The Nets blew it. Their golden opportunity was incinerated Thursday night, and now they’re in trouble.
Despite Joel Embiid’s shocking DNP because of a sore knee, the Nets were pummeled at Barclays Center in Game 3 by the Sixers, 131-115, losing home-court advantage while falling into a 2-1 series deficit. Their defense was again atrocious, and Ben Simmons burned them.
“When, arguably, their best player sits out, you have to take advantage of that,” Nets center Jarrett Allen said. “And we just couldn’t perform.”
In Game 2 just three nights prior, the Nets conceded 51 points in the third quarter alone – tying an NBA record for the playoffs. They can’t compete in a playoff series without making stops. On Thursday, their defense was a lackadaisical concoction that allowed Philly to feast, both in the paint and from the 3-point line.
The result was utterly disappointing, considering Embiid’s absence, and set up something very close to a must-win Game 4 on Saturday at Barclays Center.
“This game, the rhetoric is going to be that we should’ve capitalized with Embiid out and that’s fine, too,” guard Spencer Dinwiddie said. “If we win Game 4 it’s going to be tied 2-2 and obviously still a very long series ahead. So we’re in a fine position right now. If you had said we’re going to be down 2-1 going into Game 4, I’m sure a lot of people would’ve been okay with that.”
Maybe the Nets would’ve accepted a 2-1 deficit prior to the series. But not like this. Not with Embiid sitting out and the defense devolving into Swiss cheese.
The Sixers were just fine without their hulking center, getting 31 points from Simmons, 29 from Tobias Harris and 26 from JJ Redick. The Nets were outmuscled for rebounds and were a step too slow, getting cleaned on the glass by replacement centers Greg Monroe and Boban Marjanovic. The assumption is that the Sixers rested Embiid — a matchup nightmare for the Nets — in the middle of the series so he’d be ready for remainder.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson made very little adjustments between Games 2 and 3. The results were also similar. He hinted at changes for Saturday.
“I think we have to look at everything,” he said. “It starts defensively in terms of what we can do. I think we look at lineups. It’s only 1-2. We come here Saturday and if we win, it’s a different series. I think we have to look at some different things. Obviously, what we’ve been doing the last two games is not working.”
Offensively, the Nets had one catalyst – Caris LeVert – but he sat on the bench over half of the opening three quarters. Even as LeVert caught fire while finishing with 26 points, Atkinson refused to deviate from his regular rotations.
Joe Harris, meanwhile, was abysmal Thursday while missing open shots, scoring just eight points and allowing Redick enough space to nail five 3-pointers.
“We didn’t do a good enough job on (Redick),” Atkinson said. “He is elite at getting open, and they did a fantastic job screening for him. I thought that was big. He is flying around, and we are chasing him. They are setting great screens, and we didn’t do a good enough job staying attached. But it was the game plan (from the previous games defending Redick). We didn’t change anything. We just didn’t execute at a high level.”