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Nets fall in Philadelphia 96-84, now trail 0-2 in series

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

After a disappointing start to the postseason for the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday, Game 2 provided Nets fans with a bit more hope, but that was it.

Brooklyn controlled much of the first half and saw its always-double-Joel Embiid stratagem see a bit more success, but ultimately they failed to take advantage while they still had a chance. Despite hanging in until the final minutes, they fell, 96-84.

Cam Johnson led the Nets in scoring with 28 points, setting a playoff career-high in his second consecutive outing. He shot well from the field, connecting on 11 of his 19 total attempts, including five deep ones. For the Nets to win a game in this series — or the whole thing — they’ll need this performance from him routinely.

“I think CJ has the ability to do this performance over and over again that much trust and belief in his ability,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said postgame. “Man, it makes me smile just thinking about what his game is right now and what it’s going to become. Do we need some other people to step up at home? Yes, we do. I’ll take all of them.”

But after scoring 22 points in the first half, Johnson cooled down, just as Mikal Bridges did in the first game. The 76ers adjusted.

“I got some good looks at it, we played with some pace,” he said of the first two quarters. But... “in the second half, with that zone, I was in the corner a lot and it kind of mucked up the game from there.”

The Nets game-planned for the likely MVP once again, double-teaming him repeatedly on the catch and on the dribble, as well as denying his positioning under the basket in the post. It worked to an extent, seeing as the likely soon-to-be MVP scored *only* 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting. The big man dished out 7 assists as looked to beat the traps throughout the night, but accounted for eight turnovers, nearly half of Philly’s 19 total.

After a fiery shooting night in Game 1, the Nets locked in on James Harden, who too was limited. The former Nets point guard scored only 8 points on poor 3-of-13 shooting. His seven assists were as well overshadowed by five giveaways.

But the Basketball gods giveth and taketh away. The final member of the Sixers’ Big Three, the young burgeoning Tyrese Maxey, exploded for a game-high 33 points. Maxey joined Allen Iverson as the only 76ers players with multiple 30-point, five-3-pointer games in the playoffs. Both did it twice.

“We can’t stop the run, the pass the special teams, all of it,” Vaughn lamented postgame, using a football analogy for his team’s struggles.

The first quarter began well for the Nets, as seven quick points from Cam Johnson gave Brooklyn its first lead of the series shortly into the first quarter. Matchups in the half-court were swapped for both teams, with Nets star Mikal Bridges starting on Harden instead of Dorian Finney-Smith. The latter, who is a bit stronger, instead drew PJ Tucker as an assignment, who had been giving the Nets issues on the offensive glass in the first matchup.

Harden finished eight points and seven assists on 3-for-13 shooting with five turnovers. decidedly very un-James like.

“Just not trying to let him score. Just trying to keep him in front of me and just guard,” Bridges said with a post-game shrung.

“I think the matchup of putting [Bridges] on [Harden] had its benefits, for sure,” Vaughn said. “Look at [Harden’s] stats.”

“And the other piece was [Dorian Finney-Smith] was able to be around the rim with PJ Tucker, so he didn’t have the impact. So we can’t stop the run, the pass, the special teams, all of it. We’re trying though. So our group did a great job of adjusting they felt us we’ll make some more adjustments. And I think we’d be in good shape.”

Tucker’s assignment changed as well. He was instead tasked with Bridges, who scored 23 points in the first half of Game 1 and had some tough going early against the beefy Tucker in Game 2.

Late in the first period Vaughn utilized a small-ball lineup for the first time, opting for Dorian Finney-Smith at center instead of backup big Day’Ron Sharpe. Pre-game, Vaughn hinted at the switch, indicating that the coaching staff viewed the two players as playing similar roles on the floor. Johnson finished the quarter with 10 points, a game-high.

Johnson shot well in Game 1 as well, nailing seven of 11 field goals. Pregame on Monday, he commented on his hot start, dispelling the idea that comfort in the postseason contributed. “Nah, finding a rhythm. That’s all any shooter ever wants is to just find a rhythm,” he said. “ I got a good rhythm in shootaround and practices before so it’s feeling good for me.”

The two teams stood knotted up at 25 points after the first period.

CJ’s hot shooting didn’t cease in the next period, where he quickly tallied eight more points.

The Nets continued to play small-ball, even with Embiid on the floor. With 4:40 remaining, the Nets even took out Finney-Smith and ran with Royce O’Neale at center, who promptly dropped in a three-pointer. A Johnson dunk on the ensuing possession capped off an 11-3 run, giving Brooklyn its first double-digit advantage and forcing a timeout from Doc Rivers.

Johnson finished a 22-point first half with a monster slam dunk on Embiid...

