ve had time off since the end of the season and to come out today and gather our rhythm… tonight we got a real taste of how focused we need to be night in and night out of every playoff game we play. That was good for our whole team to experience.
“For me, I know who I am, I know my game, I know my ability. Maybe it’s been criticized in the past given different situations.
“I know one thing I bring to this team night in and night out and that’s someone who plays to win, that’s what I hang my hat on… that gives me clarity to have the focus to do whatever’s necessary to help the team win.”
His first-half explosion was especially needed considering Sixers star center Joel Embiid’s time on the floor was limited after running into early foul trouble. It allowed the Wizards to hang around for most of the day, but it’s something that Harris was used to considering Embiid’s injury absences this season.
“I looked at it kind of like how we looked at the whole year when Joel went down with an injury — what I needed to do to help our team win games.,” Harris said. “It was the same mentality, we have to get this thing rolling and the opportunity was there for me to get rolling, get to my spots, and get the shots I wanted to get.”
Leading by example on the court with his performance and his mentality, Harris was the player representation on the floor to help the Sixers navigate through a difficult first game against a No. 8 seeded Wizards team that many foresee the Sixers having little trouble with.
But Harris knows it won’t be easy.
“Yesterday I was watching all the NBA games, and I was kind of surprised. I said, ‘Man, all these games are really close.’ It wasn’t like a real big spread in any of them,” Harris said. “I think this whole playoffs, game in and game out, you’re gonna see dogfights from all around the league.
“I mean, Washington, they’ve been one of the hottest teams after the All-Star break in the whole NBA, so for us, we know the power that they have and the guys that can make shots on the team. That just adds to our focus as a group and knowing how locked in we need to be for this whole series, and that’s only going to help us into where we’re trying to go.”
With Game 2 tipping off on Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center, Harris is already drilling the notion into everyone’s mind that there can’t be any sort of let-up.
“The biggest thing is that we have enough mental focus to really come out and defend and try to get as many stops as we could to fuel our offense,” he said. “We know that’s the blueprint to our success. In Game 2, we need to bring even more of that.”