NEW YORK — 300 sixty-four days in the past, the Philadelphia 76ers entered a street area with a 3-0 lead of their opening-round sequence and an opportunity to advance to the Jap Convention semifinals with as little muss, fuss or static as attainable. They couldn’t do it: Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey mixed to overlook 39 pictures, Pascal Siakam scored 34 factors, and the Toronto Raptors received 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 The Sixers misplaced each, and wound up bowing out to outdated pal Jimmy Butler and the Miami Warmth in six video games.
When you might have an opportunity to eradicate an overmatched opponent — even one enjoying with the desperation of making an attempt to save lots of its season, and even with Embiid having already sustained his now depressingly customary — discover a technique 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 enables them to maneuver on to greater and higher issues — particularly, the winner of the sequence between the second-seeded Boston Celtics and seventh-seeded Atlanta Hawks, by which Boston holds a 2-1 lead.
The Sixers didn’t accrue many fashion factors within the means of eliminating a Nets staff 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 with a and after the commerce deadline.)
Recreation 4 had a distinctly MVP-shaped gap within the center all through, evident in each the Nets’ sturdy begin — 29 factors within the first quarter, a 15-point, seven-rebound, four-block first half for Brooklyn heart 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 ; 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 — and the Nets took a 48-40 lead into halftime, the Sixers remained assured that they’d be capable of flip issues round.
“We had been getting good pictures, 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 had been getting actually beauty, and so they solely had 48 factors, so sooner or later we knew our offense needed to get it going.”
“At halftime, we had been down, hadn’t performed effectively, and we felt like we had been going to win the sport,” Rivers stated. “You possibly can 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 seven factors, together with an enormous transition three. Third-year heart Paul Reed — who came upon simply earlier than recreation time that he was beginning instead of Embiid, prompting him to ask the coach who informed him, — grabbed 4 offensive rebounds in the course of the run, extending possessions and placing much more strain on a small, frantic and overtaxed Nets squad starting to sense the inevitable.
“It was like, ‘Look, let’s simply work out a technique to get three stops in a row, and get out and attempt to get some straightforward baskets,’” stated Tobias Harris, who routinely used his measurement, power and easy midrange recreation to hunt mismatches towards smaller Brooklyn defenders en path to a team-high 25 factors and 12 rebounds. “And I believed we had been in a position to try this, in a position to get some buckets to fall for us. However as soon as we received our lead, we knew. Like, ‘We simply received 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 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 means of the primary three quarters — pouring in 12 of his 15 factors to assist gasoline that closing kick.
“He was robust,” Maxey stated of Melton. “After which he hit some huge pictures, man. I feel he hit two threes within the fourth? I need to say — I could also be improper — however two threes within the fourth. After which he hit a middie! I do not bear 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 three with 1:55 remaining to ship the Nets off to an early summer time 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 received 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 Jap Convention finals for the primary time since 2001. Requested after the sport if he had any sense of how probably it was that Embiid could be accessible for the beginning of the subsequent spherical, each time that comes, Rivers informed reporters, “I might say proper now, it is most likely the identical share that I stated earlier than the sport — .”
If Embiid’s unavailable, the issues which have surrounded the Sixers all season — and that cropped up even within the sweep of a lesser Brooklyn staff — will turn out to be 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 very fact stays that Harden shot 7-for-30 (23.3%) within the paint towards Brooklyn — a stage of inside futility that Philly merely received’t be capable of survive towards higher-end competitors. Particularly if opponents are in a position to practice much more defensive consideration on Maxey, who was good in Video games 2 and three towards the Nets, however who shot simply 6-for-20 from the sphere with one help towards three turnovers when positioned right into a extra major function in Recreation 4.
The rebounding and benefits that Philly loved towards Brooklyn — gathering greater than 36% of their very own misses and almost 84% of the Nets’, in line with , each of which might’ve led the league in the course of the common season — are more likely to dissipate towards both a Celtics staff that this season or a Hawks squad that was 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, will probably 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 rely simply the identical as the beautiful ones. The method of gathering 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.”