The Philadelphia 76ers went for the sweep against the Brooklyn Nets in the first round without the help of Joel Embiid, who was sidelined with a right knee sprain. The Sixers won the rock fight to end all rock fights by a score of 96-88, advancing in the 2023 NBA playoffs with a clean sweep.
Let's break down Game 4 between the Sixers and the Nets.
Sixers player notes:
James Harden: 17 points, 8 rebounds, 11 assists, 4-18 FG shooting
Fresh off of a solid performance that ended with a super controversial ejection in Game 3, Harden had the chance to get the Sixers to the next round. He was able to get into the paint considerably well, securing four foul shots in the opening period, but failed to finish his breakfast on drives often. On many of them, he just looked to get the ball up without finding balance with his body or control of the rock.
Tyrese Maxey: 16 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 6-20 FG shooting
Maxey had a few flashy plays but was otherwise a non-factor in the first half on the offensive end. Many of his misses came as he tried to get the ball up through multiple defenders but couldn't hit the shot. Moments like his nasty between-the-legs crossover to get into a floater were not as common as they needed to be for Philly to win comfortably.
Tobias Harris: 25 points, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 11-19 FG shooting
Harris was able to get by fine without Embiid. He turned back to his post-scoring repertoire and came away with tough buckets repeatedly. He lived in the paint and scored with spectacular consistency. Along with his rebounding, the New York native built on his strong performance in this series.
Paul Reed: 10 points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists, 5-10 FG shooting
In his first playoff start, Bball Paul gave the Sixers mostly what they needed from him: rebounding, some big defensive plays, and scoring at the hoop (though not at great efficiency). Philly dominated the possession battle a la Game 1 thanks mostly to him.
Nets player notes:
Mikal Bridges: 14 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 6-18 FG shooting
Bridges had a quiet outing. Neither as a scorer nor a playmaker did he have a significant impact in this one. The Sixers' desire to get him off of Harden made life hard for Philly. In the possessions against the Beard, he was rock solid but much of that impact was overshadowed by his ice-cold shooting (aside from some late stat padding).
Nic Claxton: 19 points, 12 rebounds, 0 assists, 4 blocks, 8-10 FG shooting
Claxton's scoring output is almost entirely the doing of his teammates' playmaking but to his credit, he took care of business and made himself available by running the floor. He sent back a bunch of shots
Spencer Dinwiddie: 20 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists, 7-13 FG shooting
As one of two good shooters for Brooklyn today, Dinwiddie did a lot of heavy lifting. But his subpar defense made him Philly's safety valve down the stretch.
It's brutal how unlucky Embiid has been at this time of the season. His latest injury is just another entry in a long line of postseason ailments that have put the Sixers in a bind as they look to win without their superstar. The team having a better winning percentage without Embiid (11-5 record, 68.8 percent) than with him (43-23 record, 65.2 percent) during the regular season is the outcome of playing a lot of bad teams during those games. Even against a so-so Nets squad, this was a big test for the depth they have touted all season long.
Doc Rivers bumped Paul Reed up to the starting lineup. He joked before the game that he would appreciate it if the Nets kept double-teaming their centers relentlessly but Jacque Vaughn did not oblige — shocking, I know. The Sixers' defensive assignments stayed the same (Tobias Harris on Bridges, Maxey on Spencer Dinwiddie) while the Nets put Dorian Finney-Smith on Reed and Claxton on P.J. Tucker.
Some defensive communication miscues and a lack of rhythm plagued the Sixers early. The Nets started the game on a 14-4 run, with eight of those points coming from Dinwiddie, and eventually went up by 10 early in the first quarter. Harris hit a few fadeaway shots from the post and Harden was able to penetrate the defense but defensively, their rotations were poor. Bringing in De'Anthony Melton for Reed didn't seem like the antidote, as Tucker-at-center lineups traditionally bleed points.
However, the Sixers' small-ball unit — with other bench guys shuffling in around Tucker and Harden/Maxey — stuck around. It took them making some tough shots from guys like Jalen McDaniels and Georges Niang to chip away at Brooklyn's lead. Montrezl Harrell gave Tucker a breather as the Nets kept lighting it up from deep. Dinwiddie capped off the first quarter with a deep buzzer-beating triple, giving Brooklyn a seven-point advantage.
Shake Milton got his first non-garbage-time minutes of the series and quickly put three fouls on his tab. Harden showed Maxey how it's done and hit his shot (a three) after dropping Mills to cut the deficit to three. The Nets' three-point shooting cooled all the way off in the second quarter, letting Philly hang around but staying ahead thanks to Nic Claxton's finishing at the hoop. The Sixers' offense melted into a your-turn-my-turn unit as ball movement led to few openings to exploit.
At the half, the Sixers trailed 48-40.
Tucker hit an open three (his first of four such attempts to go in) as the Sixers looked to get Harden and Maxey downhill. A Reed layup got it to a one-point game before a turnaround jumper from Harris put Philly in front. The Philly fans in attendance loved what they saw as Brooklyn floundered. One of the primary reasons for their struggles was awful shooting.
On the sliding scale of the Nets' three-point shooting woes being mainly the product of Philly's defense or mainly bad shooting luck, I would slide it close to the end of the latter. They were able to get good looks often but too many of their attempts went haywire to take full advantage of Embiid's absence. At one point, the entire team aside from Dinwiddie and DFS was 1-16 from deep.
Maxey came through with some key buckets in the third quarter, including a three to put the Sixers up by six and an and-one jumper (plus the freebie) to put them up by seven. Brooklyn lost some major steam — which wasn't even much to begin with given their lackluster offense — scoring only 15 points in the third quarter and only one shot outside of the paint. The score heading into the fourth was 66-63 in favor of the visitors.
Technical fouls were assessed to Tucker and the Nets' bench after some heated words were exchanged. Bridges stepped up with a series of big plays for his squad: a tough pull-up, tough perimeter defense on Harden, a dish to Royce O'Neale for three that tied the game and another pull-up to retake the lead.
A loud “Let's go Sixers” chant broke out as Philly got ahead by multiple possessions. Some key offensive rebounding from Reed and Melton and some big shots from Harris put them ahead by nine with under four minutes to play. The wheels were starting to fall off for Brooklyn as Philly hunted Dinwiddie. The Sixers went up by 14, securing the victory with a few minutes left.
- Nets fans' “off to Houston” chants directed at Harden were pretty funny.
The Sixers will face either the Atlanta Hawks or Boston Celtics in the next round.