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Nets look to even the series vs. 76ers

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Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers - Game One Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The journey is off to a shaky start. The Brooklyn Nets opened up the 2023 NBA Playoffs on Saturday afternoon against the Philadelphia 76ers. They were game for much of the afternoon, but the Sixers proved to be too much as they came away with a 20 point victory. 1-0 Philadelphia.

Where to follow the game

YES Network and TNT on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip after 7:30 PM.


No Ben Simmons.

All clear for Philly.

The game

How do you counter the counter? For the Nets, they threw double teams at Joel Embiid practically every time he caught the ball. The game plan was to keep the (likely) MVP from dominating and getting Nic Claxton and Day’Ron Sharpe into foul trouble. The foul trouble piece worked well enough as nobody on the Nets had more than three fouls. However, it didn’t make that big of a difference as the big guy got to the free throw 11 times and cashed in on all of em. Embiid had a “quiet” game of 26 points, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks, and one steal in 33 minutes. My main man, Kyle Neubeck of the Philly Voice, wrote about the Nets’ strategy of guarding Embiid:

It is hard to overstate how badly the Nets wanted someone other than Embiid to beat them. They doubled off-ball, they doubled immediately on the catch at the elbow, and they invited him to try to beat them as a playmaker. And Embiid consistently made the right plays to attack that coverage, swinging the ball around the horn to create open threes for Philly either through direct assists or hockey assists.

There were definitely some moments where Embiid lost his composure and allowed the Nets to rush him, forcing him to play at their pace instead of his. That lead to a couple of ugly turnovers on off-target passes in the third quarter, putting some inspiring possessions on tape for the Nets to savor.

This was not an MVP-level performance from Embiid, but he received MVP-level attention, and that is the power of having him on the floor.

The Nets strategy in defending Embiid this time will be something to keep an eye on. Do they leave Claxton on an island to single cover Embiid and trust your defensive ace to hold it down? How you double, where you double, and when you double matters a lot.

Jacque Vaughn let it be known that he is not happy with the officiating on Embiid.

“He’s only got one pivot foot, I’ll just say that,” Vaughn said Sunday, meaning the MVP candidate should’ve been called for traveling and three seconds.

Claxton went a little further.

“They’re not going to call that,” Claxton said. “It’s not going to be called. You’ve just got to guard him. I don’t see that being called. I just don’t see it.”

The 76ers went 21-of-43 from 3-point range, and a lot of ‘em were wide, wide, wide open.

The 76ers are a lot better shooting team than what we’re used to, so the Nets can’t afford to not be in sync on defense. They tried a zone a couple of times, and it didn’t work all that well. They’ll need to be sharper on their rotations and prevent Philly from getting clean looks from deep.

The 76ers only won the rebounding battle by three, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Philly grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and scored 21 second chance points as a result. Possessions take on even greater importance in the postseason and the Nets can’t afford to give this tough Philadelphia team more opportunities to score.

Brooklyn lives and dies on the 3-pointer, and they’re going to need to fire up a lot more than 29 if they want to win tonight. They went a pretty great 13-of-29 from downtown, led by Cam Johnson’s 4-of- 6 from deep. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, they turned it over 19 times and when you don’t make the most out of every possession, you’re in trouble.

Mikal Bridges put on a good showing as the leading man on Saturday. He scored 30 points on .667/.500/1.000 shooting splits in 34 minutes of playing time. He got his buckets the way he knows best: by attacking off the ball, punishing drop coverage in the midrange area, and finishing at the basket. He didn’t much success after halftime, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Nets work to get him more touches and shots as the game progresses.

Player to watch: James Harden

So, something interesting. James Harden went 1-of-8 from 2-point range and did not attempt a single free throw line. He didn’t attempt a free throw in Philly’s season ending loss vs the Miami Heat in last year’s conference semifinals, but he was a million times better and healthier this time around. He more than made up for his two point woes by going 7-13 from three point range. When one aspect of your game isn’t working, the greats can always go to another option.

In addition to his 3-point prowess, he kept the the Sixers offense moving well. He had 13 assists to only four turnovers and took advantage of Brooklyn turnovers in transition. This play in particular was very smooth, as helpfully noted by Jared Wade on Twitter:

The athleticism comes and goes, but the savvy and court vision stays forever.

Ok, so it was a pretty lousy game for Spencer Dinwiddie on Saturday. He had four turnovers and just could not get in sync with the bigs when trying to throw alley oops.

Getting easy baskets and converting on those looks is of the utmost importance for Dinwiddie and the Nets tonight. There will be opportunities for Claxton and Sharpe to score at the rim, and it’s up to Dinwiddie to get them the ball at the right spot. For the Nets to win, they need Dinwiddie to strike that perfect balance between attacking mismatches and finding good shots for his teammates. Anything less than his very best will have the Nets staring down a 2-0 hole.

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