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Tobias Harris has done just what Sixers need in their 2-0 start vs. Nets

Playoff Tobi is making a major impact.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Tobias Harris has done every little thing the Sixers have needed him to through the first two games of their first-round series against the Nets. And despite the Sixers’ poor first half in Game 2, they hold a 2-0 lead. Thanks not just to Joel Embiid dominance or Tyrese Maxey scoring explosions, but the balanced play of others like Harris as well.

Through two games, Harris has averaged 20.5 points on 60.7/66.7/100 shooting splits, eight rebounds and three assists per game. That’s awfully good production for a fourth option.

In Game 2, when the Sixers really needed the extra help to get back on track after a rough first half, Harris added nine points on 4-of-4 shooting in the third quarter and finished the night with 20 points and 12 rebounds, including five offensive boards as he remained physical and persistent in fighting for second chances.

Overall, Harris has been taking his threes (he’s attempted three per game so far), using quick post-ups and drives to beat mismatches when they present themselves, running out in transition, working for put-backs, and scoring more from the dunker spot. Without the team asking him to create much, he’s picked his spots effectively, worked hard off the ball, and found a variety of ways to contribute offensively.

“He’s been great. Just solid,” Doc Rivers said when discussing Harris’s play after Game 2. “He had 20 points again. I think we ran one play for him. That duck-in to get a penalty free throw for him. Other than that, he’s letting it come to him. He’s getting it in through our spacing and he’s just playing the right way.”

Going into this year’s playoffs, Harris’s focus was to remain aggressive.

“Just taking advantage of opportunities when they’re presented to me,” Harris said after Game 1 when asked about getting into the right mindset for the postseason. “Be aggressive, you know, be able to be sharp out there all season long. You know, it flows with how we play and offensively, the opportunities out there, but it’s just staying focused, staying ready, and being ready for the moment.

“Tonight, I was able to get a lot of great looks. The ball was flying around and I was able to just get more opportunities,” Harris added. “I put that work in to be able to stay consistent, stay efficient throughout the whole season, no matter how many shots I get one game or the next game. It’s just being ready for the moment. And tonight, you know, in the playoffs it’s when you’re gonna have different matchups that teams are presenting out there, you know, double teams, different schemes. For me it’s just staying in the moment and being aggressive with all opportunities that come my way.”

While Harris’s aggressiveness and decisiveness has fluctuated at times during his Sixers tenure, he’s certainly had the right mindset lately and to open this series against Brooklyn.

Harris has been working hard defensively, too. Against a Nets team that has so many wings but not ones who necessarily have insane speed or handles as a primary option (although blossoming star Mikal Bridges has the ability to hit some tough pull-up jumpers and runners against tight defense), Harris has enough size, strength and lateral quickness of his own to compete.

He’s just working hard, from rebounding to closing out on shooters. Plus, he played a key role at the top of the zone defense that the Sixers turned to in Game 2. Harris was active and engaged, and the steal and breakaway dunk he had early in the third quarter definitely felt like a play that helped ignite the Sixers in the third quarter — a period they won 24-14.

That defensive work has stood out to the coaching staff.

“He’s really fighting defensively,” Rivers said after Game 2. “That keeps getting unnoticed. His defense in these two games has been unbelievable.”

Harris elevating his defense in the playoffs isn't new either. We saw this last year as well. Against the Raptors, Harris did a great job of staying physical, guarding post-ups, and competing against the Raptors' hefty forwards. He had some particularly standout defensive performances against Pascal Siakam.

It looks like Playoff Tobi can be quite the rock-solid defender.

“Defense is something all year that I’ve been taking real pride in and just being able to make an impact on the game,” Harris said after the Game 2 victory. “... Going into the series and going into the season, I did tell myself early on to make a huge impact on this group, you gotta be one of the best defenders on the team to guard other players and guard other guards, and just help our team be more versatile on that end. That’s something I take a lot of pride in and just growing with it game by game.”

The Sixers can’t have more performances like their first-half showing against the Nets in Game 2 if they want a long playoff run, but for now it’s clear they’re the superior team and shouldn’t have a long series to get to the second round. Their potential to advance past that point — to maybe, finally break their long pattern of second-round exits — is something we’ll discuss in detail when the time comes.

But there’s no doubt this Sixers team is better than previous years. And Harris, if he keeps finding so many ways to contribute at both ends of the floor in his smaller role, is a valuable part of that.

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