There was more than one such highlight...

The Nets were ahead at halftime, 49-44, but could have easily stood in a better spot if not for missed opportunities at the free throw line. The Nets shot 7-for-11 at the charity stripe, with both Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie accounting for empty trips.

The Nets started the second with a basket, but that was all Doc Rivers needed to see to call timeout and turn off Brooklyn’s proverbial faucet. Instead, Philadelphia’s shots started splashing in, putting the Sixers ahead for the first time since early in the second quarter. Vaughn called a timeout just as quickly, but to no avail. The flooding continued with a 9-0 run, ballooning Philly’s lead to eight points. The Nets were able to chip away to close the period despite Philadelphia’s momentum and a loud Wells Fargo Center crowd. After only managing to score 14 points in the game’s penultimate quarter, the Nets trailed 63-68 with 12 minutes remaining.

Brooklyn was able to finally quench its thirst for long range shooting in the fourth quarter, but not at the rate that was necessary to overcome a Sixers team hitting its stride. Embiid sat for an extended period of time to begin the period — briefly returning to the locker room — but the Nets could make no progress with Paul Reed on the floor. Timely shooting from Seth Curry brought Brooklyn within seven points, but an emphatic rejection from Embiid on a streaking Cam Johnson at the 3:58 marked a turning of the tides that would be undone.

Milestone Watch

  • Cam Johnson’s 28 points was his career playoff high, well beyond his previous best of 18. set in Game 1 on Saturday afternoon. The 22 points he scored in the first half were the most he has scored in his NBA career, regular season or playoffs. He tallied 20+ points six times in the regular season as a Net (five of those six games came on the road).
  • Mikal Bridges finished with seven assists, the most he’s put up since joining the Nets, matching the seven he put up on March 25 vs. the Heat.

In addition to the playoff milestones, YES Network’s Ryan Ruocco pointed to two regular season milestones Nets players accomplished. Nic Claxton won the NBA field goal percentage title with a 70.5% mark, which is also a team record. Walker Kessler, the Jazz rookie, had a slightly better percentage at 72.0% but he fell two field goal attempts short of the qualifying number, which is 300. Kessler was hurt the final four games of the season.

Also, Bridges became only the third player in NBA history to lead the league in games (83) and minutes (2963) two years straight. The two others are both in the Hall of Fame, Dolph Schayes and Wilt Chamberlain.

Draft tie-breakers update

With the Nets and Suns finishing with identical 45-37 records, both their first and second round picks in the June Draft were subject to the league’s annual random drawings Monday. The drawing didn’t mean much in the first round ... other than to the players selected ... because the Nets control both their own pick and the Suns, the first payment of draft capital in the Kevin Durant trade. The 21st pick gets a slightly higher salary than the 22nd. Still, the Suns won the drawing. Where it did matter (slightly) was in the second round. Where there are ties in both rounds, things are reversed. The team that loses the drawing in the first round gets the better pick in the second. Which is a long way of saying, the Nets will pick at 51 rather than 52 in the second. Of course, none of that means much at this point. Sean Marks is usually very active on Draft Night.

For the record, ESPN’s most recent mock draft, from a month ago, has the Nets taking Kobe Bufkin, a 6’4” Michigan combo guard at No. 21; Leonard Miller, a 6’10” wing, from G League Ignite, at No. 22; and Andre Jackson, a 6’6” wing from UConn, at No. 51.

The other Cam

Cam Thomas got another DNP-CD Monday night and Jacque Vaughn was asked whether he thought Thomas’ microwave scoring could have helped. Thomas, after playing 4:27 in garbage time at the end of Game 1, was a DNP-CD.

“If I felt like we were struggling to get looks, maybe that could be an answer,” Vaughn said. “But I thought that we got looks, and I thought that they were makable shots. Is Cam on the back of my brain? Yes. And he knows that. Could he play when we get back to Brooklyn? Yes. But I didn’t think we were struggling to get looks, the ball just didn’t go in.”

DPOY Balloting

The NBA announced Monday that Jaren Jackson Jr. had won the Defensive Player of the Year. Nic Claxton finished 10th, but didn’t receive any first place votes despite a sterling season with a ton of statistical accomplishments. Here’s the announcement...

Not getting any votes: the runner-up to last year’s DPOY: Mikal Bridges nor the 2021 runner-up, Ben Simmons.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s Next?

Ultimately, Brooklyn’s defensive game plan had an impact, but poor shooting from the visitors in black-and-white rendered it meaningless. The Nets will head to Brooklyn down 0-2, looking to win at least one game and avoid a sweep. Game 3 is on Thursday at 7:30pm.

For a more upbeat summary, head on over to Liberty Ballers.