The 76ers beat the Brooklyn Nets,145-123, in Game 2 of their first-round playoff matchup Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center to even the best-of-seven series.
Here are some observations and best and worst awards:
— Ben Simmons’ third-quarter defense on D’Angelo Russell was a game-changer for the Sixers. Russell did not score and got off only two shots in the third. Simmons was relentless in denying Russell off the ball, not letting him get free for shots that he is accustomed to getting and also denying entry passes, forcing the Nets to move away from their usual half-court sets.
— The Nets continued to play high on and push their way in between screens to prevent the Sixers shooters from breaking loose, but this time, the Sixers were ready. They set better screens, fought through the defense, anticipated the defense, and had a backup plan ready to execute. Instead of forcing contested shots, or backing out of a broken play, the Sixers used secondary screens for rollers such as Simmons or sent a pass backdoor for JJ Redick or Tobias Harris.
— With 10 minutes, 5 seconds to play, Boban Marjanovic leaned in and jumped into a shooting Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Immediately after the foul, Simmons went to Marjanovic and reminded him that he is bigger than anyone else on the floor and that if he just stays planted with his arms straight up, the Nets can’t score on him. Not only did Marjanovic do exactly that on the next play, but it was a good indication that communication is improving. The Sixers players were lifting each other up rather than being disappointed by mistakes.
— Joel Embiid did not attempt a three-pointer in Game 2 and did a great job attacking down low. That is not to say that he shouldn’t take open threes when they are available. The more important difference was the speed at which Embiid made decisions. He has a tendency to telegraph his decision and to get caught dribbling too much in the mid-range area before getting on the block. Monday, he was quick with any fakes and had a plan on how to get to the basket based on the Nets defense before he started his drive or backed down an opponent.
— Best performance: Considering the disappointing performance by Simmons in Game 1, it’s hard not to look at him as the best player on the floor in Game 2. He finished with his second career playoff triple-double, was aggressive from the jump, and wasn’t shy in attacking.
— Worst performance: Joe Harris, the player with the NBA’s best three-point shooting percentage this season, took only four shots in Game 2 and missed on both of his three-point attempts, finishing with just four points in 26 minutes. He also dipped defensively, unable to fight through the Sixers’ adjustments.
— Best defensive performance: As stated above, Simmons’ denial of Russell in the third quarter was spectacular. He held the Nets’ All-Star scoreless during that span.
— Worst statistic: The Nets, a team known for three-point shooting, did not make a three in the third quarter.
— Best statistic: Rebounding and defense were big reasons for the Sixers’ upper hand in Game 2. The Sixers outrebounded the Nets, 49-32, and held them to nine second-chance points (to the Sixers’ 21).