After taking a 2-0 lead versus the Brooklyn Nets at home, the Sixers now head to the Barclays Center for Games 3 and 4 of the first-round playoff series. Philadelphia has done many things well that have allowed them to win both games thus far by double-digits, but there are still a few weaknesses that Brooklyn has already sought to take advantage of.
Here are three things the team needs to tighten up to stay ahead of the series.
Sixers need to fix the James Harden problem
Undoubtedly, James Harden’s struggles at the rim thus far in the postseason have been one of the biggest gaping holes in the team’s offense. While the six-time All-Star put up a whopping six three-pointers in Game 1, he only made one bucket from the field. While this assuredly contributed to the win, a lingering question following the first game was “What happens when Harden doesn’t make his threes?”.
In Game 2, we saw just that – Harden put up a mere eight points on Monday night, including 3-13 from the field and 2-8 from deep. His struggles finishing at the rim are only compounded by the fact that Harden has not had a single free throw thus far in the series.
If you count last season’s Game 6 against the Miami Heat, that’s three playoff games in a row with no free-throws. For context, Harden has had at least one free-throw in every regular-season game he’s played as a Sixer. And while the lack of free-throws aren’t entirely his fault – questions about officiating surrounding Harden in the playoffs are far from new – it provides even more reason for him to effectively finish at the rim. With the Nets’ aggressive double-team of Joel Embiid, Harden must do better finishing at the rim to be competitive in this series and beyond
2. Shut down Cam Johnson
The Sixers have done a really nice job of limiting Mikal Bridges on offense, limiting him to just 12 points in the second half on Monday night while forcing three turnovers. But that’s also opened up shooting opportunities for PF Cam Johnson, who put up a playoff career-high 28 points in Game 2.
The 27-year old has taken on a much more dominant role offensively in Brooklyn than he did during his tenure with the Phoenix Suns, and the Sixers seemed ill-prepared to respond. Johnson is particularly lethal deep threat – he shot 5-of-11 from beyond in Game 2 – as he’s able to quickly catch and shoot with the ball on his fingertips.
The Sixers have notoriously lacked the size to effectively defend sharpshooting wings, meaning that despite his unreal poster dunk on Embiid, the big man may need to reshift his defensive efforts to halt Johnson.
The Sixers had 19 turnovers during Game 2, way up from 8 in Game 1 and their regular-season average of 12.5. Embiid alone was responsible for eight of those on Monday, and while the Nets are arguably doubling him more than any other team ever has, it’s still simply too many times to let the ball go. Still, it’s not entirely Embiid’s fault, as many of those turnovers resulted from a lack of setting effective screens.
Despite Tyrese Maxey’s outstanding scoring night, he still struggled to get open during Embiid possessions, as did De’Anthony Melton and Tobias Harris. Knowing that the Nets will fully use their speed and athletic advantages on Embiid, his fellow teammates must sharpen their communication and floor spacing to be exactly where the big man needs them.
AP Photo/Derik Hamilton