The first two games of their series against the Brooklyn Nets was the perfect encapsulation of the highs and lows of the Philadelphia 76ers offence.
Very little seemed to work in Game 1. Jimmy Butler had a solid 36-point night, but the rest of the team struggled to find any momentum. Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris combined to take 16 shots, Joel Embiid was limited by knee soreness and, as a team, they went 3-25 from three in a game they lost by nine.
Game 2 was an incredible contrast. Their 145 points blew the Nets away and broke a 52-year-old franchise record for points in a playoff game . They shot 56.1 percent from the field - including 70.8 percent in their explosive 51-point third quarter - and looked as offensively dominant as their talent would suggest.
There were a ton of questions surrounding this team entering the playoffs and, through two games, their inconsistency has provided very few answers. They are fully capable of having nights like Game 2 when their offence builds into an unstoppable force, and are seemingly just as capable of having games where their offence never gets started.
In some ways, this Jekyll and Hyde offence can be excused. Including the first two games of this series, the star-studded group of Simmons, JJ Redick, Butler, Harris and Embiid has appeared in just a dozen games together. As much as is seems their talent should be able to overcome their lack of familiarity with one another, it isn't easy to develop chemistry on the fly in the high stress of the playoffs.
For better or worse, this inexperience can lead to a disjointed offence. Every system ebbs and flows, but it feels like the Sixers revert to a somewhat clunky version of my turn-your turn more than most. Though not ideal, this can still be effective. Game 2 was the perfect example of when the entire team gets rolling and my turn-your turn works incredibly well.
Boban Marjanovic set a new playoff career-high with 16 points and led the team with 14 shot attempts. Four of the Sixers starters took 12 shots and Simmons took ten while recording a triple-double. That balance was nearly the opposite of Game 1 when Butler had to take control of the offence and attempted 22 shots, his most since becoming a Sixer.
This load sharing has become Philadelphia's hallmark of a successful offence. In the dozen games the starting five has played together, a player has taken at least 20 shots three times. They are just 1-2 in those games. In the nine games in which no player took 20 shots, they are 8-1.
That isn't an indictment of Butler for Game 1. Nor of Embiid who took the 20 shots in the previous two instances. It's just a clear sign that balance is their key to offensive success. There are going to be games where the offence can't find a rhythm and one star has to take over, but that has become a sign that it is going to be a rough night overall.
Within that offensive balance, the Sixers need to find consistency in their perimeter shooting to fully reach their potential. In Game 1, that shooting was absent. They shot just 12 percent from deep, the third-lowest rate in NBA playoff history for a team who took at least 25 attempts .
Those cold shooting games are going to happen, but the problem for the Sixers is that they don't have the shooting depth to assure those nights are rare. Redick, Harris and Mike Scott are all solid perimeter shooters but, for their careers, all have meaningfully lower three-point percentages in the playoffs than they do in the regular season.
Butler is also capable of hitting threes but is shooting just 33.8 percent from deep since becoming a Sixer. When you add in the spacing issues playing Simmons and Embiid together create, cold shooting nights make things incredibly difficult for their offence. They don't need 20 threes in a game to be effective - as their 9-23 from three in Game 2 proved - they just need enough spacing for their interior stars to dominate.
That interior power will always be Philadelphia's bread and butter. That is why both in this series and potentially looking forward, the health of Embiid is priority number one. Though his numbers have looked solid in this series, Embiid has clearly been limited. He was a game-time decision before Game 1 and just hasn't been quite the dominant force we've become used to seeing from the All-NBA performer.
Even if he's limited in this series, the other stars might be enough to propel Philadelphia to round two; but for the Sixers to reach their ceiling, they need Embiid as close to 100 percent as possible. Even if Simmons, Harris and Butler are playing like All-Stars, Embiid is their defining advantage.
If the momentum they built in Game 2 is enough to propel the Sixers to the second round, they are still likely to face the Raptors. Brooklyn is an incredibly hard-working team but they just don't have the defensive stars to hurt Philadelphia for their inconsistencies; Toronto does. Game 2 showed just how great the 76ers can be when they get going, but they still have many questions to answer if they want to reach their true potential and compete for an Eastern Conference title.