The Brooklyn Nets have played the Philadelphia 76ers hard in each of their first three games of their first-round playoff series. Despite that, the Nets find themselves down in a 3-0 hole that they almost certainly won't be able to climb out of. In Game 3, Brooklyn likely threw away their only shot of finding a way back into this series.
The Nets came out as the loser again in Game 3 by a score of 102-97. But they battled the Sixers throughout this one, and led for long stretches of the action. With James Harden getting ejected and Joel Embiid having an off night, this felt like the perfect night for Brooklyn to pick up a victory. Instead, they fell apart at the worst possible time.
Brooklyn held a five-point lead with just over two minutes left in this game, but watched Philly go on an 11-1 run to close the game and all but destroy the Nets hopes of winning this series. So with another disappointing outing in Game 3 officially in the books, let's take a look at the three Nets players most to blame for this crushing loss.
3. Royce O'Neale
Royce O'Neale had an interesting debut season with the Nets. He finished the regular season hitting more of his three-point shots (38.9 percent) then his two-point shots (37.9 percent). In Game 3, Brooklyn likely would have been happy if O'Neale could have hit just one more three, as it could have completely changed the outcome of this game.
O'Neale's counting stats aren't awful (7 PTS, 6 REB, 1 AST, 2-7 FGM) but his shooting is really what came back to bite Brooklyn here. O'Neale hit just one of his five threes, and pretty much all of those shots were wide open looks that he should be hitting. O'Neale chose a pretty poor time to have a bad shooting day in Game 3 for the Nets.
This continues what has been a pretty awful series for O'Neale, as he shot an even worse 2-11 in Game 2. He also recorded a plus/minus of -19 throughout his time on the court, which was easily the worst of any Nets player. Unfortunately, Brooklyn doesn't have many other options to turn to here, and O'Neale is running out of time to get himself back on track.
2. Spencer Dinwiddie
Similar to O'Neale, it's been a pretty tough series for Spencer Dinwiddie. After two ugly outings to start the series, Dinwiddie wasn't much better in this one (20 PTS, 7 AST, 3 REB, 5-12 FGM) as he continues to struggle to find the right balance of shooting the ball and getting his teammates involved on offense.
Dinwiddie had a hot start to this one, but faded as the game went on. Dinwiddie was almost totally ineffective in the fourth quarter, and had an ill-advised potential game-tying layup swatted away by Joel Embiid late in the frame. It was another situation where Dinwiddie would have been way better off passing the ball than taking a contested layup.
On defense, Dinwiddie also found himself getting torched by Tyrese Maxey for much of the game. Dinwiddie spent the majority of his time on the floor going against Maxey, who proceeded to drop 12 points on 5-8 shooting when Dinwiddie was guarding him. It was another uninspiring effort from Brooklyn's floor general in Dinwiddie, and he shoulders a big chunk of the blame here.
1. Nic Claxton
The turning point of this game came early in the fourth quarter for both teams. Harden had recently been ejected, and Nic Claxton was doing a great job of keeping Embiid quiet. But Claxton picked up his second technical foul for taunting, and got himself ejected from the game. Brooklyn's seemingly firm grip on the game quickly evaporated, and Philly mounted their comeback.
On the court, Claxton was doing just about everything right for Brooklyn. He had 18 points in the game, and was stifling the 76ers top offensive option in Embiid. Getting himself thrown out of the game disrupted the Nets game plan, and while Embiid didn't single-handedly lead a charge back into this game, you cannot afford to be making these types of mistakes in the playoffs.
Had Claxton not gotten ejected, there's a very good chance Brooklyn would have won this game. They weren't lighting it up on either side of the floor, but Claxton was getting easy buckets on offense and preventing easy buckets on defense. Behind him, Brooklyn doesn't have a true center, and without him for most of the fourth, they were exposed. Claxton was great when you played, but being available is the most important part of sports, and since Claxton made himself unavailable in the fourth, he earns the top spot on this list.