3 reasons Joel Embiid, Sixers trampled Nets in Game 1 of NBA Playoffs first round series

Game 1 of the 2023 NBA playoffs series between the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets was a microcosm of what many people expect of the whole series: Sixers dominance. Joel Embiid and James Harden led the way against a red-hot Mikal Bridges in a 121-101 victory.

Embiid being held below 30 points and the Nets shooting 55.7 percent from the field would usually be indicators that Brooklyn played extremely well. Instead, the Nets endured a historically efficient loss while the Sixers outworked and outshot them to go up 1-0.

Here are the three biggest reasons why the Sixers beat the Nets in Game 1.

3. Commanding the possession battle

In the possession-by-possession battle that is the NBA playoffs, it pays to have as many opportunities to score as you can. The Sixers got the memo engrained in their brains before the afternoon matchup, as they came away with 19 more shots than the Nets, including 14 more threes.

Two key elements went into the Sixers’ ability to crush the Nets in the possession battle: avoiding turnovers and crashing the glass. Philly committed eight turnovers to Brooklyn’s 19, scoring 31 points using the Nets’ mistakes. The Sixers also completely dominated the glass. They only secured three more total rebounds but tallied 14 offensive boards that led to 21 second-chance points.

After a regular season full of frustrating play, Sixers fans were treated to the full Playoff P.J. Tucker experience. The burly forward fought his tail off on the boards, tracking the ball after long bounces off the rim and darting to it repeatedly. With five OREBs and five steals to his name, Tucker loudly proved his value and why the Sixers paid him so handsomely (and letting a future draft pick go for the rights to do it) this past offseason. Embiid, Tobias Harris and Paul Reed each had a pair of OREBs themselves.

Before the game, Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn noted how the teams have two contrasting play styles and will look to impose that style into the game. “In their ideal world, they shoot a ton of free throws and they would play in the halfcourt and James would play pick-and-roll and destroy us that way,” he said. “We don’t wanna play that way. We want to be very scrappy, gritty, turn this game into more up-and-down, and see who can survive the pace.”

Although it didn’t turn out exactly that way, the Sixers did negate the Nets’ desire to push the pace by outright denying them those chances. They made their shots and crashed the glass relentlessly, bringing their own version of a scrappy, gritty play style that led to a win. Additionally, Brooklyn was able to keep Philly off the foul line for the most part but the Sixers made all 16 of their attempts, 11 of which came from Embiid.

2. Slowing down Mikal Bridges

“We let him get too comfortable,” Embiid said of Bridges’ first-half performance following the game. “He was getting downhill. He was getting a bunch of pull-up jumpers.”

The Sixers played their usual defense with Embiid playing low on pick-and-rolls to cut off layup lanes and the rest of the players switching everything. But that open space — along with Tobias Harris’ immense struggles to follow Bridges around screens and the Nets’ attempts to get Harden alone against Bridges — gave the Nets star plenty of space to fire away. Philly knew he was the primary guy to watch out for but all they did was allow him to prove why in the first half.

After shooting 9-13 in the first half on shots inside the arc and scoring 23 points, Bridges only attempted one shot inside the arc for the entire second half and had seven the rest of the way. Harris basically face-guarded him, snapping his head around every other second to anticipate his off-ball movement. The Sixers brought the defender on the opposite wing closer to the nail to take away that sweet spot and didn’t let him get Harden onto an island. Unlike Embiid, who got double-teamed almost every possession, Bridges was unable to overcome this extra attention with pristine passing.

Although Cam Johnson stepped up while Bridges was getting defended harder, it wasn’t enough. Spencer Dinwiddie went on a side mission to record a streak of inaccurate lobs while trying to operate in the pick-and-roll. Seth Curry shot 4-5 from the field but only played 16 minutes, due in part to the fact that he is the type of player that gets exposed defensively in the playoffs. Slowing down Bridges was the key for Philly’s defense in the second half.

1. James Harden dishing and swishing

Embiid led the Sixers with 26 points but Harden’s insane shooting and playmaking were the main driving forces behind Philly’s three-point explosion. The big fella’s ability to keep cool against double teams aided his co-star’s marvelous display of three-point creation.

With seven downtown makes of his own and five threes from his assists — to five different players! — Harden was responsible for 12 triples. As a team, the Nets made 13 triples. He hit a few off the catch but rocked the house with some wild buckets off the bounce. Dinwiddie saw one very up close and nearly hit the deck.

MAKE ‘EM DANCE JAMES HARDEN pic.twitter.com/Uzyl9RIEgm

— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) April 15, 2023

Harden was more than just the beneficiary of Embiid having more gravity than the sun against the Nets’ defense. He led the bench unit very well while the MVP candidate rested, posting the first-ever playoff game with seven triples and 12 assists. The Sixers posted a 20.8 net rating across the lineups where Harden played and Embiid sat, per Cleaning the Glass.

Harden’s gross inefficiency inside the arc was one notable negative takeaway from this Sixers win. He greatly struggled to score inside, which rightfully brings some concerns about how he’ll operate when he isn’t on a heater. Those concerns are fair to raise but at the very least, his great showing in Game 1 should be recognized and appreciated.

The post 3 reasons Joel Embiid, Sixers trampled Nets in Game 1 of NBA Playoffs first round series appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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