The Brooklyn Nets were one of the teams that, early in the season, made you question if the Sixers had the ability to defend on the perimeter at an NBA playoff level. On Tuesday night, the Sixers played perhaps their best defensive game of the entire season to run the Nets out of the postseason.
In a microcosm of the game, the Nets failed to score in the first two minutes of any of first three quarters of the game. By halftime the Sixers had nearly doubled the Nets up and lead by 29 points. Surrendering just 31 points in a half to a team that had scored more than 122 points in multiple games this season showed that the Sixers had no intent of going back to Brooklyn for Game 6.
“I’m curious to see how we react” Said Nets Head Coach Kenny Atkinson, before the game, on his young team being down 3-1, a situation they haven’t been in. In fact, for many of the Nets young players, this series was the first time they had ever played the same team multiple consecutive times. In college and HS most tournaments are single elimination so a 7 game series is new territory.
“The layers seem like they are infinite, it’s a great experience for us” Atkinson on the learning experience of seeing different looks from the Sixers all series.
After the series closed out, Atkinson talked again about the challenge that the Sixers pose and called them a championship contender.
Nets HC Kenny Atkinson on the first round series and what the 76ers took away. pic.twitter.com/2JPtw9Ev1Z— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) April 24, 2019
Starters Introduction Video
Sixers starters pic.twitter.com/ubFKhNOcOe— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) April 24, 2019
If there was any doubt who the Sixers cornerstones were, or if Brett Brown trusted his superstars to carry them into the second round, it was erased in the opening moments of the game. The Sixers immediately ran the first handful of possessions through Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to take a quick 6-0 lead. That lead would be extended to 14-0 over what felt like an excruciating first 5 minutes for Brooklyn. The Sixers defense was not only stingy, but dominant to remove any semblance of hope for the Nets.
The blowout win meant that Joel Embiid, who dominated on both ends, was only required to play 20 minutes. In that span he scored 23 points to go along with 13 rebounds. As evidence of the team’s intent, Embiid took 18 shots in those 20minutes.
Prior to the game, Brett Brown talked about the focus required from his team to close the series. “Our ability to look through mist, not get distracted by noise.. is crucial”, said Brown about the mindset and noise around the series. He noted that this series seemed to have more noise than he could remember from a playoff in some time.
The Sixers have become somewhat of a heel figure in the NBA this season. Embracing their edge and physicality, the team seems to relish its reputation. This is a team, we should remember, whose play Ben Simmons called “Soft” earlier in the season. Albeit prior to the trade deadline, you have to wonder if those sentiments weighed into Elton Brand’s decision to bring on such players as Mike Scott, James Ennis and even Jonathan Simmons.
Speaking of heels and Mike Scott, Scott left the game in the second quarter with a left heel contusion and did not return.
Hail of Boos for Dudley
The crowd had completely different energy on Tuesday from just a week ago in game 1 when they seemed lifeless from the start. Jared Dudley was booed with a ferocity perhaps as loud as anything seen all season, during pre game introductions.
Jared Dudley caught some boos pic.twitter.com/Gk1Tc7zCmb— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) April 24, 2019
The crowd continued to boo Dudley lustily each time he touched the ball. He finished the game scoreless on just 3 shot attempts. The crowd likely impacted his focus and at times he seemed to be looking to get rid of the ball as soon as possible.
Monty Williams and the Brett Brown Coaching Tree
On Tuesday the Sixers announced that they have granted permission to Phoenix to speak to Monty Williams about their newly vacant head coaching position. Brown talked about Williams but also brought up St. Joes new head coach Billy Lange, Atlanta Hawks’ Lloyd Pierce and Connor Johnson, who recently completed his first year leading the Delaware Blue Coats.
Brett Brown talks about Monty Williams and others from his coaching tree. pic.twitter.com/Oxci25U6M5— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) April 23, 2019
Looking Ahead – Toronto
Meanwhile, the Toronto Raptors were treating the Orlando Magic in a similar fashion on Tuesday. The Raptors, like the Sixers, won 4 straight after losing game one to the young Magic. Tuesday night the Raptors jumped out to a huge early lead and finished the Magic off in 5 games 115-96.
Simmons was asked after the game about his mindset and continuing to play downhill against Toronto. He cited “preparation and practice” as focuses in preparing for round 2.
Most likely game 1 against Toronto will come Sunday afternoon April 28. Many Sixers fans (and reporters) are praying that the game does not conflict with Game of Thrones episode 3.