The Nets lost to the 76ers 131-115 in game three at the Barclays Center on Thursday night. They are now down 2-1 in this best of seven playoff series, here are five thoughts.
1. Ben Simmons vs. Jared Dudley is kind of a thing, but not really
We all heard and read the quotes from Nets veteran Jared Dudley prior to game three about the Sixers’ young star.
“Ben Simmons is a great player in transition. And once you get him into half court, he’s average.”
You could argue there is validity in Dudley’s statements. There are certainly players around the league that feel that way.
Simmons had a nice response prior to the game for Dudley.
Ben Simmons might be the 2nd most hated man in Brooklyn after Billy King.pic.twitter.com/B2UNzvQUzm
— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) April 18, 2019
Before we dissect what happened on the floor Thursday night. Brett Brown provided his thought process on how he likes to use Simmons, and if that changes when Joel Embiid is off the floor.
Prior to last night’s game I asked #76ers coach Brett Brown about using Ben Simmons in the post particularly when Embiid is off the floor. This was before it was announced Embiid would miss the game. #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/cP6gpeQt7K
— Jarod Hector (@jshector) April 19, 2019
Simmons was excellent on Thursday night. He had 31 points, 9 assists, and 3 blocks in the win. He excelled in transition as expected, and he also controlled the game in the half court. He shot 84% from the field and 81% from the free throw line. He and JJ Redick found a nice rhythm in the third quarter using dribble handoffs, quick curl screens, and rim dives that led to a plethora of points and/or drawn fouls.
The idea that he is average in the half court is misleading. Yes, he doesn’t shoot the ball outside of 12 feet during a game, but we all see him working on it during warmups and he makes more than his fair share. Part of it is the way Simmons prefers to play, and with Embiid on the floor, the spacing is too tight and it limits, to some degree, what Simmons does best.
BSO spoke exclusively to David Simmons, Ben’s father, pregame and he said his son is developing well and is already an all-star in his second year in the NBA. Saying, “His shot will come and when it does, what will people say then?”
Unfortunately for Ben and the 76ers, his development is on an accelerated timeline. This is no longer the “trust the process” era. Philly is going for it all now, and that means Ben will have to get out of that comfort zone and accelerate his progression. It may be unfair, but that’s where the team is.
Back to Simmons vs.Dudley. It’s decidedly one way and it’s not close. There was a funny moment during the game when Dudley is called for a foul and while he’s pleading his case to the official, Simmons just laughs at him. Dudley finished with 0 points in 16 minutes.
— SBR Sports Picks (@SBRSportsPicks) April 19, 2019
2. It’s a make or miss league
So cliche, but it’s true. At its core the game is about making shots. The 76ers shot 48% from the field and 40% from three, going 11-27. They scored 131 points. The Nets shot 41% overall and 20% from three, going 8-39. The three ball has been vital for the Nets this season. They were top 5 in attempts and makes during the regular season. In the playoffs they are number 1 in attempts and number 2 in makes. When they shoot it as poorly as they did Thursday night, they’ll lose games. It’s pretty simple. Joe Harris went 0-4, Rodions Kurucs 0-3, and D’Angelo Russell 2-9.
Credit the 76ers defense for closing out relatively well on shooters but these were shots that were falling, particularly for Russell, in game one and a good portion of game two.
But at the end of the day, the Nets scored 115 points in a playoff game, yes the pace was accelerated a bit but that’s enough points to win. What they can’t do is give up 131. In the last two games in this series the Nets have given up a combined 276 points…
3. The Nets defense was poor
Let’s be clear about something. The 76ers have more top end talent than the Nets. They didn’t start Joel Embiid Thursday night and still ran out a lineup of Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, JJ Redick and Boban Marjanovic. That being said, defense is about effort and competing. When Philly ratchets the intensity up a level in the third quarter as they’ve done the past two games, the Nets don’t seem to be able to match them.
The Sixers were able to run the same play three or four consecutive times in the quarter with Ben and JJ. Yes, part of that is that Boban and Ben set tremendous screens. They are big bodies and physical. The Nets’ communication needs to be better and, easier said than done, they have to fight harder through those screens or switch. The latter may cause some matchup problems, again as the Nets don’t have the personnel for that type of sustained switch-ability.
