The NBA playoffs are officially underway with the 76ers and the Brooklyn Nets playing the first game of a best-of-seven series at the Wells Fargo Center. The game started out promising with Joel Embiid demanding a lot of attention in the post, forcing Nets’ center Jarrett Allen to commit three early fouls. The Sixers’ defense forced All Star point guard D’Angelo Russell to miss his first six shots, contesting every shot on the floor. Then turnovers, mental lapses, and a complete lack of energy swung the momentum in Brooklyn’s favor en route to a 111-102 76ers’ loss. It was frustrating, disappointing, and frankly ugly to watch.
The lone bright spot for the 76ers in Game One was Jimmy Butler finally playing an aggressive offensive game and poured in 36 points on 11/22 shooting and 13/15 from the free throw line. After putting pressure on the Nets in the early-going, the injured Embiid could never regain his footing. Although he scored 22 points, reeled in 15 rebounds, and blocked 5 shots, he only shot 5/15 from the floor, went 0/5 from three, and only 12/18 from the line.
Overall the 76ers shot 3/24 from deep and 69% (29/42) at the free throw line. JJ Redick is unplayable when he isn’t knocking down his perimeter shots and that was surely the case today before he fouled out late in the fourth quarter. Ben Simmons couldn’t get comfortable against Kenny Atkinson’s defense and made stupid, lackadaisical turnovers. Tobias Harris played 41 minutes yet only took 7 shots. In order for this 76ers team to make a run at the Eastern Conference Finals, Brett Brown needs all three of these guys to produce. We all now know what happens when they can’t.
Speaking of unplayable, WHY IS JONATHON SIMMONS SEEING PLAYOFF MINUTES? In only 11 minutes, Simmons was a -16 and, along with Redick and TJ McConnell, was routinely getting beat off the dribble by D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Caris Levert who combined for 67 points. Jonathon Simmons offers absolutely nothing to the Sixers rotation and his minutes could easily be given to Zhaire Smith, who in only a handful of games, has proven that he is a more-than-capable perimeter defender with incredible off-ball movement on the offensive end.
The 76ers were utterly embarrassing in the opening game of this series. There was zero sense of urgency, a lack of energy, and overall played terribly. Even so, they only lost by 9 points. Brett Brown needs to recognize what his opponent is doing and make adjustments accordingly. I love Boban Marjanovic with all my heart and he is a tremendous player in the right situation, but when D’Angelo Russell and the Nets’ other guards are routinely getting open for pull-up jumpers, Brown needs to make a change. Bobi does not have the quickness to close out and contest these shots. Throwing out somebody like Jonah Bolden or playing Ben Simmons as a small-ball center could throw a wrinkle in Kenny Atkinson’s game plan, who likes to play small, spread the floor, and score from the perimeter.
Every team has an off-game and hopefully this is the only one we’ll see from the 76ers in this series. Let Embiid get a couple more days of rest before the series resumes on Monday night. Tell Jonathon Simmons to kick rocks and get the hell out of Philadelphia. Figure out a way to incorporate Tobias Harris into the offense and get JJ Redick open looks from deep. Find a way to maximize Ben Simmons’ playmaking abilities and get him out in transition. Most importantly, the Nets are only up 1-0 in a best-of-seven series. Yes, this game was ugly, but everybody knows how dangerous this 76ers team can be when they’re firing on all cylinders. My prediction of Sixers in 6 has not changed.
University of South Carolina ’21