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Brooklyn Nets wither and die against Philadelphia 76ers, 121-99

The Nets and Sixers were playing a fun game until the end of the second quarter, and then they weren’t playing at all.

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets certainly enjoyed their extra day of rest over the weekend, spent at home no less. Following a loss to the Miami Heat that dropped them back to .500, a familiar spot, the Nets flew back north with two days off before a contest against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday afternoon. They practiced and prepared for Philly, Cam Johnson helped out in the community...

...and geared up for the first game in a stretch of 6-out-of-7 at the Barclays Center.

The extra rest, however, didn’t prevent Brooklyn from facing their usual obstacles. In addition to the absences of Ben Simmons and Cam Thomas, Dennis Smith Jr. was a late scratch with a lower back sprain. Missing three guards including their best on-ball defender was certainly not the ideal start to a matchup with the ascendant Tyrese Maxey, Joel Embiid, and the rest of the Sixers.

And while Dennis Smith Jr.’s absence didn’t help, it’s hard to imagine the bench guard would have prevented Philadelphia’s onslaught, one that turned the fourth quarter into 12 minutes of garbage time. Led by Maxey and Embiid — who else? — the Sixers did whatever they wanted on either end for much of the afternoon, reminding the Nets there’s levels to the Eastern Conference.

Final score: Philadelphia 121, Brooklyn 99.

The Nets opened Sunday’s contest like they enjoyed their extra rest a little bit too much, sleep-walking to an early 17-7 deficit. Missed free-throws, unforced turnovers, and poor shot selection plagued the offense as the Sixers started to heat up, threatening to run away and hide early.

But Jacque Vaughn’s defense held strong; Philly scored just six points in the remainder of the period as Brooklyn mixed up coverages against Embiid, who took ten first-quarter shots, while holding his teammates quiet. Mikal Bridges then started to heat up, on his way to 16 first-half points on a crisp 7-11 shooting, and Lonnie Walker fully woke up the Barclays Center crowd — and his teammates — with this ferocious jam in transition:

Not only did we officially have a game, but Brooklyn built a four-point lead at 42-38 midway through the second quarter. In addition to Bridges’ 16, Walker scored a quick 11 off the bench, and Nic Claxton put up eight-and-eight before the break, even self-creating a couple buckets:

But that’s when the Brooklyn offense stalled out, and the feisty interior defense that recorded five first-half blocks couldn't prevent the Sixers from raining down triples to end the half. As the Nets shot just 5-16 from deep, Philadelphia went 9-16, accounting for the exact difference in the guests’ 61-49 halftime lead.

Tyrese Maxey and De’Anthony Melton combined for 26 points on 5-8 from deep while Embiid didn't slow down a hair, posting 22/8/5 over the first 24 minutes. Neither team really got out in transition (7-7 in fastbreak points), nor did they capitalize on second-chance opportunities (3-2 in favor of Philly). Brooklyn’s half-court offense simply stopped working as Maxey, Melton, and Embiid came alive, using a 15-0 run to blow open a close first half.

It was a familiar sight for Brooklyn, one that Jacque Vaughn vowed to correct in pregame. The Miami Heat separated from Brooklyn for good with a 14-0 run going into halftime on Thursday, to which Vaughn said, “I think the biggest message to the group during that time is finishing course. There’s momentum, I think, shifts that happen throughout the course of the game. You don’t want those at the end of the quarter, especially going into halftime.”

No, you don't. Brooklyn’s ineptitude to close the second quarter proved to be fatal for the second game in a row.

Said Vaughn: “Yeah, we’re still not there, and that’s definitely a work-in-progress for us to understand teams are doing different things at the end of the quarter to disrupt you, so you have to have a poise about see how those momentum plays make a difference, especially at the end of quarters.”

Maxey used the stretch as a springboard, hitting three quick 3-pointers when play resumed on his way to 25 points, and each felt like an early dagger:

If the result was decided in the second quarter, the third only served to twist the knife in Brooklyn’s wounds. A 79-65 deficit became 92-65 after another extended Sixer run, and there was no one culprit. Whether Philadelphia went to a stifling zone, or simply played man-to-man with Embiid dropped in the paint, the Nets had no answers.

“They’re making shots, you know, Embiid was getting to his spots soing what he wanted to do to get to the free throw line,” said Lonnie Walker. “Maxey getting to the free throw line a little bit as well. They played a little bit more freer.”

Spencer Dinwiddie put up 12/4/5, with two turnovers, but shot 3-of-10 and often couldn’t figure out how to attack the paint. Here are two of Philadelphia’s 10 transition points in the third:

The fourth quarter was a pointless affair outside of a couple highlights from Brooklyn’s two best reserves on the day, Trendon Watford and Lonnie Walker. Watford assumed point-guard duties for the Nets as he did in the preseason, and didn’t blow the roof off the place with 8/4/4/1/1, but dropped a couple nice dimes and finishes.

