- After a lackluster Game 1 with a sputtering offense, Philadelphia's star-powered lineup found—what appeared to be—a championship-level stride in the second half against Brooklyn.
For a minute—OK, the majority of one half—it felt like the 76ers were on the verge of a crisis. It was happening again. A resounding Nets win in Philly two days ago felt like the type of tone-setting game that can spur bigger things, and Brooklyn, certainly, will not lose this series for lack of effort. But that wasn’t what happened on Monday, with Philadelphia riding a dominant third-quarter to a 145-123 win, setting a franchise record for most points in a playoff game, flipping around the boos from their home crowd and, for now, resetting the balance in a series that could have spiraled out of control
The nice thing about fielding a roster as dynamic as the Sixers have is that your adjustments can often be as simple as empowering your best players. Provided the energy is there, you can win games by force of ability. Brett Brown seems to understand this, and didn’t mess around: Jimmy Butler was, for all intents and purposes, his backup point guard in this game, effectively facilitating at the expense of over-hunting (seven points and seven assists). They got more out of primary ball-handler Ben Simmons (18 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists); Jonathon Simmons and T.J. McConnell stayed parked on the bench. This was a positive adjustment, giving the Nets’ talented guards little place to hide defensively, and (with the exception of J.J. Redick) relying on Philadelphia’s overwhelming size advantage across the board.
Speaking of size advantage, this game also had a motivated Joel Embiid (23 points, 10 rebounds), the galvanizing force behind an absurd 51–23 third-quarter points split in the Sixers’ favor. He scored seven straight points to kick off that stretch. Embiid stopped shooting threes, played a deathly efficient game on the block, and was more or less unguardable, in spite of a physical matchup with Jarrett Allen. This game also had Boban Marjanovic (16 points, eight rebounds), which is always a treat. But that third quarter was inarguably Philadelphia’s most connected 12 minutes in who-knows-how-long. Tobias Harris and Embiid did the lifting. The basketball looked fun again.
Running it back for emphasis, the Sixers scored 51 points in the third quarter. They led 65-64 at the half, and 116-87 going into the fourth. That Embiid picked up his fifth foul at the outset of that period hardly even mattered. They held the Nets to 38% shooting, missed just seven shots of their own, won the glass 15–4, and did it all with just four points total out of Butler and Simmons. As a team, Philadelphia shot 4-of-6 from three, 18-of-25 from the floor, made all 11 free throws, and totaled 11 assists. It was just the third 50-point quarter in playoff history.
With the series knotted 1–1 and headed to Brooklyn, any fear of an impending meltdown can now be boiled down down to a temporarily nervous moment. When it’s all working for the Sixers, this is what it looks like—dare we say it, a championship-level ceiling. There was basically nothing the Nets could do about it, no way for them to quell the flood. How many more times Philly can tap into this is one question, but the matter of exactly how well it can all work at once has been rightfully answered.
Game 3 is Thursday in Brooklyn.