NEW YORK — So much for the much-anticipated contest.
Peeking at the NBA schedule a couple of weeks ago, the 76ers’ game against the Brooklyn Nets was expected to be a must-see event.
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The Sixers had a new coach in Doc Rivers and added shooters in Seth Curry and Danny Green to mesh with standouts Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Tobias Harris. Meanwhile, after a season’s wait, the Nets had Kevin Durant to pair with Kyrie Irving. Plus with the likes of Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, and Joe Harris, Brooklyn was regarded as the deepest team in the NBA.
The TNT national audience was in for a treat, or so we thought.
The undermanned Nets defeated the undermanned Sixers, 122-109, in the NBA version of Not-Your-Full-Roster Night at the Barclays Center.
Philly was doomed by turnovers and an inability to stop LeVert and Harris.
The Sixers committed 20 turnovers, which led to 35 points for the Nets. Meanwhile, LeVert got the start at point guard due to Irving missing the game for personal reasons. Let’s just say Brooklyn didn’t miss the six-time All-Star.
LeVert had 22 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds in his second start of the season. Harris finished with 28 points while making 6-of-9 three-pointers.
“We didn’t come to play is what I saw,” Rivers said of the Sixers lacking attention to detail and focus during the game.
Like Brooklyn (5-4), the Sixers got a big effort from a reserve who was inserted into the starting lineup. Shake Milton had season-highs of 24 points and seven assists. Milton got the start because Philly (7-2) was without its best shooter in Curry. Embiid had 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Curry, a shooting guard, missed the game with a sore left ankle, suffering the injury in Wednesday’s 141-136 victory over the Washington Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center. Rivers thinks Curry injury happened late in the fourth quarter.
“But as far as how long he will be out, my guess is day-to-day,” Rivers said. “I don’t think it’s a severe injury. But [sitting out Thursday’s game] is the right thing to do.”
The Sixers were already without key reserves Furkan Korkmaz (left groin strain) and Mike Scott (bruised left knee). Seldom-used Terrance Ferguson also missed Thursday game due to a family issue.
Meanwhile, the Nets had six players sidelined.
Durant, a perennial All-NBA forward, is out while quarantining due to contact tracing/exposure to COVID-19. He could return as soon as Sunday. Dinwiddie had season-ending reconstructive surgery on his partially torn anterior cruciate ligament on Monday. This was the second game Irving missed. He was held out of their Dec. 28 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies for rest.
Before Thursday’s game, Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said he hadn’t spoken to Irving and was unaware of what the personal reason was.
Meanwhile, Nic Claxton (right knee tendinopathy), two-way Reggie Perry (left groin soreness), and Tyler Johnson (health and safety protocols) were out. Johnson tested negative to COVID-19. But was out due contact tracing/exposure.
The Nets were missing more on this night than the Sixers. Durant and Irving are among the league’s best players, while Dinwiddie is the third best player on the team.
“You know this happens during the season,” Rivers said multiple key players being out of a game. “In our end, it’s so early in the season, we are so focused on becoming a better team. We don’t focus a lot on the opponent right now. It’s just too early.”
That’s how he approached the game, fully aware that sometimes going up against an undermanned squad could influence a player’s preparation. Sometimes, players possess mental toughness to fight through things no matter the circumstances. Others times, players aren’t as locked-in perhaps, thinking it’s going to be easier due to not competing against another squad’s best players.
It appeared the latter was the case for the Sixers early in the game.
They looked flat while the Nets attacked. Brooklyn built a 12-point cushion midway through the first quarter. The Sixers closed the gap to 28-26 after one quarter thanks in large part to Milton.. He had nine first-quarter points on 3-for-5 shooting.
The Sixers battled back and took the lead in the second quarter. After it seesawed, the squad were competitive until the Nets went on to build a 15-point cushion late in the half.
Simmons (2-for-8, six points) and Embiid (2-for-7, eight points) struggled to make baskets in the first half. The Sixers shot 39.6% from the field while making 3 of 14 three-pointers in the first half.
Dwight Howard fouled out early in the fourth quarter.
“That’s a game, an extremely winnable game,” Rivers said. “It doesn’t matter where you are playing. But that’s where we were in the past when you show up on the road. You don’t have focus. You are not ready to play basketball, and you deserve to lose the game.
‘That’s what I told them, ‘We deserve to lose.’ ”