The Brooklyn Nets went with their ace-in-the-hole move and it still wasn’t enough in Saturday’s 112-108 loss to the 76ers at the Barclays Center.
The Sixers, leading by three games to one, will look to close out the Eastern Conference opening-round series at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center.
The big move that Nets coach Kenny Atkinson made Saturday was putting Caris LeVert in the starting lineup. That adjustment was expected. The 6-foot-7 guard has been the Nets’ most consistent offensive player, averaging 21.8 points in the series and shooting 11-for-23 (47.8 percent) from three-point range.
Where the Nets erred was in riding the hot hand too long.
LeVert played a career-high 42 minutes, 6 seconds Saturday. He scored 25 points but seemed to run out of gas. In the fourth quarter, he played all 12 minutes and scored just one point, going 0-for-3 from the floor. He was a minus-10 in the quarter. He hit just 4 of 9 free throws overall, including 1 of 2 in the final period.
“He was having a great game. All throughout, he is having a great series,” Sixers forward Tobias Harris said before Monday’s practice. “We knew coming in he was one of their tough scorers in different positions, but we wanted to show him physicality and make him take the toughest shots he could.”
Harris, who played 43:26, the most action any player has seen in a game this series, knew from personal experience that fatigue was setting in for LeVert and the Nets.
“At the end of game in that type of environment, I knew they were tired because we were tired," Harris said.
More than adjustments, the Nets simply need their top three scorers in this series — D’Angelo Russell (22.3 ppg.), LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie (17.5) — to play well in the same game.
In Brooklyn’s lone win, a 111-102 victory in Game 1, all three had a major impact. Russell scored 26 points (although he shot 10 for 25), including 19 in the second half when he got hot, shooting 8-for-14. Off the bench, LeVert had 23 points and Dinwiddie added 18.
After a subpar showing in Game 1, when he had nine points, three assists and three turnovers and was a minus-21, Sixers point guard Ben Simmons has reverted to his All-Star form the past three games, and it has impacted the Sixers at both ends of the court.
Most underrated has been Simmons’ defense on Russell, who is shooting just 39.1 percent from the field in the series.
“I am just trying to keep the ball out of his hands, making it tough on him, forcing him right, and showing him the hand when he gets shots up,” Simmons said Monday.