Following the game Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson talked about the team’s defense.
— Jarod Hector (@jshector) April 19, 2019
Ben Simmons, JJ Redick and Tobias Harris talked postgame about what they were able to do offensively against the Nets.
4. Caris LeVert is ready for the big stage
LeVert finished with 26 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals. He attacked the rim, used floaters and made 3 of 8 from three. This is the LeVert the Nets saw early in the season prior to the dislocated foot injury that forced him to miss 42 games. Had he been healthy the entire season, he would’ve gotten the necessary reps and gone through the ups and downs that a “go to” guy needs to prepare for the postseason. As it happens he came back right before the all-star game and used the Nets final run towards the playoffs to get himself back in “game shape” and now he’s ready.
It’s a small sample size, but in the playoffs, LeVert is averaging 20 ppg on 58% eFG and 64% TS. The eye test is showing that LeVert is aggressive and not overawed by the moment and believes he can go toe to toe with anyone on the 76ers.
The Nets will likely lose the series, but this is an important step in LeVert’s and the team as a whole overall maturity and development.
5. Player Grades
We’re going to try something new in the postgame thoughts and give out player grades for the Nets during the playoffs. The grading system will be stars. 5 stars is the best and 1 star is the worst. There will also be incomplete grades given out, if a player’s situation warrants it.
Caris LeVert – 4 stars
See the comments about LeVert above. If they won, he would’ve gotten 5 stars.
DeMarre Carroll – 2 stars
Carroll finished with 6 points in 27 minutes, yet somehow was a plus 2. He hit his two threes in the first half and otherwise was nowhere to be found. Despite the blowout loss, Carroll impacted positive things on the floor for the Nets, just not enough.
Rodions Kurucs – 1 star
3 points, 5 rebounds and -15. Kurucs is a rookie in his first playoffs experience. After his hot start when he joined the team, things started to tail off as they headed towards the all-star break. At times on the floor, he floats in and out of the action and that’s to be expected. The one thing he needs to do is knock down open shots when he gets them. Right now he’s not doing that.
Jarrett Allen – 2 stars
15 points, 6 rebounds, and -11. He was one of the culprits on the defensive end Thursday night. He is in his second year and developing. His rebound rate needs to increase and he’ll need to start taking and making those open corner threes. There were a few times on Thursday when the Nets had good ball movement and Allen would find himself wide open in the corner and instead of taking that three, he would pass it to a player that was being defended.
Joe Harris – 1 star
The all-star three point champion is not shooting it as well as he did in the regular season. Small sample size, but he’s only making 30% of his threes. He is a combined -65 in the first three playoff games. His assignments defensively on the 76ers are tough, so it’s hard to kill him. But, he needs to be better fighting through screens and has to be able to hold up and provide resistance on switches.
D’Angelo Russell – 3 stars
This was a tough grade. Looking at the box score, he scored 26 points on 26 shots. But the eye test said his misses were at inopportune times and he was not able to impact the game defensively at all. DLO is not an all NBA defender, but as the point guard he needs to be able to pressure the point of attack or at least provide resistance. That point of attack is Ben Simmons, so that’s no easy task. But this is playoff basketball.
Jared Dudley – 1 star
If 0 stars were an option that’s what he’d get. No impact on either end of the floor and he poked the bear with his comments about Ben Simmons. Whether or not Simmons said it motivated him. It definitely did.
Spencer Dinwiddie – 2.5 stars
Dinwiddie and LeVert were good sparks off the bench. He had some nice moments, was aggressive, but only made 1 of 4 from three. He made some contributions defensively, but not enough to make a difference.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – 2 stars
A very weird stat line and game for RHJ. 14 points but 10 of his points came from the free throw line. He was definitely aggressive and tried to spark the club and do the most with his minutes. Defensively he was solid, probably the best Nets player (either him or Caris) but the issue is on offense where he doesn’t positively impact spacing and works best as a finisher.