Washington Wizards: Biggest mismatch in playoff series vs. Philadelphia 76ers may be on the sideline

Washington Wizards. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Washington Wizards. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

What is the biggest mismatch in the Washington Wizards‘ series against the Philadelphia 76ers? Is it Joel Embiid vs. Washington’s committee of centers? Maybe Tobias Harris vs. the three-guard lineup? If you’re trying to identify the biggest mismatch in the series, you might be looking in the wrong place. You won’t see it on the court. Instead, you’ll see it on the sidelines because the biggest mismatch in this series is the coaching mismatch between Scott Brooks and Doc Rivers.

It didn’t take long for this mismatch to get exposed in game one. Give Scott Brooks credit. The Wizards were ready to bother Embiid in the first half and got him into some early foul trouble. So there was a game plan. But with Embiid on the bench, 76es coach Doc Rivers opted to run the offense through Tobias Harris, who was hot and dealing with much smaller defenders. As Harris exploded on his way to 28 first-half points against an outmatched Wizards group, Brooks made no adjustments. As a result, Harris continued to capitalize on the mismatches and kept the 76ers in the game despite Embiid only playing 10 minutes in the first half.

In game one, the coaching mismatch between the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers was on full display.

The coaching mismatch was even more apparent after the break. Despite a fairly underwhelming first half from the East’s top seed, the 76ers came out as a whole new team in the second half. After 61 total first-half points, the 76ers dropped 38 points on the Wizards in the third quarter alone. Joel Embiid went from foul-troubled to unbothered. It was obvious the 76ers made halftime adjustments, and they were working. The 76ers, who trailed by one at halftime, took a six-point lead into the final frame.

The fourth quarter further highlighted the mismatch on the sidelines. With the game close midway through the fourth, the Wizards were looking to close the gap and pull off the upset. How? Isolation, hero ball that lacked creativity. For the best defense in the East, it wasn’t hard to stop. The 76ers forced the Wizards into five fourth-quarter turnovers, all coming from Westbrook and Beal.

When the Wizards needed buckets to catch the 76ers, the best Brooks could come up with was “give the ball to the best players and get out of the way.” Unfortunately, that’s no different from what we’ve seen all season. It’s tired, and against Philadelphia, it’s not going to work, especially when the 76ers, who already did a good job stopping the late-game isolation heroics, have now had multiple days to gameplan against it.

For weeks, the Wizards have been flying through a gauntlet of games without even getting the opportunity to practice along the way. Cooking up new schemes wasn’t really possible. Now, the Wizards have some time between games. It should be enough time for Brooks to identify and implement strategic changes that need to be made. So expect to see some different looks in game two. Maybe an Isaac Bonga, Anthony Gill, or Chandler Hutchison appearance to help combat the 76ers’ length. Maybe more assertive double-teams on Embiid, which Rui Hachimura called “half-ass” in game one.

But maybe nothing. Given Brooks’ track record while in Washington, it’s no foregone conclusion that he’ll make drastic changes that will keep the 76ers on their toes. And even if he does, it’s unlikely that for whatever counter Brooks cooks up, Rivers won’t have a tweak of his own to trump it. Do any of us trust Brooks enough to respond to those on the fly? Has he given us any reason to believe he can, let alone will?

Maybe I’m being too hard on Brooks. The Wizards are an obvious underdog in this series but were still very much in it down the stretch in game one. Throughout game one, though, Rivers made adjustments that helped the 76ers secure the victory. Brooks did not. I would love for Brooks to prove me wrong and come out in game two with some fresh new looks that will confuse Philadelphia. I’m just not convinced he will.

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