It was anybody’s game, past the midway point of the fourth quarter, and the Brooklyn Nets were going to their strength, using their three gun-slinging guards.
The 76ers answered with their strength, which even without injured center Joel Embiid, is their size. And in Wednesday’s 117-106 win over the visiting Nets, size won.
The Nets were leading, 101-100, when they brought Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert back into the game to join Spencer Dinwiddie in the backcourt with 5-minutes, 19-seconds left in the fourth quarter. Tobias Harris immediately posted up and scored to give the Sixers a 102-101 lead. The Sixers (26-16) continued to pound the ball low, with center Al Horford earning two free throws, which he hit, and then sinking a 5-foot hook shot.
Then when Brooklyn adjusted by trying to take away the inside, Harris hit a three-pointer that gave the Sixers a 109-104 lead and they were on their way.
The 6-foot-9 Harris showed great versatility in scoring 34 points. Six of his field goals were from 10 feet or in. Several other field goals were pull-up jumpers over smaller defenders. In addition, he hit 4 of 6 three-pointers.
All told, he shot 14-for-20 from the field, 70%, his second-best shooting percentage of the season. He scored 24 of his 34 points in the second half, including 11 in the fourth quarter. The 24 points are the most scored by a Sixer in the second half of a game this season, according to nba.com stats.
Most of all, Harris and his teammates made the most of their size advantage, especially when the Nets went with the smaller lineup later in the fourth quarter.
“That is what we wanted to do,” said Harris, now averaging 19.6 points. “We wanted to go at the mismatches. We had a height difference and were able to find looks.”
For the game, the Sixers outscored the Nets, 62-46, in points in the paint.
In the fourth quarter, when the Sixers outscored Brooklyn, 31-16, they took advantage of their size.
“I thought we had some success doing that for sure,” coach Brett Brown said. “The efficiency overall that we played with in the last period, the last five minutes especially, was impressive.”
Not only did the Sixers score key baskets inside, but they also attempted 12 fourth-quarter free throws, nearly half their total of 25 for the game.
As much as Harris and company take advantage of their size, nobody does it like 6-10 point guard Ben Simmons. He didn’t score in the fourth quarter, but had five assists and no turnovers. He scored 20 points over the first three quarters, often driving to the basket on smaller players.
“It is being aggressive,” Simmons said. “Once I get downhill and get that quick two-step, it is a lot easier to get to the rim, especially when they are sitting back. So I am just trying to take advantage of that, get to the rim and make plays for my team.”
That aggressive mindset helped improve the Sixers to 19-2 at home. Taking it on the road will be the next step.