The 2019 Playoffs got underway on Saturday afternoon, with your third-seed Philadelphia 76ers facing off with the six-seed Brooklyn Nets. With news dropping literally seven minutes before the game that Joel Embiid would be active, hopes were high that the Sixers would be opening the playoffs up with a 1-0 lead.
That wasn’t the case, as the Brooklyn Nets got hot early, taking a 31-22 lead into the second quarter, and handed Philadelphia the 111-102 loss to grab a 1-0 lead in the series.
With D’Angelo Russell struggling with his shot the entire first half, and Jarrett Allen mired in foul trouble since the first minute of the game, everything was set up for the Sixers to run away with this game. But Caris LeVert caught fire, finishing the game with 23 points, and Ed Davis proved to be the more valuable of Brooklyn’s bigs. LeVert looking like his pre-injury self was huge in this one, and it could prove to be an issue moving forward in the series as the Sixers will need to find a way to deal with all the backcourt options Brooklyn has. You can’t expect Russell to have a poor first half in every game.
For Philly, there were some...missteps. Joel Embiid got to the free throw line with ease early on,, but then decided he was just going to shoot 3s for a little bit in the first half. JJ Redick pulled a vanishing act. Tobias and Ben were inconsistent. Brett Brown decided to play Jonathon Simmons for 11 minutes, which is probably not the thing you should do if you want to win a playoff game; Simmons ended up as a minus-16 for the game. Even Jimmy Butler, who was hot early on, went through stretches late in the game where he seemed to disappear as well. Overall, though, Butler gave the team a Herculean effort, scoring 36 points to keep the Sixers from being blown out of the game.
JJ Redick and Ben Simmons tied with a team worst plus/minus of minus-21, and Redick fouled out in the fourth after scoring just five points. Remember all the talk about Playoff Redick and how much of a liability he was? Game 1 didn’t change anyone’s mind on that issue.
The closest things got came early in the third, as the Sixers got the deficit down to just two points. It looked like a turning point in the game, but D’Angelo Russell finally figured things out in that third quarter, and the Nets kept plugging away, halting any momentum the Sixers had.
So, What Next?
These teams face each other again on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center in what’s probably a must-win game for Philly. They’ll need to come up with an answer defensively for the Nets backcourt (maybe one that starts with a “Zhaire” and ends with a “Smith,” hmm?), and will need to hope that Joel Embiid is able to score from the floor and not just from the line. Presumably, Embiid will be healthier on Monday, so that should be at least one thing that goes in Philly’s favor.
But the Nets may have found some things. Jarrett Allen playing just 10 minutes and letting Ed Davis be the team’s primary center worked well; I’d expect to see Kenny Atkinson keep that going on Monday. The weird, ultra-small Nets lineup with Jared Dudley at the five didn’t work quite as well, but it showed some versatility, and the Sixers might need to go away from using Boban as the backup five, even if his numbers from this game (13 points in 15 minutes and a plus-3) were fine.
The Sixers are still the favorites in this series. They still have the best players in this series. But that just wasn’t enough in Game 1.
(By the way, because I know y’all are going to bring this up in the comments: Yes, Amir Johnson got caught texting during the game and Joel got caught looking at Amir’s phone. ESPN caught Amir heading to the locker room, but then later they showed the bench and he was back there. This is probably going to be a big conversation all over social media and the talking head shows for the next couple of days, so...yeah, that happened.)