Sixers Acutely Aware of Opportunity in Front of Them
It wasn’t until Tobias Harris’ fifth NBA season that he got a taste of the playoffs – albeit a brief one.
As an eight seed, the Detroit Pistons were swept by LeBron James and eventual NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. After missing out on the postseason the next two years, Harris finally got his next opportunity when he was traded to the Sixers.
Now, Harris will play in the postseason for the third-straight season as the Sixers begin their first-round series against the Washington Wizards Sunday.
But the difference between Harris’ previous runs and this one, is that his team is the one seed and is expected to go on a deep run. Harris and the Sixers are embracing those expectations.
It sure beats the alternative.
“It’s something that you really can’t take for granted,” Harris said Tuesday. “I was talking to my older brother and it’s funny because a couple of years ago, you were on the teams that when the season ended, your season’s over. You just go in and pretty much plan a vacation or get ready for your offseason.
“This is why you play basketball for these opportunities, for these moments to be able to reach the highest peak of the game and to win at the highest level. So, that’s something I don’t take for granted.”
Unlike Harris, Danny Green has been somewhat spoiled with postseason success. Spending his formative years in San Antonio, he was able to learn under Gregg Popovich and Hall of Famer Tim Duncan. He also captured the first of his three rings.
We all know about the second one -- for Sixers fans’ sake, we can just gloss over that. Green was able to win another title last season in Los Angeles. Going into this postseason, he’s looking to accomplish an odd feat: Win his third-straight title with his third different team.
During the Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons era, the Sixers haven’t had any player on the roster that boasts Green’s resume. While Green has been the elder statesman of the starting unit, the bench features a pair of veterans – Dwight Howard and George Hill – with a bunch of youngsters.
The Sixers earned the one seed thanks in part to the efforts of Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, and Tyrese Maxey. That quartet has played a combined 17 playoff games. Game 1 on Sunday will be Green’s 146th.
Still, Green has faith in the team’s young players. Green is responsible for a lot of the good vibes you’ve seen out of the team this year. While he understands the seriousness of the task at hand, Green has said before that as his career has gone on, he’s learned that having fun is important to him.
He hopes the young guys will balance knowing the stakes with making sure they’re staying loose.
“I think a lot of (the young players) are fearless, so there’s not much advice that they need,” Green said Wednesday. “Just tell them to go out and hoop. Play their game, embrace the moment, enjoy it. … When Doc gives them an opportunity to come in, just do what you do. Do what you do best and hoop. Have fun, play fearless like you’ve been playing all season and just up that intensity. And every possession matters. These kids, these young guys are pretty good at that and not too shaky. They have very good confidence and they’re fearless, so I’m not worried about them.”
The acquisition of Green was almost an afterthought this offseason. His arrival was simply a conduit to get off Al Horford’s contract. If he played well, it was a bonus. Not only has Green contributed, but the veteran wing has been nearly indispensable.
But Green’s importance could create a difficult decision or two for the Sixers this offseason. Green will become a free agent and the Sixers have a player in Thybulle that may be ready for a starting role.
Simmons remembers the disappointment last season when knee surgery made him a spectator as the Sixers were swept in the first round by the Celtics. He knows the impact Green and Seth Curry have made in the starting lineup. He’s acknowledged Doc Rivers leading a cultural shift.
The Sixers may be set up well with their trio of Embiid, Harris and Simmons locked up for the near future, but Simmons knows the 2020-21 Sixers only have one shot at this.
“I don’t take it for granted because last year I got hurt and wasn’t able to play in the playoffs,” Simmons said Thursday. “This team, we have to take it as this could be the last opportunity we have to play together. That’s how we’ve got to look at every game, go out there and play like it’s our last.”