Well, that did not go exactly as this writer expected. The Brooklyn Nets were simply overmatched by the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs. Joel Embiid still did damage despite being double-teamed, James Harden turned back the clock with a barrage of step-back 3-pointers and Paul Reed introduced himself to much of the viewing public. It was a Saturday afternoon to forget for Nets fans, who desperately want to finish their tumultuous season with a semblance of hope.
It may not come in this series, though, if the Sixers can continue to exploit the extra attention placed on Embiid with historic perimeter shooting (21 made 3-pointers). That will likely not continue the whole series, but the disparity in physicality could keep giving Brooklyn fits. The eye test validated the different championship timetables that each franchise has, but this still has the makings of a competitive clash.
In order to not again be proven wrong, as I was for Game 1, players who struggled will have to step up. It is difficult to ever survive scorching hot shooting, but there are certain players whom we will unfortunately point out as being partially responsible for the disappointing outcome.
Here are 3 Nets to blame for the Game 1 loss versus Sixers.
1. Spencer Dinwiddie
Spencer Dinwiddie does not seem like an obvious choice for scapegoat considering he had 14 points and seven assists, but that is because there weren't many standout subpar showings on the box score. Those who watched closely, though, saw Dinwiddie's shortcomings at different points of the game.
He was 1-of-5 from distance and had four turnovers. The Nets need Dinwiddie to be what he was for the Dallas Mavericks in last year's postseason. That is the only way this team has a chance of matching Philly's firepower. Fans know his defensive limitations and mostly accept them as long as he brings it on the other end.
Poor lob passes inside and inefficient play will quickly have to corrected by the player who very well might be the X-factor for the Nets in this series.
2. Joe Harris gets some blame for Game 1 loss
That title of X-factor belonged to Joe Harris not that long ago, but injuries have limited the amount of impact he can have on a given night. He remains dangerous wit a 42.6 3-point percentage, so expectations should still be reasonable for the veteran sharpshooter. Harris did not come through in Game 1.
The Sixers defense played a big role in limiting his open looks, but the 31-year-old will need to find the gaps so that he could get a healthy dose of shots, or at least a higher number than the three he took Saturday. If that volume continues, head coach Jacque Vaughn will be unable to give him many minutes going forward.
The Nets will only claw their way into the series by knocking down an abundance of 3s. Harris is an essential part of that game plan, and the entire team must look to quickly get him involved in Game 2.
3. Nic Claxton
When the Nets organization imploded following trade requests from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, Mikal Bridges pulled the team and fans from underneath the rubble. And Nic Claxton helped bring them to safety with his elite rim protection and efficient play around the basket. Bridges again took charge on Saturday with 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting. Claxton needed to do a bit more.
It is hard to evaluate Claxton's defensive performance on Embiid given that Vaughn made guarding the juggernaut a collective effort, but the 23-year-old did hold him to just five rebounds. Additionally, he had 10 boards of his own to go with three blocks. Right about now you might be asking why exactly is Claxton on this list considering he did the things that earned him leaguewide recognition this season. The answer? He needed to do more in critical moments.
Claxton has reached a level where the standards are going to be higher. The lack of frontcourt depth demands it. That is unfair for fans and myself to ask of the young blocking machine, but it speaks more to how much he has elevated his game. He is firmly a part of Brooklyn's core along with Bridges and will be integral to this franchise's success going forward.
That means Claxton will also need to have more of an offensive impact. His 12.6 points per game on an NBA-best 70.5 field goal percentage show he can be effective around the basket. Embiid's presence will complicate that, but five points is unacceptable for this caliber of player.
Everything changes if the Nets can regain their identity Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center for Game 2.