After a stunning upset in Game 1, the Nets were unable to pull off a second victory in Philadelphia. This isn’t a surprise as it’s pretty rare for the underdog to steal the first two games of a series on the road. The game was close at halftime, as the 76ers went into the locker room with a 1 point lead. The three-ball is what kept Brooklyn around for the first 24 minutes. The Nets made 10 of their 15 three point makes in the first half.
On Philadelphia’s side, the game plan was crystal clear from the opening tip: attack, attack, attack. The team, and Ben Simmons in particular, relentless attacked the rim, especially in transition. The 76ers ended up with 62 points in the paint as a result.
The other reason the score was close at halftime was more self inflicted for Philadelphia. When Brooklyn went to their zone defense, it was effective at forcing tough mid range shots. The zone combined with a lack of shooters created spacing issues as well. You could argue this isn’t self inflicted and that the Nets were simply playing good defense. There is some truth to that, especially considering Brooklyn was able to run J.J. Redick off the line.
But the 6ers clearly figured it out, as they came out of halftime and dropped 51 points in the 3rd quarter.
It was cruise control from there. Simmons ended up with a triple double, while Joel Embiid posted an uber efficient 23 and 10 in a game where at times he looked too injured to actually be out there. The teams now head back to Brooklyn tied 1-1.
1. Ben Simmons Attacking
As mentioned above, Simmons came out with extreme aggression. It was clear from the initial seconds of the game he was going to continuously put pressure on the rim. I’ve now twice referenced that this strategy was apparent from the very beginning of the game. I’m not exaggerating at all.
Simmons grabbed the tip off the jump ball and went 1,000 miles an hour at Brooklyn’s basket. He may have missed this one, but it was a tone setter.
Simmons had no chill mode, and Brooklyn didn’t have an answer. When he wasn’t doing his best impersonation of a runaway freight train, Simmons found his way into the paint in other fashions, and finished in different styles.
2. The Nets Can’t Guard Embiid
Embiid left the game early, presumably due to knee troubles. Once he returned, there was no stopping him.
The Nets simply cannot guard him. There is no one on the roster equipped to even slow him down. In addition to Embiid going 8/12 from the field, he found his way to the line for eight free throw attempts. He made seven. Brooklyn stands no chance when it is this easy for The Process.
3. Boban Marjanovic – GOAT
Boban Marjanovic was absolutely raining in the first half. He was either too big for the Nets to handle, or he was hitting the mid-range jump shots Brooklyn was allowing him. It seemed like every offensive possess Philadelphia had when Boban was on the court ended in the camera cutting to Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson dapping each other up in their seats because they couldn’t believe the show Boban was putting on.
1. How to Guard Simmons?
Let’s revisit this play from earlier:
And here is another:
Now, everything worked out for the Nets in the second clip as Simmons missed, but notice the runway he is given in each video. As noted in this article, Simmons was in constant attack mode all night, putting tremendous pressure on the rim. Sometimes Brooklyn aided him in getting to the basket.
Now, this is the conventional wisdom of how to approach guarding Simmons. Stand off him. All the way off him. Not only can he not shoot, but he refuses to even try. Stand 10 feet away and pack the paint to make life crowded for everyone else. Makes perfect sense, right?
Except maybe not. Teams eventually figured out that the best way to guard Rajon Rondo was to actually be up on him. Not all the way, but close enough because otherwise you were making his life too easy as a passer. Envision Kobe guarding Rondo in the 2010 Finals, and while Kobe was daring him to shoot, he wasn’t gifting any passing lanes either.
Teams used to make Steve Nash a scorer. Yes, really. Think about what you just said to yourself. Teams would make Nash a scorer. It was more important to limit Nash’s ability to involve his teammates than it was to prevent him from going for 30.
Simmons is too good a passer and too unstoppable sprinting downhill to give him this much room. When Game 3 starts, see if the Nets adjust to guarding Simmons tighter.
2. Why Are We Getting the Bad Russell?
D’Angelo Russell is now a combined 16/41 for 42 points in this series with 8 turnovers against 6 assists. One his Russell’s biggest flaws during his first three seasons was forcing too much. It was one of his biggest areas of growth this past year. So why is this happening now?
It could be nerves, but we can’t really prove that. But he is back to forcing the action.
Russell always found a way to dump that pass down or put some spin on a fancy bounce pass in his fourth season. We don’t know the root cause of why Russell is reverting back to his old bad habits, but him forcing the issue is what has led to his inefficiency through two games.
Coach Atkinson loves to try different things on defense. He switches in and out of zone in the middle of the game on a regular basis. He will try all different types of lineup configurations. Look for him to make the adjustment and guard Simmons tighter to prevent Simmons from continuously having a runway to the basket.