Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets Series Checkup: Games 1-4
The first round of the 2019 NBA playoffs has a number of interesting series. The Denver Nuggets vs. the San Antonio Spurs is a clash of the new young team vs. the old grizzled veterans. The Portland Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder series has been defined by the point guard battle between superstars Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. But perhaps the most interesting series, and certainly the most physical, has been the Philadelphia 76ers vs. the Brooklyn Nets.
The 76ers entered the postseason with some serious red flags. Head coach Brett Brown was charged with integrating Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris with the existing young nucleus of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Now with a “Big Four,” the Sixers had the kind of elite talent to make a title run, but lacked the time necessary to fully develop chemistry before the playoffs. To make things worse, their best player Embiid missed five of the last seven regular season games with a nagging knee problem.
Philly’s opponent, the Brooklyn Nets, were one of the surprises of the regular season. The club won 14 more games this year, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. Brooklyn is well-coached team, employing a modern offense that finished in the top-5 in 3-point attempts.. Led by first time All-Star and Most Improved Player candidate D’Angelo Russell, the Nets roared into the playoffs expecting to be a tough out at worst and an upset candidate at best.
On paper and at full strength, the 76ers have the kind of talent advantage that should help them close out the series. But the Nets have plenty of fight, and Embiid is far from healthy.
Game 1 highlighted a lot of the 76ers problems, a game they lost trailing by double digits most of the game. Embiid was limited to 24 minutes, though still put up 22 points and pulled down 15 rebounds. It was evident he’s battling some kind of knee problem, though the Philadelphia front office won’t list the specific injury. Simmons was a non-factor, contributing only 9 points on 4-9 shooting with 1-5 at the free throw line. The only saving grace was Jimmy Butler, who exploded for 18 points in the second quarter to keep the 76ers in the game, finishing with 36 points in a losing effort.
Going into Game 2, the 76ers needed a home win before going to Brooklyn for the next two. At the end of the first half, the 76ers were only up by one. Then the third quarter came, where Philadelphia poured in a ridiculous 51 points in the quarter to bust this series wide open. Ben Simmons in particular had a terrific bounce back performance from game one, dropping a triple double with 18 points on 8-12 shooting, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds. The Nets waved the white flag, throwing out their bench unit in the fourth. Things started to get physical in this game, with Embiid getting a flagrant 1 for a blatant elbow to the face to Nets’ Jarrett Allen.
Game 3 in Brooklyn the 76ers came in without Embiid, a last minute scratch as they opted to rest him for latter games. With Ben Simmons running the show, the 76ers played a faster style that kept up well with the Nets. Simmons dropped a game high 31 points while Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick added in 29 and 26 points, respectively. The 76ers blew the game open in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Nets 34-25 to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
Game 4 saw the physicality of the series taken up another level, not coincidentally happening with the return of Embiid. Halfway through the third quarter, Embiid fouled Allen on what ultimately became another flagrant foul and players from both teams ended up in a small fight over it on the court. After the dust settled Nets’ Jared Dudley and 76ers’ Jimmy Butler were ejected from the game. The game itself was great, with the Nets keeping a lead throughout most of it before the 76ers took the lead at the last minute for the win. Embiid had a monstrous game, 31 points, 16 rebounds, and 7 assists, while Harris chipped in an impressive 24 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.
Going into Game 5 in Philadelphia, the 76ers have a 3-1 lead and look to close the series on their home court. The Nets have their backs against the wall now, and will give it everything they have to extend the series one more game for a chance to play on home court again. Game 5 is Tuesday night, be sure to check in.