Walker, meanwhile, was unbothered by the blowout around him, continuing his hot first half to finish with 26, including 6-of-11 from deep in addition to his poster dunk, making some ridiculous shots in near-garbage time:

Said Walker: “I think I played pretty efficient offensively as far as scoring. I think I need to start adding more of just the playmaking aspect. I had a couple bad shots where I could’ve dropped it off to Nic, corner passes and whatnot...I don’t think [my] points truly translate if we lost by 20-plus points. I was feeling it, I was within the groove of the game, but we lost.”

Walker’s scoring outburst is where the positives ended for Brooklyn. The Nets actually improved their 3-point percentage after the half, finishing at 39%, but it’s hard to remember a single make outside of Walker’s. Mikal Bridges made his only shot attempt of the second half to finish with 18/1/3, but he was no more than a bystander as his team got steamrolled.

When asked if the Sixers did something specific to curtail his impact, Bridges replied, “I thought there was nothing really different, [I] just got to find it off ball a little bit. If I don’t have it, maybe just run to it or something. but I don’t think anything.”

Cam Johnson scored nine points on just 3-of-12 shooting, Claxton finished with just 10-and-9 after a strong first half, and Royce O’Neale and Dorian Finney-Smith combined to produce nothing of note with five total points on 0-of-9 shooting. We were at least treated to six minutes of Harry Giles at the end of the afternoon, where he scored five points.

Joel Embiid was treated to a comfortable court-side seat for the entirety of the final frame, watching the seconds tick away following his ninth-straight victory over the Nets. The reigning MVP finished with 32/10/9 with just one turnover, passing when needed and scoring when he wanted to. Tyrese Maxey and De’Anthony Melton combined for 46 while shooting the lights out, a combined 10-of-17 from deep as the two best guards on the court.

Despite their insistence on forcing turnovers, Brooklyn took the ball from Philly four times while giving it away 15 times. Yet, there was no single area of defeat for Brooklyn, no one player — healthy or not — who could have made a difference, In their most disappointing loss of the season, the Nets got steamrolled by a team that looked leagues better than them. It’s not that Brooklyn lost to the now 10-3 Sixers, looking as complete as any team in the league.

It’s that Philly barely broke a sweat at the Barclays Center on Sunday, perhaps starting a tad slowly but whipping it into high gear with ease in the second quarter. The Nets could only turn their slow start into a push so brief it died before halftime.

Brooklyn has often looked better than their 6-7 start to the season. They didn’t on Sunday.

Milestone Watch

So...Lonnie Walker scored a lot today!

  • His 26 points represent a season-high, just one game after setting his pervious mark with 23 in Miami.
  • Lonnie Walker has now scored 20 points off the bench four times this season, tied with the Dallas Mavericks’ Tim Hardaway Jr. for tops in the league.
  • Walker’s six 3-point makes are a career high, and he's now shooting a scorching 45.6% from long-range this season.

Injury Update

Not a terribly busy day for Brooklyn Nets injury updates, but there was news nonetheless. Dennis Smith Jr. missed Sunday’s contest with a lower back sprain, updated on the final injury report from lower back soreness.

Jacque Vaughn had this to say on Smith Jr. in pregame: “So, he practiced yesterday, you know, after I [saw] you guys. He practiced yesterday — wasn’t a tough practice — but he reported that it just wasn’t feeling right after practice. So he got some treatment at night and tried to come in, assess him this morning, tried to go through a little bit of warm-up and see if he could play. So we’re technically diagnosing as a sprain. He will not play tonight.”

He also added, “I’m not sure if there’s something that happened in the Miami game, but like I said, he did go through practice yesterday. I don’t have a specific play for you. But he was a participant in practice yesterday and did try to warm up today and give it a go.”

If anything, it sounds like a day-to-day designation for Smith Jr. is appropriate, although we know how those can turn out. His next chance to play will come on Wednesday night, following two off days.

Elsewhere, Vaughn updated us on the status of Cam Thomas, set for medical re-evaluation early this coming week: “We’ll give you a more detailed update this week. But just going through the process of getting back on the floor, so whether that’s doing the rehab behind the scenes, trying to stay in some semblance of shape, so that once he is back in the fold that it’s not too much of a ground that he’s got to make up but it’s tough to stay in shape when you’re dealing with, you know, lower extremities. For sure.”

Ben Simmons remains out with a lower left back impingement, though his re-evaluation is also scheduled for later this week. Vaughn did not speak about Simmons on Sunday, though he certainly will soon.

Next Up

New York Knicks v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets have just one more road obligation before an extended stay at home, visiting Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, and the Atlanta Hawks. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday night.

For further, more cheerful reading on Sunday’s blowout loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, head over to our sister site Liberty Ballers.