The Sixers Caught Fire From Three To Take Game 1 Over The Nets

After a delightfully entertaining Play-In Tournament, the 2023 NBA Playoffs began for real on Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, where the 76ers played host to the Brooklyn Nets in the East’s 3-6 matchup.

Early on it was clear that the Nets’ plan was to make everyone but the MVP frontrunner Joel Embiid beat them, as they sent hard doubles at Embiid every time he touched the ball early in the game. The goal was to make Embiid make the right read and make the other Sixers knock down shots, and Embiid and the supporting cast were happy to oblige all night. Embiid would eventually get rolling, finishing the game with 26 points, five rebounds, three assists, and three blocks, but he was patient in getting his, happy to move the ball along once the double team arrived and let the Sixers take advantage of a Nets defense in rotation.

That is only effective if other guys are hitting shots, and after being a fairly pedestrian three-point shooting team in the regular season, the Sixers caught fire in the opener. Philadelphia knocked down 21-of-43 three-point attempts on the night, with six different Sixers hitting multiple threes in the game. Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey were a combined 6-of-8 from deep, while James Harden led the way with a 7-of-13 night from beyond the arc, as he put up 23 points alongside 13 assists, picking apart the Brooklyn defense from the perimeter with 17 of those points coming in the first half.

On the other side, Mikal Bridges was doing his part to keep the Nets in the game, scoring 23 in the first half on his way to a 30-point night as he continues to shine in a lead role in Brooklyn.

After taking an 11-point lead into halftime, the third quarter saw more of the same, with the Sixers offense relying on the three-point barrage to keep the Nets at arm’s length, as they fought valiantly to stay in touch. However, in the fourth quarter the floodgates opened a bit thanks to a 10-0 Philly run, that saw Paul Reed get involved (11 points off the bench) to push the lead out to 20.

Brooklyn wouldn’t completely fold, but they just did not have the firepower to keep up with Philly, particularly given the Sixers’ dominance on the offensive boards — 14 for Philly, 5 for Brooklyn — that gave them a number of second chance opportunities. When coupled with 19 Nets turnovers to just eight from the Sixers, Philadelphia ultimately put up 19 more shot attempts than Brooklyn did on the night, which is just too big of a difference for any team to overcome, even with the Nets boasting a strong field goal (55.7) and three-point percentage (44.8). In the end, the Sixers cruised to a 121-101 win, easing their way into the playoffs with a relatively low-stress win.

Moving forward in the series, the Nets will have to figure out how to balance their efforts in doubling Embiid with being better in getting back to assignments, not only to contest on shots but also to box out on the glass, as their scrambling rotations allowed Philly’s wings to dart in for a ton of offensive boards. Offensively, Brooklyn will have to cut down on turnovers, particularly if they’re operating at this level of a disadvantage on the glass to limit the shot differential between the two teams. Otherwise, Bridges looked great and they got a strong performance from Cam Johnson (18 points) in support. Spencer Dinwiddie needs to be better and Seth Curry (10 points on 4-of-5 shooting) should probably be more involved to try and take advantage of the space they can create on the perimeter against the bigger Sixers.

For Philly, they probably won’t be able to bank on this level of three-point shooting all series, but they also figure to be much better in the paint moving forward. They were oddly dreadful finishing at the rim and shot just 21-of-46 from inside the three-point line on the afternoon. Still, Embiid being as patient as he was, while also figuring out ways to stay involved by going quick off the catch sometimes before the double could arrive was a very good sight to see.

Given how many times he was doubled, finishing the game with just two turnovers is a very good showing for him and a good sign for the Sixers moving forward considering plenty of other teams will look to blitz and trap him as well.

Harden’s finishing is maybe the biggest concern, as he was just 1-of-8 from inside the three-point line, which will be something to monitor going forward. Still, he was spectacular at everything else and if he can be anything close to this effective from the three-point line, the Sixers will be a very tough cover. Tobias Harris’ 21-point outburst was also a welcome sight for the Philly faithful, as he hasn’t always gotten off to great postseason starts, so him looking as comfortable as he did being more involved offensively with the attention given to Embiid is important for the Sixers moving forward.