The Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets kicked off the 2023 NBA playoffs with an afternoon showdown at Wells Fargo Center. To kick off a postseason with intense expectations, the Sixers won Game 1 in dominant fashion by a score of 121-101.
Let’s break down Game 1 of the Sixers-Nets series.
Sixers player notes:
Joel Embiid: 26 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 7-15 FG shooting
The big fella received loud MVP votes as he was announced in the pregame starting lineups. His stats weren’t of his normal caliber due to the Nets’ aggressive double teams but he made it work, passing the ball around and working quickly to score. In spite of the occasional wayward pass out of doubles, he handled the pressure well and commanded things down low on defense.
James Harden: 23 points, 4 rebounds, 13 assists, 8-21 FG shooting
As the Sixers’ biggest X-factor for this series, Harden will be expected to create looks for himself and his teammates often. Before the game, Doc Rivers discussed that dynamic for the star guard and how important it is for the team. “James has a hard job. He really does,” he said. “I don’t think we respect that enough and maybe I don’t even talk about it enough.”
Well, let’s talk about it. In Game 1, he looked like someone trying to get back into it after having over a week to chill. He eventually got into it by hitting a bunch of his signature stepback threes, making seven long-range shots overall. The whole game, he snapped passes all around the court. Although his drives to the paint didn’t always look great, he came through for his team.
Tyrese Maxey: 13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 3-8 FG shooting
Maxey got the crowd really going with an early triple and commanded the ball a lot to start off. He created numerous takeaways and, although he didn’t shoot well from the field, played a fine game.
Nets player notes:
Mikal Bridges: 30 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 12-18 FG shooting
Bridges wants to lead Brooklyn to victory against Philly in this series more than anybody. He looked confident and composed dribbling off of screens and getting into his shot. Embiid’s drop coverage left space in the middle of the floor for him to pull up, which he was happy to do. Once he had to call an audible and make a pass, it didn’t always go well. But he was a scoring machine and an impactful defender.
Spencer Dinwiddie: 14 points, 3 rebounds, 7 assists, 5-12 FG shooting
Dinwiddie got into the paint time after time for the Nets, though due to his teammates not taking advantage of those looks and his own failures on numerous lob attempts to Nic Claxton, Brooklyn fell behind. Still, he had a solid impact on the losing side.
Dorian Finney-Smith guarded Haren while Claxton matched up with Embiid. Tobias Harris and Bridges matched up with each other while Maxey guarded Dinwiddie, as he alluded to on his podcast.
Brooklyn’s rebounding was bad to start out, leading to some second-chance opportunities that the Sixers cashed in on. Each member of the starting lineup got an offensive board (Tucker had a pair) within the first seven minutes of the game. Without those chances, Philly’s offense would have gotten off to an abysmal start instead of just a rough one, though they did shoot well from deep. Brooklyn’s switching, double-teaming of Embiid and quick rotations limited the number of open shots the Sixers got.
Royce O’Neale and De’Anthony Melton subbed in for Harden and Finney-Smith respectively. The Nets boldly played second-year big man Day’Ron Sharpe to close out the first quarter against Embiid. They kept doubling him and he responded with quick drives off of the catch and ball movement, leading to threes from Georges Niang and De’Anthony Melton.
Doc Rivers staggered his stars with time left in the first quarter as opposed to the start of the second. Embiid and Maxey sat while Harden and Paul Reed came in. Bball Paul’s switchability and active hands led to stops and Philly continued shooting the 3-ball very well, making eight of their first 14 attempts. Harden’s playmaking shined on several of those makes as Brooklyn’s defense failed to cover their weak spots after sending several guys at the ball.
O’Neale stepped up for the Nets with a few much-needed buckets and backcourt pressure against Harden. Dinwiddie found his way into the paint often but Brooklyn came up empty on a lot of his drives after he dished it to an open teammate. But the Sixers starters stepped up. Harden provided some deep triples as Bridges cooked.
At the half, the Sixers led 67-58.
Embiid got his second half started with a fadeaway shot through a foul and a triple in transition. He started to pick up a great feel for when the Nets were going to double him and he passed out to the open man. The gaudy scoring may not have been there for Embiid but his impact on this one was never in question.
After a scary fall on a dunk attempt, Embiid stayed in the game. He and O’Neale got chippy after a foul and each received a tech. Embiid put the Sixers up by 12 on the ensuing free throws. A Maxey-to-McDaniels lob and a triple from Maxey helped keep the Sixers well ahead of the Nets entering the fourth quarter.
A Niang triple to start the fourth set a new Sixers record for threes in a single playoff game with 19. Reed got the crowd on its feet on a fantastic play where he got the offensive board, dribbled through his legs from behind, drove left, stopped on a dime, spun back around on his pivot foot and scored a layup. An over-his-head dunk from Reed launched the crowd into “Bball Paul!” chants.
Harden got hit in the face and was very slow to get up. He stayed in the game as the Nets kept getting beat inside and allowing open threes. Philly led by 18 with five minutes left. Yuta Watanabe, David Duke Jr., Cam Thomas and Edmond Sumner came into the game shortly after as Brooklyn started waiving the white flag. Harden connected on a lob with Harris as the starters started trickling out of the game. Watanabe provided the crowd with free chicken nuggets thanks to a pair of missed free throws as the perfect ending to the game for Philly.
I think the Sixers are glad they have Playoff P.J. His rebounding was huge in this one.
Claxton became an early contender for most wild pregame fit.
Game 2 will be on Monday night at 7:30 PM EST in Philly.
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