76ers deal with enterprise in opposition to Nets, however a lot uncertainty awaits - thqaftqlm

76ers deal with enterprise in opposition to Nets, however a lot uncertainty awaits

NEW YORK — 300 sixty-four days in the past, the Philadelphia 76ers entered a highway enviornment with a 3-0 lead of their opening-round sequence and an opportunity to advance to the Japanese Convention semifinals with as little muss, fuss or static as potential. They couldn’t do it: Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey mixed to overlook 39 photographs, Pascal Siakam scored 34 factors and the Toronto Raptors received Recreation 4 to increase the sequence.

5 days later, Philly would end the job. The additional video games took their toll, although — most notably when Embiid discovered himself on the enterprise finish of a Siakam elbow late within the Recreation 6 closeout, leading to a fractured orbital bone that knocked him out for the primary two video games of the second spherical. The Sixers misplaced each, and wound up bowing out to previous pal Jimmy Butler and the Miami Warmth in six video games.

The lesson that Philly took from that failure to capitalize? Don’t play along with your meals. (Sure, Doc Rivers: It’s “food.”)

When you may have an opportunity to eradicate an overmatched opponent — even one taking part in with the desperation of making an attempt to save lots of its season, and even with Embiid having already sustained his now depressingly customary grimace-inducing postseason harm — discover a method to end the job and advance. The Sixers did that in Saturday’s matinee at Barclays Heart, ending off a four-game sweep of the Brooklyn Nets with a 96-88 win that permits them to maneuver on to larger and higher issues — specifically, the winner of the sequence between the second-seeded Boston Celtics and seventh-seeded Atlanta Hawks, during which Boston holds a 2-1 lead.

The Sixers didn’t accrue many type factors within the means of eliminating a Nets crew that made the postseason largely on the power of the cushion it constructed up when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving nonetheless labored on the nook of Flatbush and Atlantic. (Brooklyn went 13-15 with a unfavorable level differential and bottom-10 offense after the commerce deadline.)

Recreation 4 had a distinctly MVP-shaped gap within the center all through, evident in each the Nets’ robust begin — 29 factors within the first quarter, a 15-point, 7-rebound, 4-block first half for Brooklyn middle Nic Claxton — and in Philadelphia’s constant struggles to place the ball within the basket. Via the primary three video games of the sequence, the Sixers had scored almost 120 factors per 100 possessions with Embiid on the court docket and solely 100 points-per-100 with out him; with him unavailable on Saturday, Brooklyn might abandon its double- and triple-teaming of the primary three video games and return to its switching defensive scheme, which helped restrict Philly to only 39.6% capturing.

However even because the misses piled up — Philly’s first 3-pointer didn’t come till almost midway by way of the second quarter — and the Nets took a 48-40 lead into halftime, the Sixers remained assured that they’d have the ability to flip issues round.

“We have been getting good photographs, particularly within the first half — I imply, we had 40 factors, however I missed 4 layups, we missed some open threes,” Harden stated after the sport. “We have been getting actually beauty, they usually solely had 48 factors, so in some unspecified time in the future we knew our offense needed to get it going.”

“At halftime, we have been down, hadn’t performed nicely, and we felt like we have been going to win the sport,” Rivers stated. “You would really feel that with our group.”

The sport tilted early within the third, as Philadelphia ripped off a 21-4 run spanning greater than eight minutes to erase a double-digit deficit. Harden dished 4 of his game-high 11 assists in that spurt. Maxey scored 7 factors, together with an enormous transition 3. Third-year middle Paul Reed — who discovered simply earlier than sport time that he was beginning rather than Embiid, prompting him to ask the coach who advised him, “Oh, yeah, for real?” — grabbed 4 offensive rebounds throughout the run, extending possessions and placing much more stress on a small, frantic and overtaxed Nets squad starting to sense the inevitable.

