If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
That’s the mentality the Brooklyn Nets are going with as they head into Game 2 against the 76ers.
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- Brett Brown and the Sixers have a lot to figure out, Ben Simmons’ playoff performance is priority No. 1 | David Murphy
The Nets executed their Game 1 plan nearly perfectly on Saturday en route to a 111-102 victory.
Step 1: Take JJ Redick out of the equation by staying high on screens, limiting transition threes, and getting him into foul trouble.
“[Joel] Embiid is a constant, he’s going to score, Jimmy [Butler] is a constant too,” Spencer Dinwiddie said before the Nets practiced at Temple on Sunday. “We feel like JJ makes their offense explosive so that’s why he was one of the keys.”
For large chunks of the game Dinwiddie was tasked with chasing Redick and making life as difficult as possible for him. The plan worked.
Redick finished with just five points on 2-of-7 shooting and fouled out midway through the fourth quarter.
Step 2: Use the same tactics on Tobias Harris, also denying backdoor cuts.
“Make it tough for the two of them,” Jared Dudley said. “To negate JJ, that was getting him in foul trouble. For us that’s going to be a game plan all series. ... For someone like Tobias, it’s tough because Joel Embiid is the first option, Jimmy is the second option, and Ben Simmons in transition, so usually when Tobias gets it going it’s transition threes or a layup backdoor, so we try to limit that.”
Harris finished with just four points on 2-of-7 shooting.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson was more than pleased with his team’s execution of the game plan and said that they would do more of the same in Game 2, which tips at 8 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center. That doesn’t mean that he won’t be prepared to make adjustments or that he isn’t expecting a counter from Brett Brown and the Sixers. Brooklyn knows that is coming and is especially expecting Redick to be more of a threat Monday.
“We know how good they are, how good he is,” Atkinson said. “He’s going to find a way, he’s seen all the game plans ever presented to mankind. Like Brett said, we didn’t do anything way out of the norm. They’ve seen it before, it’s just we have to do it a little better.”
When the Sixers come out with their counter attacks, that’s where the next steps of Brooklyn’s plan come into play. These steps are the ones the Nets will be looking to tighten up.
Though they were able to keep Ben Simmons relatively quiet in Game 1, limiting him to just nine points and three assists, the Nets are expecting Simmons to come out more aggressive both in transition and downhill in half-court settings.
In order to make sure Simmons doesn’t thrive, the Nets are going to be physical, deny him opportunities to make kick-out passes to shooters, and sometimes just force him into a place that they know he’s not comfortable.
“Simmons is really the key because in transition he’s hard to guard,” Dudley said. “In halfcourt we’ve had our success with him. ... If he’s going to the basket I might put him on the free-throw line. Let’s see if he can make free throws. This is not Steph Curry shooting free throws, it’s something he’s struggled with. You’ve got to play the game.”
Though there are some fouls the Nets are willing to live with — forcing Simmons to the free-throw line rather than give up an easy layup, especially when the Sixers aren’t in the bonus — there are others that they aren’t. That was a point of emphasis for Brooklyn during practice Sunday.
Embiid finished 12 of 18 on free-throw attempts in Game 1 and Butler went 13 of 15 from the charity stripe. For the young Nets, they’re still trying to find a balance between playing physical, tough basketball but doing so without fouling.
They’re not expecting to keep Butler or Embiid quiet, but they can’t afford to lose their own players to foul trouble as the best-of-seven series continues.
As it stands now, until they’re forced to reevaluate how they are defending the Sixers, the Nets will continue trying to take out players that complement Embiid and Butler, assuming that the two can’t win the series on their own.
That’s where Butler comes in. Though he finished with a game-high 36 points in the first game, he had zero assists, a number which stuck out to him. He sees it as his job to help get Harris and Redick the ball so they can have a better chance at contributing. But Butler isn’t worried about it heading into Game 2.
“I can find the open person,” he said. “I’ll watch some more film tonight. I’ll figure it out, I’ll get my teammates involved.”