Sixers complete Nets sweep with Embiid-less 96-88 win

Philadelphia 76ers’ Tobias Harris (12) gestures after making a 3-point shot during the second half of Game 4 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets Saturday, April 22, 2023, in New York. The 76ers won 96-88. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Philadelphia 76ers finished out their sweep of the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the postseason on Saturday, the first one since the 1990-91 season. With the absence of Joel Embiid due to a sprained right knee after Game 3, multiple Sixers were called-upon and delivered to seal the series for Philadelphia.

BBall Paul Steps Up

Philadelphia 76ers’ Paul Reed (44) dunks the ball in the first half during Game 2 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets, Monday, April 17, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Without Embiid, Sixers’ backup big man Paul Reed got his first start of the postseason. And boy, did he deliver. While he got into a bit of trouble early on, requiring a brief substitution by Montrezl Harrell, he quickly rebounded (pun intended) in the second half.

Reed has done an excellent job sharpening his skills at the rim while exercising noticeably more control on the dribble – he had only one turnover all game. With 10 points and an impressive 15 rebounds, Reed had his first career postseason double-double.

Sixers Struggle Early On

Brooklyn Nets’ Mikal Bridges (1) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers’ Paul Reed (44) as Tyrese Maxey (0) watches during the second half of Game 4 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 22, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Sixers trailed throughout the first half. At one point early on in the first quarter, they were down by 11, but some nice buckets from Tobias Harris and James Harden kept Philadelphia in the game. Besides missing Embiid, the Sixers struggled early on to get to the rim, frequently dribbling on the outskirts of the court without effectively setting a screen.

What’s more, they made just 2 of 11 shots from beyond the arc in the first half, with both coming in the second quarter. The Nets, on the other hand, in addition to a barrage of Nic Claxton dunks and Spencer Dinwiddie shots, hit 4 of 8 from three in the first quarter alone. One of those came right at the first-quarter buzzer by Dinwiddie, who had an uncharacteristic 14 points early on.

While the Sixers cut the lead a bit late in the first quarter and early in the second, they still ended the half down 48-40.

Harris, Melton, Maxey, and Reed Come Alive in Second Half

Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey (0) reacts after scoring during the second half of Game 4 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, Saturday, April 22, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

But something clicked for Philadelphia in the third quarter, as Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris made their shots much more consistently. Equally as important, De’Anthony Melton – who went scoreless in the first half – began connecting from deep, scoring three 3-pointers in the second half.

However, as it’s been all series, it was the team’s defense that gave them the edge. The team continued to do a nice job limiting Mikal Bridges but worked hard in Game 4 to keep the ball out of Cam Johnson’s hands too. The two scored just 17 and 11 points, respectively, the lowest for both players in this series.

As much as Embiid was missed, the defensive toughness in the combination of PJ Tucker and Paul Reed pulled through in a big way in terms of getting rebounds and forcing turnovers. For his part, Tobias Harris used his mismatched size at the rim to nab a whopping ten defensive rebounds. 

The Sixers nabbed the lead in the middle of the third quarter after a couple of major plays: a Tyrese Maxey and-1, a Paul Reed layup from James Harden, and the third of De’Anthony Melton’s threes. After Brooklyn briefly tied the game again, Philadelphia pulled ahead and didn’t look back.

The final dagger came from Tobias Harris – who ended his night with 25 points, 12 rebounds, a steal, a block, and an assist – making a corner three with 90 seconds to go. The game ended shortly thereafter with a final score of 96-88. All of the Sixers’ starters except for PJ Tucker scored in double digits, as did De’Anthony Melton off the bench.

Embiid Gets Much-Needed Rest

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid reacts after being hurt during the second half against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Thursday, April 20, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The sweep wasn’t just important to show what the Sixers are capable of, even without Embiid. It presents a rare breather in a physically excruciating postseason that has long haunted the Sixers. It’s no secret that Embiid’s injury history in the playoffs has been tough – even when it does come at the hands of opponents actively looking to dent his durability.

In each of the last two postseasons, Embiid has played hurt, and it’s shown in his quality of play. Sixers fans saw a glimpse of that in Game 3 after Embiid scored just 10 points. But with today’s sweep, the Sixers have earned a bit of extra rest before facing the winner of the Hawks-Celtics series. With Atlanta cutting into Boston’s lead and extending the series to at least five games, Embiid, and the Sixers are in an ideal spot to rest and recover.