Shorthanded Sixers drop one to Nets despite late rally by Terq Smith

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey, left, and Brooklyn Nets’ Mikal Bridges chase a loose ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Philadelphia 76ers returned home off a five-game road trip to face off against Mikal Bridges and the Brooklyn Nets. As has been the case all season, health issues continued to plague the Sixers as a total of six players would be ruled out of this game.

Among those names, the most notable were, of course, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris, but starters Nico Batum and De’Anthony Melton were absent once again, as were Robert Covington and Kenny Lofton.

From the jump, it was clear that the Sixers’ skeleton crew was going to have a long night. Aside from a late-game push by the Sixers’ youngsters, it went just as well as fans expected when they heard the final injury report.

Stung by killer threes

Throughout the game, the difference in the three-point attack from both squads played a major role in the large deficit. Philadelphia struggled on rotations to stay with their man constantly, giving the Nets the opportunity to sling the ball around the arc until they found an open man. The confidence that those wide-open looks gave Brooklyn, in large part, contributed to their 20-made threes on the night.

Philadelphia 76ers’ Danuel House Jr., left, goes up for a shot against Brooklyn Nets’ Cam Thomas during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Meanwhile, Philadelphia failed to create those same open looks on the other side of the court, and if it weren’t for a late hot stretch by Terquavion Smith, who finished his nine minutes, all in the fourth quarter, by going 5/6 from beyond the arc, the Sixers would have finished the game with a putrid percentage of 30.4 percent on 23 shots from deep.

Philadelphia’s lack of an air attack has been prevalent all season, but with Joel Embiid in the lineup, that weakness was bearable. In his absence, plus the absence of Harris, Melton, Batum, and Covington, there was little hope of overcoming it in this game.

Perhaps a move or two between the trade deadline and the buyout market could improve the situation for the Sixers, but there is no better answer than getting healthy right now for Philadelphia.

Sixers’ kindergarten strikes back

Come the fourth quarter, there was at least one small consultation prize for Sixers fans; that being the lineup of Terquavion Smith, Jaden Springer, Ricky Council IV, Furkan Korkmaz, and KJ Martin. The Sixers’ youth movement, plus Korkmaz, I suppose, played the majority of the final quarter and showed the first bit of fight that was not directed at the officiating, albeit against the Nets’ blowout lineup.

Philadelphia 76ers’ Jaden Springer, right, is fouled by Brooklyn Nets’ Nic Claxton during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Jaden Springer continued his impressive efforts, remaining as physical as any Sixer while showing an improving amount of aggression offensively. While his jump shot is still a major question mark, Springer managed to find a spot under the basket often and worked hard to create contact, forcing his way to the line. That and the occasional three is all the Sixers need out of him offensively.

The real standout of the quarter, though, was Smith, who, as mentioned earlier, finished the night 5/6 from deep and 6/7 on the night. Smith was only unleashed in the final quarter of the game, but he displayed the instant offense that has always been advertised. As the Sixers continue to play games shorthanded, the idea of unleashing Smith sooner in games only becomes more attractive.

Up next for the Sixers

Saturday’s matchup against Brooklyn marked the first of four at home for Philadelphia. The Sixers will next face Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night, Feb. 5, at 7:00 PM.

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) celebrates his shot against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 26, 2024, in Atlanta. Doncic had 73 points on the night. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Philadelphia will need all the reinforcements they can gather, as Luka will give them all they can handle.