Sixers-Nets

The Philadelphia 76ers (1-0) hosted the Brooklyn Nets (0-1) on Friday night. It was Philly’s first home game of the season. The Sixers were looking to jump out a 2-0 start for the third consecutive season. The Nets were looking to register their first victory of the regular season. Philadelphia’s offense crumbled down the stretch as the Nets closed the game on a 16-1 run to send the Sixers home short of a win.

Before we get to what I saw, allow me to set the scene.

Contextual Notes

The Nets were without Kyrie Irving (not with team).

Steve Nash started James Harden, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, and Nic Claxton.

The Sixers were without Shake, who is recovering from a sprained right ankle. Grant Riller, who is recovering from a torn left meniscus, was unavailable. Ben Simmons did not play due to personal reasons. 

Doc Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.

First Half

The Sixers were particularly interested in three-point shots to open the game. In the first six minutes of play, the Sixers connected on four of five three-point attempts. More importantly, they were spreading the wealth. Green hit a pair, and Curry and Harris each hit one. Three-point makes count all the same regardless of who supplies them. But for the sake of making life easier for your superstar big man, getting the gold from a variety of sources stresses your defense. For the purposes of spacing around Embiid, making any defense feel as though they have to worry about multiple shooters is paramount.

Philadelphia created a ton of transition offense with activity in the passing lanes. Harden is well known for leveraging his gravity as a three-level scorer to set up screening bigs as they roll to the rim. The Sixers did an excellent job of staying aware of that tendency and dedicated extra attention to high passes around the rim. A number of those defensive plays were successful, as the loose balls propelled Philly into the open court.

Andre Drummond has looked mostly outstanding as a minimum contract signee. He’ll have the occasional possession in which he gets caught trying to do too much as a playmaker and runs squarely into a turnover. But, his defensive instincts have been a breath of fresh air. Whereas Dwight Howard would pick up three fouls in short order, Drummond has legitimately protected the rim throughout preseason and the first two games of the season. Whether it’s intimidating smaller finishers enough to turn them around before they even attempt a shot or shooing away dunks and layups from unperturbed bigs, Drummond provides something that the Sixers have never had behind Embiid — someone they can trust. 

Seth Curry has been automatic from all over the floor ever since last season’s playoffs. Perhaps it’s his demeanor. Maybe it’s that his shots almost never touch the rim. But, he makes it look preposterously easy to be a high-efficiency shooter from everywhere on the floor. When you consider how much off-ball movement Curry uses — and how much he has to fight through defenses pulling on his uniform as he navigates screens — to scrape together inches of space to get shots off, it’s infinitely more impressive. I suppose it’s not surprising given his bloodline. But, he’s a true marvel of a basketball player — even if he’s not the more popular Curry brother.

Joel Embiid motioned to the bench for Andre Drummond to replace him late in the second quarter and appeared bothered by his right knee as he departed for the locker room before the end of the half. Perhaps it’s just maintenance, but it’s the same knee that suffered the torn meniscus in last season’s playoffs. Embiid never had surgery to repair the injury, and treated it with therapy throughout the summer. He appeared to tweak the knee in the season-opener, but played through it. Time will tell what the course of action is to keep it tame as the season progresses.

Second Half

It is a bit of a shame that Tobias Harris’ vertical athleticism falls just short of the rim. Every game, he has a handful of authoritative drives to the cup that leave him with unfinished business because he can’t elevated above like-sized defenders. Kevin Durant and other big Nets met him at the rim on multiple occasions because he couldn’t get up high enough and sent the Sixers reeling back on defense in transition.

I can’t say enough about Furkan Korkmaz’s sudden aptitude as a ball-handler. He has become extremely confident as a dribbler. As silly as that sounds, the Sixers just do not have many of such players. Whether it’s a primary move to escape a defender or a counter-move to shed his man when pressure is applied, Korkmaz is strong with the ball. Of similar importance, Korkmaz has an excellent feel for when to alleviate the pressure by making a pass. He’s not overly prideful in trying to thwart off his primary defender. If it’s for the betterment of the team, he’s hitting the kill switch before his man tightens up and getting it to a teammate to avoid turnovers. 

You thought Shake Milton might be out of the rotation with Maxey’s emergence. But when Milton returns from his ankle injury, there might not be a case for playing him over Korkmaz. Korkmaz’s surprising emergence as a reliable ball-handler in the second unit might be the swing skill that completely knocks Milton out of the rotation.

On a similar note, point guards looking to learn how to pressure the ball on defenders of any size need to watch Jevon Carter. Dude is indefatigable on the ball.

When it came down to Ws and Ls, the Sixers simply did not have any variety in manufacturing points down the stretch of this game. When things got close, and Brooklyn’s shot-creators woke up, Philly’s offense didn’t know where to go. Two consecutive possessions in the final three minutes of regulation ended in Danny Green quick triggers — and both were airballs. 

That’s not a knock on Green. He’s a 3-and-D prototype. His play is usually going to vacillate. Rather, that the offense came to that is an indictment on what Philly has in the shot-creating department on the perimeter. The Sixers have a bona fide superstar. They also have a star-level forward to put the ball on the floor in short spurts. And that’s pretty much all they have in the way of dynamic shot-creation prowess.

Sights And Sounds From The Game

These ears detected two “F[redacted] Ben Simmons!” chants in the first half. Neither effort ever garnered much supporting momentum. Perhaps a security guard said something?

Andre Drummond rejected a layup attempt from James Harden early in the second quarter and gave him an extended stare down after the nice defensive stand. I’m usually not one to recommend taunting superstars when there’s a lot of game left to be decided. But, I respect the intensity and emotion. Just don’t give stars any extra motivation to get hot.

The Sixers (1-1) will head to Oklahoma City to visit the Thunder (0-1) on Sunday night. Tip-off is set for 7 PM EST. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.