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PLAYOFF GAME 5: DO OR DIE IN PHILADELPHIA

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NBA: Playoffs-Philadelphia 76ers at Brooklyn Nets Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Welp, that sucked. I mean, it didn’t totally suck, considering the Nets were playing the Sixers shot-for-shot for three and a half quarters and had a really memorable, borderline epic performance both on and off the court (the fight did go into the stands), but in the end it ended up being a devastating loss. Heartbreaking, really, and I don’t use that term lightly. There are only a couple of more deflating basketball memories that conjure up those feelings of disappointment and despair. The eight-game losing streak is up there. The 2010 Draft Lottery. Dwight Howard opting-in to his contract with the Magic (not in hindsight, but in the moment that was awful).

Nothing really hurts like losing a game in a rivalry series though, it’s just a different level of frustration. We want to watch the Sixers lose and lose badly. They think they can just push the Nets around and waltz into the second round? Think again. The Nets came out swinging, quite literally, but it just wasn’t enough. Philadelphia is up 3-1 in the series, so we have some more basketball coming our way. I don’t know exactly how it’s going to go, but I know the Nets aren’t going to make it easy. Let’s get into it.

Where to Follow the Game

My 9, TNT, Country 94.7 FM at 8pm, ET.

Injuries

Allen Crabbe (knee) is out and Ed Davis (ankles) is questionable.

The Sixers are healthy save for Joel Embiid (knee) who is officially probable.

The Game

This series looks a lot different if Joe Harris hits his threes. The NBA’s regular season three point percentage champion is 0-of-12 from three in the Nets last three losses, and his inability to find his shot has stunted the Nets entire offensive game plan. Kenny Atkinsons’s offense is predicated on the Nets making a significant number of their three point attempts, and Joe Harris is the No. 1 guy for run off screens, hit spot-up jumpers behind the line. He has not done his job. It doesn’t help that DeMarre Carroll is shooting 25% from three this series, or that Rodions Kurucs is 0-for-5. The Nets are ice cold from deep, and it’s a major contributor to why they’re down 3-1. If Joe makes even just two of his 6 threes in Game 4 we could be watching a 2-2 series right now.

I guess we should talk for a minute about Jared Dudley. When he ran up and bumped Joel Embiid back, I literally stood up from my seat and pumped my fist. Embiid was being a troll, and Dudley was having none of it. This has obviously been a chippy series, and the Sixers have shown a whole lot of disrespect towards the Nets the entire time. Embiid pointing at Jarrett after fouling him was clearly the last straw, and I’m glad we have someone like Jared to do something about it.

And by the way, there’s something to be said about how valuable he is on the court. People make a big deal about how he’s this sort of anonymous journeyman role-player who’s in a beef with two of the league’s best young talents, but when he was ejected from the game it was impactful to the Nets game plan. This says a couple of things, one being that the Nets need more options at the 4 which we’ve talked about this season about a million times, but the other is that Jared Dudley is good. Like, good. People make a big deal about stats and athleticism, which is all fine and good, but when your fifth guy on the court is someone who knows exactly where to be, how to make the right plays, and how to play defense against certain guys without fouling, that is a positive. Full stop. In 19 minutes in Game 4, Jared Dudley had 8 points, 5 assists, and hit 2 threes which, for those of you counting at home, is 2 more than Ben Simmons has made in his NBA career. Oh yeah, Dudley ranks ninth overall in playoff three-point shooting ... ever.

Caris LeVert finally played the minutes we were all screaming for him to play and he absolutely, unequivocally delivered. He scored 25 points, hit three threes, got to the line 9 times (but only made 4 free throws), and had 0 fouls in 42 minutes. He looked like the All Star we all thought he was going to be earlier in the season before the injury. And honestly, he might be. He really just might be that good now. If someone told you on November 10th, 2018 “Caris LeVert could average 20 points in a playoff series this season” you’d probably be like, “yeah that makes sense”. It’s the injury that tempered all of our expectations, but he seems to have just moved on and turned into that weird, stilted-yet-fluid, herky-jerky iso scoring 2-guard who can handle the ball and hit threes and get to the line and play some defense. He’s been unbelievable, and the biggest silver lining of the entire series. Just let him keep cooking in Game 5.

The plan I laid out in my last preview of “Listen, we’re not going to stop these guys on defense so let’s just outgun them on offense” really almost worked!! If there’s a glimmer of optimism, it’s that the Nets cannot buy a three in this series, and if even a couple of Nets get hot they might be able to steal Game 5 and send this thing back to Brooklyn one more time which would be a whole lot of fun. It isn’t impossible to still drag this thing out and give the Sixers a run for their money. If Brooklyn comes out with the same energy they had in Game 4, they’ve got a shot.

Player to Watch

Mike Scott has been annoying this whole series. He’s sort of like Philly’s version of Jared Dudley in the way that he isn’t young or necessarily talented or what you might traditionally call “good”, but he’s always in the right place at the right time. He also made the dagger three at the end of Game 4 that sent me storming away from my tv, vowing to never watch basketball again. Scott has been a journeyman in the league since 2012, and he was ready for that shot. He plays hard, he knows what to do, and he’s surprisingly important on this Sixers team that boasts a starting lineup made up of basically entirely All-Star caliber players, or close to it.

From The Vault

Let’s go Nets.

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, head on over to Liberty Ballers, our 76ers sister site on SB Nation.