Both teams entered Sunday with the same mentality: this is a game we can AND should get.
It was a battle of the two bottom teams in the Eastern Conference with the Philadelphia 76ers (6-20) and the Brooklyn Nets (7-18) facing off — one team with their own draft pick, the other handing it over to the Boston Celtics at the end of the season in a swap.
Behind a career performance from Joel Embiid (33 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and one steal), the 76ers (7-20) defeated the Nets (7-19), 108-107, Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center. Brook Lopez had a 19-point first half, but scored just three in the second half and the Nets fell apart as a result. They scored just 21 points in the fourth quarter and fell to 1-12 on the road this season. Sigh…
Call it “The Process” vs. “The Progress”.
Things looked pretty normal in the first half: lots of offense and very little defense. The Nets dropped 32 in the first quarter, yet only led by two. The Nets dropped 58 in the half, yet only led by three. They were consistent on the offensive end because of Brook Lopez, who had 19 points, five rebounds, four assists two blocks and a steal in 15 minutes.
Still, the teams went back and forth throughout the half as the Nets allowed Philly to shoot 50 percent from deep, behind 13 points from Ersan Ilyasova.
There were 18 lead changes (nine ties) in the half which made for a fun second half.
The Nets extended their lead to nine early in the third but failed to break away. The lead diminished real quick after Embiid scored 17 of Philadelphia’s 29 points in the third quarter. That’s the negative. The positive? They didn’t lose the third quarter and led by three entering the fourth. Prior to Sunday, the 76ers lost 82 straight games when trailing after three quarters.
After Sunday, that streak was over.
The 76ers led by as many as seven in the fourth as Brook Lopez stayed quiet and the Nets struggled to defend, rebound and score in the early stages. Luckily, Joe Harris (19 points) kept the Nets close enough with a couple of crucial 3-pointers, one that brought Brooklyn within one.
After scoring 19 of his 22 points in the first half, Lopez didn’t score his first field goal in the second half until the 2:50 mark. The 76ers took Lopez out of the game and it forced other players like Joe Harris (19 points, a career high) and Jeremy Lin (16) to step up late.
It was 102-101 with less than a minute remaining. Philadelphia’s advantage. Philadelphia’s possession. They were unable to capitalize after Lin stole the ball and gave Brooklyn possession and a chance to take the lead. They missed the first shot, Lin stole it from Embiid AGAIN, but Sean Kilpatrick missed an easy floater that would’ve given Brooklyn the lead.
Instead, Philly hit both free throws and Lin missed a tough 3-pointer with 8.7 seconds left. Robert Covington (15 points) nailed the free throws that would eventually seal the deal. With 2.5 seconds left — down 108-107 — Harris came up with a steal but couldn’t retain possession until time expired.
Although quiet in the second half, Lopez finished with a line of 22 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, four blocked shots and a steal. The eight assists are a career-high.
In addition to his 16 points, Lin dished four assists and grabbed two steals in 22 minutes of action. The Nets shot 44 percent overall and hit 12-of-34 — 35 percent —from 3-point.
As for Philly, they shot 42.7 percent and 12-of-28 (43 percent) from 3-point. They also grabbed 14 offensive rebounds compared to Brooklyn’s seven.
Ever the optimist, Kenny Atkinson had this assessment of the game.
“We had some looks, sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don’t. We need to capitalize on those opportunities”
After a tough outing on Friday, Spencer Dinwiddie (Marks’ most recent acquisition) was deemed inactive prior to Sunday’s matchup. Instead, the Nets reinserted Justin Hamilton into the active rotation. Hamilton hasn’t logged any minutes in the last five games due to a migraine and then coach’s decision. In the four games prior to the hiatus, Hamilton was 4-of-23 from the floor.
Next up: Toronto Raptors on Tuesday. Then, the Golden State Warriors on Thursday and Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday. It’s only getting tougher and during a season where wins are hard to come by, this was as close to a ‘must-win’ as it gets.