The Philadelphia 76ers came into Game 2 against Brooklyn after a 20-point win in Game 1, looking to go up 2-0 in their best-of-seven first-round series. Brooklyn came in focused on trying to steal a game on the road and try to disrupt the 76ers’ offense by doubling Joel Embiid as soon as he touched the ball.
A sloppy first half
The Sixers’ shooting effort was the total opposite of their Game 1 victory in which they made 21 three-pointers in route to a Sixers playoff record. The 76ers were shot 25% from beyond the arc in the first half and the Nets doubled Joel Embiid as soon as he caught to ball, in order to try to eliminate him from the game.
Their plan worked in the first half, limiting the MVP front-runner to just 5 shot attempts. The bad shooting and 12 turnovers combined with a career half from the Nets’ Cam Johnson saw the Sixers trail 49-44 at halftime.
76ers turn around in the second half
The second half was a different story for the 76ers as they clawed back into the game. The Sixers started the second half playing zone defense and had a much more crisp offense. With the Nets still double and triple-teaming Joel Embiid, they moved him back to the elbow to operate. He made plays for his teammates and the ball movement was excellent. The 76ers’ defense stymied the Nets’ offense in the 3rd quarter, holding them to 14 points and 35 total second-half points.
With ball movement hurting the Nets, they went to single coverage on him the last five minutes of the game and he made them pay, scoring on Royce O’Neale or drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line. In the end, the 76ers got a 96-84 victory over Brooklyn, taking a 2-0 lead in the series. The 76ers were led by Joel Embiid (20 points, 19 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 blocks) and Tyrese Maxey (33 points and 3 rebounds). The Nets were paced by Cam Johnson (28 points) and Mikal Bridges (21 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists).
To the Max!
Tyrese Maxey had a pedestrian 13 points in the Sixers’ Game 1 win over the Nets but tonight he came alive when they needed him the most. He made the Nets pay with constant doubles against Joel Embiid, especially in the second half. Maxey scored 33 points and made 6 three-pointers and when the Nets closed out hard on the perimeter, he drove to the lane. Tyrese Maxey is one of the best shooters in the NBA from beyond the arc, ending the season 5th in 3-point percentage. He stepped up when the Sixers needed him the most and expect more big games like this if they continue to leave him open.
Trusting His Teammates
Joel Embiid has taken his scoring to another level this year, dominating opponents every night. He has truly evolved into a three-level scorer and his ability and dominance have helped propel the Sixers to 54 wins, the most since 2001, and catapult him to the top of the MVP race. With the Nets imploring a strategy of constant double and triple teams, he has trusted his teammates to make plays when he can’t.
He invited double teams and made the right basketball plays all night. His willingness to pass to open teammates created great ball movement, making Brooklyn pay for their strategy. The big fella ended with 7 assists but could have had plenty more and had a ton of hockey assists.
In the postgame press conference, the theme from Head Coach Doc Rivers, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Tyrese Maxey was about trusting one another. Embiid mentioned that if the Nets keep leaving the best three-point shooting team open, he will happily pass to open teammates.
Picking Up the Slack
Coming off a historic shooting night from three, James Harden didn’t have the best performance. Harden ended the night 3-13 from the floor including just 2-8 from distance, scoring just 8 points. In a game where they tried to make score the ball didn’t stay in Joel Embiid’s hand long, the Sixers needed much more offense from Harden.
With Harden having a down shooting night, Tobias Harris picked up the slack and helped with the scoring. Harris ended up with 20 points and 12 rebounds to give Embiid and Maxey a hand with the scoring. Harris has really been consistent these last two games and the Sixers need these types of performances to continue in order to move forward in the playoffs.