Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Sixers vs. Nets: 5 Keys to a Game 2 victory

Dave Uram
April 15, 2019 - 8:10 am

I knew the 76ers were going to lose Game 1. And while I don’t have an accurate count of all the predictions in the world, I felt like I was one of the few, if not the only one, who thought the Sixers would look terrible against the Nets Saturday afternoon. That being said, I didn’t think they’d look that bad. There’s a lot to fix for Monday’s Game 2 at Wells Fargo Center. Here’s a list of five. 

1. Put The Ball In The Basket

Sounds pretty simple, right?

Truthfully, if you look at Saturday’s box score, Game 1 was well within reach despite how poorly the Sixers played from a cohesion and defensive standpoint. They only lost by nine points. I’m aware the final minutes of the game were essentially garbage time, and that “nine” is a poor indication for how in control Brooklyn was. But, if the 76ers just made some shots, the outcome could’ve very well gone the other way. 

Even though it felt like the Nets out hustled the Sixers to every loose ball, Philadelphia still won the rebounding battle over Brooklyn, blocked nine more shots, committed only two more turnovers and fouled three less times. 

Where the Sixers lost the game, at least in the box score, was they shot 35-for-86 from the field and three-for-25 from behind the arc. Not to mention, they missed 13 foul shots. The Nets made 11 three’s and only missed two foul shots. If the Sixers made five more three-pointers, which is more than reasonable, it’s a completely different ballgame. 

Think about that—five more three-pointers. The vibe in the building would’ve be better. Thus, the defensive intensity would’ve been higher. And on top of that, if the Sixers made six more foul shots, in addition to those five more three’s, they probably win the game. 

“We missed a bunch of shots,” head coach Brett Brown said Saturday night. “We had three starters down (who didn’t play well). Our bench was outscored heavily by their bench…But, trying to find participants outside of Joel, who we really weren’t sure was going to play, it didn’t happen tonight, for whatever reason.” 

Brown and his staff will try to make defensive adjustments to guard D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert better. 

“We really had a struggle just guarding them like ‘you and me’ stuff.’”

It’s all well and good Brown feels they’ll make effective changes defensively, but the “you and me stuff” isn’t going to change overnight. If you can’t do something in four out of five meetings this season, then you probably won’t do it the rest of the series.

The Sixers shouldn’t kid themselves. They can’t stick with the Nets young, athletic guards. They’re going to have to out score Brooklyn in high scoring affairs to advance. The only way to do that is put the ball through the hoop—what a novelty. 

2. Ben Simmons Needs To Play Like An All-Star

Brooklyn isn’t hiding how they truly feel about Ben Simmons. Jared Dudley made that abundantly clear last week on WFAN.​ Unfortunately for the Sixers, Simmons isn’t going to feel comfortable firing long-range jumpers overnight. But, he still is capable of shooting the ball from high percentage distances, something he didn’t do Saturday afternoon. 

“Just trying to run the team too much in terms of getting guys the ball and putting guys in certain positions,” Simmons said Sunday. “I think sometimes I got to take it upon myself to just got to the rim (and) attack.” 

The Nets will back off of Simmons because they don’t respect that part of his game. He’ll need to up his aggressiveness and stop trying to squeeze passes into crowded areas. Simmons needs more than nine points, three assists and nine attempted field goals for the Sixers to win Game 2. He must take more than five foul shots, which includes hitting on more than one of them. 

3. Either JJ or Tobi Must Step Up 

You can’t rely on Jimmy Butler to score 36 points on 11-for-22 from the floor, even though he’s more than capable duplicating that performance throughout this series. However, if he’s the only one showing up offensively, Brooklyn will advance by this weekend or early next week. 

Joel Embiid is doing everything he can to battle through uncomfortable knee soreness that is affecting his game. Embiid settled for more jump shots than usual Saturday, ones that featured little lift because Embiid is playing on one healthy knee. The big guy played only 24 minutes, and it wasn’t because of foul trouble. 

So, JJ Redick and Tobias Harris need more than five and four points respectively. Redick was in foul trouble Saturday, fouling out with just over five minutes to play. Against Brooklyn’s quick guards, he’s a defensive liability, so if he’s going to do something, it needs to be scoring the ball at high rates. 

Harris has been slumping for a while, which doesn’t bode well for his chances at a massive contract this off-season. It would serve not only the team, but himself as well, to play better. 

On paper, the 76ers one strength over Brooklyn is their starting five, but that’s certainly not going to hold true if three of the five play as poorly as they did over the weekend. 

“I think none of us should expect Ben Simmons or Tobias or JJ to repeat what they had,” Brown said Sunday. “It happens. The first place I go to is me and what can I do to help them.” 

4. Zhaire Smith over Jonathon Simmons 

Jonathon Simmons played five regular season games from March 12 and on. The last two were 14 points in 26 minutes in a blowout loss in Miami and 20 points in 30 minutes in the regular season finale against the Bulls’ backups. 

During the closing stretch of the regular season, Brown indicated athletically gifted 19-year-old rookie Zhaire Smith was ahead of Jonathon Simmons on the depth chart. But, Brown changed his mind prior to the playoff opener, putting Jonathon Simmons ahead of Smith. He was the worst player of the bench at a minus-16 in 11 minutes of action. 

Meantime, Smith is a very good defender who’s got a good chance of holding his own against Russell, Dinwiddie and LeVert. Smith should see more time on the floor than Jonathon Simmons. 

5. Brooklyn Needs To Feel Like Its On The Road 

One of the storylines from Saturday’s loss was the loud displays of displeasure by the fans, the paying customers. 

After the game, guys like Butler understood their frustration. 

“They want to see us win,” Butler said. “I want to see us win too. In the end, I think we just got to do better. I guarantee if we’re winning, they’re not booing. So, that’s the way to change it.” 

Embiid echoed a similar sentiment. 

“It’s understandable,” Embiid said. “They come in. They spend a lot of money. They want the game to be entertaining. They want to watch us win, so I understand why they boo.”

Embiid added while he isn’t bothered by fan negativity, it’s annoying for some players to constantly hear boos while they’re missing shot after shot. 

After the game, Ben Simmons wasn’t thrilled. 

“If you’re going to boo then stay on that side,” Simmons told reporters in the locker room postgame. “That’s how I feel. If you’re a Sixers fan and your’e going to boo, stay on that side.” 

After more time to cool off following Saturday’s debacle, Simmons changed his tone Sunday afternoon. 

“I mean I love it,” Simmons said. “That’s how Philly is…They’re going to give you the (expletive). They talk (expletive). It is what it is. If you’re not playing well, they’re going to let you know, but I love being here. I love the fans here. I wouldn’t want to be in a place where they didn’t really care or only showed up when times are going well.” 

Brown said prior to the playoffs that he thought Wells Fargo Center was going to “blow up,” and I don’t think he meant with boos. 

The Sixers got to give their fans reasons to stand up and cheer. That will make it a harder environment for Brooklyn and their young guards, who are playing with house money right now.