The 76ers take care of business against the Nets, but plenty of uncertainty awaits

NEW YORK — Three hundred and sixty-four days ago, the Philadelphia 76ers entered the road arena with a 3-0 lead in their opening-round series and a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals with as little noise, fuss or static as possible. . They couldn’t do it: Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey combined to miss 39 shots, Pascal Siakam scored 34 points and the Toronto Raptors won. Game 4 To extend the series.

Five days later, Billy finishes the job. Still, the extra games paid off — most notably, when Embiid found himself on the business end of a Siakam elbow late in a Game 6 shutout and the resulting fracture knocked him out of the first two games of the second round. The Sixers lost both, and bowed to old friend Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat in six games.

Is Philly’s lesson from that debacle capital? Don’t play with your food. (Yes, Doc Rivers: It’s “food”.)

If you get a chance to take down an overrated opponent — while playing with desperation trying to save his season, and Embiid already suffering a postseason injury that has masked his depressing routine — find a way to get the job done and move on. . In Saturday’s matinee at Barclays Center, the Sixers completed a four-game sweep of the Brooklyn Nets 96-88, allowing them to move on to bigger and better things — namely, the winner of the second series. -The top-ranked Boston Celtics vs. the seventh-ranked Atlanta Hawks, with Boston leading 2-1.

The Sixers didn’t score many style points in the process of eliminating a Nets team that built the postseason on the strength of a cushion built when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were still working in the corner of Flatbush and the Atlantic. (Moved to Brooklyn 13-15 with a Negative point difference And Bottom-10 offense (After the trade deadline.)

Game 4 had an MVP-shaped hole in the middle throughout, evident in both the Nets’ strong start — 29 points in the first quarter, a 15-point, 7-rebound, 4-block first half for Brooklyn center Nick Claxton — and Philadelphia’s continued struggles to put the ball in the basket. He scored six in the first three games of the series Almost 120 points per 100 possessions with MB on the court and just 100 points per 100 without him.; With him unavailable Saturday, Brooklyn could abandon double- and triple-teaming in the first three games and revert to its transition defense, which has helped limit Philly to just 39.6% shooting.

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But even as the misses piled up — Philly’s first 3-pointer never came Almost half in the second quarter — and with the Nets leading 48-40 at halftime, the Sixers were confident they could turn things around.

“We had good shots, especially in the first half — I mean, we had 40 points, but I missed four and we missed some open threes,” Harden said after the game. “We were pretty good and they were only held to 48 points, so we knew at times our offense had to do that.”

“At halftime, we were down, not playing well, and we felt like we were going to win the game,” Rivers said. “You can feel it in our team.”

The game was tilted early in the third as Philadelphia went on a 21-4 run over eight minutes to erase a double-digit deficit. Harden dished out four of his 11 assists. Maxey scored 7 points, including a huge conversion 3. Third-year center Paul Reed — who found out just before the game that he was starting in Embiid’s place — prompted a coach who told him, “Oh, yeah, really?” – grabbed four offensive rebounds during the run, stretched possessions and put even more pressure on a small, frantic and overtaxed Nets team that was starting to feel the inevitable.

Tobias Harris of the Philadelphia 76ers dribbles against Royce O’Neal of the Brooklyn Nets during the second half of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoffs at Barclays Center on April 22, 2023 in Brooklyn Borough, New York. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

“It was like, ‘Let’s find a way to get three stops in a row and try to get some easy baskets,'” said Tobias Harris, who routinely uses his size, strength and smooth midrange game. Hunt for mismatches against smaller Brooklyn defenders en route to a team-high 25 points and 12 rebounds. “I thought we could do it and get some buckets for ourselves. But once we got our lead, we knew. Like, ‘We’ve got to keep this.’

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They almost didn’t. Brooklyn made one last push early in the fourth, taking a 72-70 lead on a turnaround jumper by Michael Bridges, the role player-turned-star Ironman who finally ran out of gas late in the series, going 6 for 18. 9 for 31 in the 4th game and the final two overs. From there, Philly turned on the Jets and outscored the hosts 26-16 over the final 8:38, led by two-way powerhouse D’Anthony Melton — who had been held scoreless through the first three quarters. 12 of his 15 points would help fuel that completion.

“He’s tough,” Maxey said of Melton. “And then he hit some big shots, man. I think he hit two 3s in the fourth? I want to say — I could be wrong — but two 3s in the fourth. And then he hit a midget! I don’t remember the last time I saw him hit a midget. I was like, ‘ That was good, mate.’

Melton provided a hit-ahead assist to Harris for a corner 3 with 1:55 left to send the Nets to summer break and send the Sixers into an extended break while the Celtics and Hawks made it out before the round even started. 2.

“Yeah, that’s great,” Rivers said. “We have to try to keep our rhythm, which is important, but we will recover, which is very important.”

Primarily related to Embiid, MVP finalist and league-leading scorer Philadelphia should have a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001. Embiid will be available at the start of the next round, whenever that comes, Rivers told reporters, “I’ll say right now, it’s probably the same percentage I said before the game — probably 50%, at best.”

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If Embiid isn’t available, the concerns that have surrounded the Sixers all season — and even grew in the team’s sweep of lowly Brooklyn — will become even more worrisome. While Rivers and Harden continue to insist they are unfazed by the former league MVP’s ongoing struggles to replace his close looks, the fact remains that Harden shot 7-for-30 (23.3%) in the paint against Brooklyn. A level of interior ineffectiveness that Philly simply cannot survive against top-tier competition. Opponents can train even more defensive attention on Maxi, who was brilliant in Games 2 and 3, especially against the Nets. Game 4.

regeneration and A second chance point Advantages Philly enjoyed against Brooklyn – collecting over 36% of their own fouls and nearly 84% of nets. Cleaning the glassBoth would have led the league in the regular season — and the Celtics could fall apart against the team. Ranked ninth in overall rebounding rate This season or the Hawks team Top three in that field After Quin Snyder took over as head coach. Defending Boston, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown lead dangerous wings, or Atlanta, with Trae Young and DeJonde Murray both capable of shedding coverages. Very much Controlling Brooklyn is trickier without Embiid.

Ugly wins like the ones Philadelphia collected over the final three games of the first round still count as pretty wins. However, the process of collecting them can be very difficult. Just ask veteran astrologer BJ Tucker, resident of the Sixers.

“He said, ‘The playoffs start now,'” Maxey said after the game. “I don’t think they started this series. He said it starts now.

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