The Sixers (7-1) visited the Brooklyn Nets (4-4) on the second night of a back-to-back. Fresh off a nail-biting victory against the Wizards in which they survived a 60-point outing from Bradley Beal, the Sixers were looking to continue their best start since the 2000-01 season. The Nets were looking to build on their 34-point dismantling of the Utah Jazz and lift their heads above the .500 mark for the first time since January 1st. The Sixers, lacking focus throughout, surrendered 35 points off 20 turnovers, and succumbed to an opponent for the second time this season. 

Before we get to the action, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Nets were missing Kevin Durant (health and safety protocol), Kyrie Irving (personal reasons), Spencer Dinwiddie (partially torn right ACL), Reggie Perry (left groin soreness), Tyler Johnson (healthy and safety protocol), and Nicolas Claxton (right knee tendinopathy). Brooklyn started Caris LeVert, Bruce Brown, Taurean Prince, Jeff Green, and Jarrett Allen.

The Sixers were without the services of Seth Curry (left ankle soreness), Terrance Ferguson (personal reasons), Furkan Korkmaz, and Mike Scott. Shake Milton started in Curry’s place.

First Half

The Brooklyn Nets were donning their sky blue tie dye retro jerseys in this game. My verdict is that the color scheme is a bit much, but the general concept is very cool. Dial back the dosage of blue, and you have a nice jersey to rock at your next frat party or wherever people wear jerseys these days.

I have said this before, and I will say it again. Someone needs to give Marv Albert coffee at about 6 PM. To put it simply, my goodness. The passion is not what it once was.

Pedialyte, anyone?

There were heavy symptoms of hangover from Wednesday’s victory against the Wizards. The Sixers came out very lethargic and slow. Shots were not falling and they were not accumulating stops on the defensive end. The Nets were swinging the ball and converting looks off ball movement. Brooklyn found themselves on a 15-5 run to open the game. Doc Rivers resorted to his bench to switch up the juju early. He substituted Dakota Mathias for Ben Simmons. Mathias, as many of you know, has largely received his burn during garbage time up to this point in the season.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were the beneficiaries of some extended rest on their first substitution rotation. The logic behind that may have had something to do with neither of the Nets’ stars were available and it being the second leg of a back-to-back. Rivers gave Dwight Howard, Matisse Thybulle, Dakota Mathias, Shake Milton, and Tyrese Maxey some extended run in the first half. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But, the group lacked floor movement and ball movement. The pace slowed, the play became very sloppy, and the Nets seized control of the game.

Embiid And Simmons Fail To Set The Tone

Brooklyn was empowered to dictate the game. They made the Sixers rush even with Embiid and Simmons on the floor. While the Nets’ roster was thin, the Sixers’ two stars needed to step up and restore order. Even in the context of a back-to-back, this game was ultimately very favorable.

Much of the Sixers’ stagnancy on the offensive end of the floor stemmed from shot selection and focus. Embiid settled for a number of jump shots when matchups favored him securing touches deep in the post. Ben Simmons was aggressive in getting to the rim. But, he wasn’t forceful in his scoring attempts. Save for one authoritative burst and dunk late in the second quarter, he left a lot of shots hanging in the balance at the rim, and a number of them failed to redeem points.

“We can’t allow either our offense or our defense to dictate the whole game.”

The Sixers ultimately trailed by 14 points headed into halftime, with much work to be done. As much of a sleeper as the first half was for the Sixers, a nice cold bucket of ice water might’ve been enough to wake them up. The disappointing fact of the first half was that it could’ve easily been salvaged if the Sixers locked in after the first timeout. But, they allowed themselves to snowball into a significant hole and gave the Nets confidence.

After the game, Danny Green offered a diagnosis: “The start of the game dictated how it was going to go for us. We can’t allow either our offense or our defense to dictate the whole game. We get a couple of shots that don’t fall for us, and then it kind of carries over to we’re not playing our best defensively because we’re not communicating. Get a couple bad plays defensively, and we let it linger and next thing you know we’re getting killed with bad plays offensively. So, it’s kind of a domino effect.”

Second Half

The Sixers showed signs of life with more aggressive scoring attempts. Simmons was hunting the rim and looking to get downhill. Embiid was scoring in his usual dominant ways. Turnovers, however, remained an issue. The Sixers committed four more turns. The Nets pounced on the additional opportunities. Brooklyn pushed the lead as high as 18 points midway through the third period. Rivers once again turned to a mixture of bench pieces to inject some new blood into the game.

The combination of Tyrese Maxey and Dwight Howard gave the Sixers some fuel in the waning stages of the third stanza. Maxey continues to impress with his fearless attitude. He’s not afraid of missing shots. He’s willing to get creative if defenses are taking away normal looks. Howard’s name has held more weight than his actual play has lately. He fouled out in 15 minutes of action. He did, however, provide some productive minutes late in the third frame with a couple of scores and some irritation on the defensive end that threw the Nets off ever so slightly. 

Even though they were only down ten points heading into the third frame, the Sixers simply were not focused enough to come back and regain control. The Nets were able to maintain their separation and put the game to bed with a 122-109 victory.

“When you show up on the road, you don’t have focus, and you’re not ready to play basketball, you deserve to lose.”

In the end, the Sixers, simply put, did not come to play in this game. Of his team’s effort, Doc Rivers said, “Extremely winnable game. Doesn’t matter where you’re playing. When you show up on the road, you don’t have focus, and you’re not ready to play basketball, you deserve to lose a game. That’s what I told them. I said, ‘we deserved to lose, so we did’,”. 

While Doc Rivers would not pardon his team’s performance with the fact that it was their third game in four days, that is a consideration that is worth mentioning in the context of this loss. No matter what you want to say, this team’s success on a night-to-night basis hinges on the tones set by Embiid and Simmons. If they come out and play sloppily on the defensive end, the rest of the team will as well. If they’re committing turnovers, settling when they have matchup advantages, and are missing bread-and-butter shots, their teammates will let their guards down, too.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Practice

It is worth noting that all three Sixers players made available for comments after the loss mentioned, in different ways, that the team has had very little time to practice together. Every team is facing that some constraint. However, that thrice echoed sentiment underscores an important understanding. In this unprecedented season, teams struggling early on should be graded on a curve. By the same token, those teams starting hot exhibit some randomness (in their own unique ways) that should normalize as the season goes on. 

After the game, Coach Rivers said that rest was a big pillar of preparation for his team’s matinee against the visiting Denver Nuggets on *Saturday. With that rest, the Sixers (7-2) will be without a life preserver in a sea of criticism if they come out flat again. Tip-off is set for 3 PM, EST. The game will be televised on NBA TV.

*Seth Curry Registers Positive COVID-19 Test

After the game, it was reported that Seth Curry tested positive for the coronavirus. The Sixers were notified during the game. Curry was present with the team on the bench until he was notified of the results. He has since begun quarantining separately from the team. The Sixers, as of now, are quarantining in New York while contact tracing is being conducted. While no word has been officially given, there is logically some doubt as to the viability of the Sixers hosting a game less than 48 hours from now. This story is still developing.