PHILADELPHIA — Two teams with championship aspirations went head to head when the Philadelphia 76ers hosted the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night. The meeting, a potential Eastern Conference finals preview, was the second of the season between the teams, as the Nets already bested Philadelphia once in January. Heading into the evening, the Sixers sat at the top of the East with a 16-7 record, while the Nets were in the third spot with a record of 14-10. Both teams were looking for a bounce back victory, as they were each coming off of a loss. Philadelphia fell to the shorthanded Portland Trail Blazers at home on Thursday night, while the Nets dropped their game against the Toronto Raptors in Brooklyn on Friday.
The Nets were shorthanded in Philadelphia as they were without both Kyrie Irving (right index finger sprain) and Kevin Durant (health and safety protocols). Without their two stars, the Nets were ultimately unable to keep pace with the Sixers and Philadelphia pulled out a 124-108 win. Joel Embiid led the way for Philadelphia with 33 points and nine rebounds, while Tobias Harris added 21 points and 12 rebounds. James Harden paced the Nets with 26 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. It’s tough to take too much from this game, as the Nets were without two of their key contributors, but nonetheless here’s three takeaways from Philadelphia’s win over Brooklyn.
Nets had no answer inside for Embiid and the Sixers
One of the things that the Nets had to sacrifice in order to land James Harden earlier this season was interior depth, as center Jarrett Allen was shipped out as part of the deal that landed Harden in Brooklyn. Allen’s departure left a void in Brooklyn’s frontcourt, as it left De’Andre Jordan as the only serviceable center. Against some teams the Nets can get away with being so small, but not against a team with a dominant big man like Embiid. Brooklyn has since added Norvel Pelle to bolster its bench, but that move alone clearly isn’t enough, as Embiid had his way with Brooklyn’s bigs on Saturday night. Philadelphia’s MVP candidate tallied 17 points and five rebounds in the first half of action, and he finished the game with 33 and nine.
Philadelphia’s advantage over most teams is that Embiid creates a mismatch that works in their favor, and that was certainly the case against the Nets. It wasn’t just Embiid either. The Sixers as a whole took advantage of Brooklyn’s lack of size inside, and they finished with 62 points in the paint — compared to just 32 for Brooklyn. The Sixers also bested Brooklyn on the boards, 51-34. Their ability to dominate the interior was a big reason that the Sixers were able to walk away with a win on Saturday.
76ers remain undefeated with their full starting five
Like all teams across the league’ landscape this season, the Sixers have dealt with their fair share of health and injury issues, and they have had some players miss games as a result. However, when they have their full first five — comprised of Embiid, Simmons, Curry, Green, and Harris — Philadelphia is undefeated on the season. They entered Saturday night 12-0 with their full set of starters, and with the win over Brooklyn they moved to 13-0. Now, this obviously doesn’t mean that the Sixers are unbeatable, or that they won’t ultimately lose a game with their go-to group, but it’s certainly a solid sign for a team that is looking to build some solid chemistry and rhythm for what they hope will be a deep playoff push.
Ben Simmons’ defense on James Harden was a game-changer
The Nets kept the contest close throughout the first half and into third quarter. They were able to keep it close thanks largely to James Harden, who appeared to be well on his way to a big performance. The Sixers primarily used Danny Green to guard Harden throughout the first half and into the second half. However, midway through third quarter Doc Rivers made a switch and put Ben Simmons on Harden. Philadelphia then immediately proceeded to go on a 14-0 run and blow the game wide open. They never looked back after that. It was plays like this one from Simmons that helped propel the Sixers to victory:
Harden had 24 points in the game when the switch to put Simmons on him was made. He finished the game with 26 points. After the game, Rivers said he thought that the move to put Simmons on Harden was a main turning point in the contest. Rivers also explained that he waited to put Simmons on Harden until the second half because he wanted to conserve his energy and personal fouls. Simmons has built up a nice case to be the league’s Defensive Player of the Year this season, and Saturday night was another feather in his cap.