Down 2-0, the Nets are in a must-win game tonight (Thursday) against the Philadelphia 76ers in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center in their opening round best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series.
In Games 1 and 2 in Philadelphia, the Sixers, powered by this season’s Most Valuable Player finalist, center Joel Embiid, proved too much for the Nets to handle. The Nets fell 121-101 last Saturday, then 96-84 on Monday.
The Nets have no one capable of countering Embiid’s massive seven-foot, 280-pound frame. He posted 25 points in Game 1 and a commanding performance in Game 2, putting up Most Valuable Player stats of 20 points, 19 rebounds, seven assists, and three blocked shots. His one blemish was eight turnovers.
The defensive philosophy employed by the Nets in this series has been to double team Embiid for the majority of his touches. Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn employed that strategy for much of the first half of Sunday’s game, but went away from it in the second half. The Sixers then took over in the final two quarters after trailing 49-44 seeing the Nets’ offense falter.
“The only adjustment made was that the ball didn’t go in the hole for us,” Vaughn said afterwards. “We got open looks. They tried to go zone. We had enough shooting out there. The ball just didn’t go in.”
Embiid has had ample support. All-Star point guard James Harden and his emerging third-year backcourt mate Tyrese Maxey took turns being Embiid’s No. 2. Maxey was stellar on Monday, leading the Sixers with 33 points, and Harden controlled Game 1 with 23 points and 13 assists.
At the start of this season the Nets were betting favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Now they are led by Mikal Bridges, who was acquired in the February trade of Durant to the Phoenix Suns. Bridges was masterful in Game 1 with 30 points on 12-18 shooting. Forward Cam Johnson, who came with Bridges to the Nets from the Suns, had a team-high 28 points on 11-19 shooting in Game 2.
Game 3 is tonight (Thursday) at 7:30 p.m. at the Barclays Center, and Game 4 will be on Saturday in Brooklyn at 1 p.m.