Almost invariably an NBA player will talk about defense when asked about a loss. I personally loathe talking about missed shots, but when you look at the Sixers’ Game 1 loss, it is hard to really point to defense as the crux of the issue.
The Sixers generally held the Brooklyn Nets to the shots they wanted them to take in this game. It was on the other end where the ice cold shooting and poor foul shooting doomed them to a frustrating outing where the notoriously impatient Philly fans turned on the team and began showering them with boos as early as the second quarter.
Whitewalker Level Cold
It would also be a stretch to say that the Sixers got all of the shots they would typically want. For the past couple of months, Ben Simmons has attacked the rim aggressively in the open court. Today, he too often looked to pass into tight windows. This resulted in increasing the level of difficulty for the team versus lubricating the offense in line with his duties as point guard.
The Nets made an effort to sag into the paint to dissuade shots at the rim, but Simmons simply didn’t get downhill enough to stress the defense. This was especially problematic after the Nets struggled to defend without fouling. The Sixers attempted 42 free throws but could have done even more to get the Nets big men, including Dudley, Allen and Davis, in foul trouble. Missing 13 free throws was an obvious exacerbating factor in a game they lost by 9.
“I’d be shocked if you didn’t see a different Ben Simmons in Game 2,” Brett Brown said about Simmons possibly overthinking his play on Saturday.
The Nets, conversely, have to be proud of how they competed in Game 1. Kenny Atkinson has developed a scheme for the Nets that makes them a very problematic matchup for Philadelphia. Those matchup problems were evident as Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris Levert attacked in dribble penetration in the second half with little resistance by the Sixers guards.
Early on, Russell was limited to the kind of shots that Brett Brown wanted him to take. Ben Simmons took on the early responsibility of guarding Russell, who started 0-5 from the field, mostly on pull-up midrange jumpers off the dribble.
Russell did warm up later but finished with 21 points on 21 shot attempts. This is the kind of inefficiency that Brown had hoped for. Relatively speaking, this was a win for the Sixers’ defense.
The Nets’ bench, however, was another story entirely. Ed Davis led the Nets with a +29 off the bench when he spelled Jarrett Allen who was consistently beaten by Joel Embiid. Caris Levert was a +19 and scored an efficient 23 points as well.
“He’s such a dominating player.. it’s hard to find a way to stop him.”Kenny Atkinson on Joel Embiid
Embiid was dominant for stretches in the game, despite being noticeably in pain throughout. He entered the postgame press conference with ice on his left knee and was driven via golf cart to the media room for the availability.
His early attacking of the paint resulted in two quick fouls on the Nets starting center Jarrett Allen, but an 0-5 night from three did not force the Nets to come out to challenge him. The Nets were able to sag into the paint without consequence due to Joel (and the rest of the team) struggling so mightily from the perimeter.
When asked if this poor shooting night was a result of something the Nets did or just a matter of shots not falling, Joel said that shots didn’t fall but credited the Nets defensive approach.
Embiid fought through the pain to finish with 22 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 blocks, albeit on 4 of 14 shooting. He was 10-14 from the free throw line.
Butler almost singlehandedly willed the team to contention. He finished with a playoff career-high 36 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks in 39 minutes.
Brett Brown referred to Butler as “the adult in the room” for his stepping up in a game where nearly everyone else seemed out of sorts.
Butler, for his part, lamented his lack of assists after the game. As someone who has been deferential to a fault at times this season, Butler stepped up when needed most.
Looking Ahead to Game 2
This game is worthy of a second watch. The key indicators seem to be as simple as missed shots and lack of comfort. The Sixers executed, for the most part, the game-plan defensively that Brett Brown had set out. 111 points is well below the 124 points that the Nets had averaged in their two wins against the Sixers during the regular season.
This is the kind of game that could easily be chalked up to a poor shooting night if the Sixers come out firing on Monday. If they shoot poorly again, then serious doubts will begin about how this series may play out.
Game 2 is Monday at 8pm and PFO will be on hand again to cover it for you.