Tobias Harris of the Philadelphia 76ers dribbles in opposition to Royce O’Neale of the Brooklyn Nets throughout the second half of Recreation 4 of the Japanese Convention first-round playoffs at Barclays Heart on April 22, 2023, within the Brooklyn borough of New York. (Picture by Sarah Stier/Getty Photos)

“It was like, ‘Look, let’s simply determine a method to get three stops in a row, and get out and attempt to get some simple baskets,’” stated Tobias Harris, who routinely used his dimension, power and easy midrange sport to hunt mismatches in opposition to smaller Brooklyn defenders en path to a team-high 25 factors and 12 rebounds. “And I believed we have been ready to do this, capable of get some buckets to fall for us. However as soon as we obtained our lead, we knew. Like, ‘We simply obtained to maintain this.’”

They almost didn’t. Brooklyn made one final push early within the fourth, taking a 72-70 lead on a turnaround jumper by Mikal Bridges, the role-player-turned-star ironman who lastly appeared to expire of gasoline by sequence’ finish, capturing 6 for 18 in Recreation 4 and simply 9 for 31 contained in the arc over the ultimate two video games. From there, Philly turned on the jets to cross the end line, outscoring the hosts 26-16 over the ultimate 8:38, with two-way energizer De’Anthony Melton — who’d been scoreless by way of the primary three quarters — pouring in 12 of his 15 factors to assist gas that closing kick.

“He was powerful,” Maxey stated of Melton. “After which he hit some huge photographs, man. I feel he hit two 3s within the fourth? I wish to say — I could also be mistaken — however two 3s within the fourth. After which he hit a middie! I do not keep in mind the final time I ever seen him hit a middie. I’m like, ‘That was nice, dude.’”

Melton additionally dished a hit-ahead help to Harris for a nook 3 with 1:55 remaining to ship the Nets off to an early summer season trip, and the Sixers onto an prolonged break whereas the Celtics and Hawks duke it out earlier than the beginning of Spherical 2.

“Yeah, it is good,” Rivers stated. “We’ve obtained to attempt to preserve our rhythm, which is essential, however we get to heal, and that is actually essential.”

Primarily because it pertains to Embiid, the MVP finalist and league-leading scorer whom Philadelphia will desperately have to have any probability of advancing to the Japanese Convention finals for the primary time since 2001. Requested after the sport if he had any sense of how seemingly it was that Embiid could be out there for the beginning of the subsequent spherical, each time that comes, Rivers advised reporters, “I might say proper now, it is most likely the identical proportion that I stated earlier than the sport — most likely 50%, at greatest.”

If Embiid’s unavailable, the considerations which have surrounded the Sixers all season — and that cropped up even within the sweep of a lesser Brooklyn crew — will turn into much more worrisome. As a lot as Rivers and Harden proceed to insist that they’re not bothered by the previous league MVP’s ongoing wrestle to transform up-close seems, the actual fact stays that Harden shot 7-for-30 (23.3%) within the paint in opposition to Brooklyn — a stage of inside futility that Philly merely received’t have the ability to survive in opposition to higher-end competitors. Particularly if opponents are capable of prepare much more defensive consideration on Maxey, who was good in Video games 2 and three in opposition to the Nets, however who shot simply 6 for 20 from the sector with one help in opposition to three turnovers when positioned right into a extra major function in Recreation 4.

The rebounding and second-chance point benefits that Philly loved in opposition to Brooklyn — amassing greater than 36% of their very own misses and almost 84% of the Nets’, in response to Cleansing the Glass, each of which might’ve led the league throughout the common season — are prone to dissipate in opposition to both a Celtics crew that ranked ninth in general rebounding fee this season or a Hawks squad that was high three in that division after Quin Snyder took over as head coach. Defending Boston, with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown main a phalanx of harmful wings, or Atlanta, with Trae Younger and Dejounte Murray each able to dismantling coverages, might be a lot trickier with out Embiid than limiting Brooklyn.

Ugly wins like those Philadelphia collected over the ultimate three video games of the primary spherical nonetheless depend simply the identical as the beautiful ones. The method of amassing them, although, is about to get an terrible lot harder. Simply ask the Sixers’ resident veteran soothsayer, P.J. Tucker.

“He stated, ‘The playoffs begin now,’” Maxey stated after the sport. “I assume that they did not begin this sequence. He stated it begins now.”

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