The 76ers won the opening tip and closed out their first offensive possession with a turnover. But, it wasn’t the offense that mattered in the opening minutes of the Sixers’ 122-100 series-ending win over the Brooklyn Nets. It was the Sixers’ defense that stole the show on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Ben Simmons, relentlessly defending D’Angelo Russell, forced him into contested shots, deflected passes, and cut off passing lanes with his length. Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris came up with steals, JJ Redick kept Joe Harris cold, and Joel Embiid did what he does best, protecting the rim and pulling down rebounds.
Leading by 8-0 with just under nine minutes to play in the first quarter, the Sixers denied every Nets option, defensively rotating like it was second nature, forcing the Nets into a 24-shot clock violation as Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson looked on from his court side seat, disappointment written all over his face.
“I was just so disappointed with our shot selections to start,” Atkinson said. “Credit their defense. I thought they were locked in, they were swarming us. We really couldn’t get by them, one through five.”
Less than a minute later, Embiid crowded Caris LeVert at the baseline and forced him to throw an off balance pass into the backcourt. Another Nets turnover. By the time the first quarter ended the Nets had coughed up six turnovers that the Sixers turned into six points on the other end.
The Sixers had offensive missteps, rushed shots, missed shots, and turnovers in the opening minutes, but with their defense dictating the tone of the game the Sixers lead ballooned to 14-0 before the starters took their first rest.
“I think everyone was kind of on their toes before the game," Simmons said. “Just making sure we were all locked in because we didn’t want to have an upset and go back to Brooklyn.”
During the course of the series, the Sixers have had incredible second-half showings, allowing the Nets to stay close through the first 24 minutes and even lead at halftime before turning things up later in the game. With the opportunity to close out at home and send the Nets packing, the Sixers made sure to end things early on Tuesday.
During a timeout with 9:40 on the clock in the second quarter, the Nets players huddled, steeped in conversation, reassuring each other that they could handle things, that they could get back into the game. But by then the damage had already been done.
After a 23-2 run to open the first quarter, and a franchise record 60-31 lead at halftime, the Sixers defense deciding the outcome of the game seemingly before it had started.
“They did a great job of capitalizing off our misses, scoring in transition and doing whatever they wanted before we could even get on the board,” Russell said after the game.
Russell, the Nets leading scorer, was held to just three first-half points on 1-of-9 shooting. As a team, the Nets were held to just 26.1 percent shooting in the first half, 14.3 percent from three-point range.