It’s always sunny in downtown Brooklyn... even around 10:00 PM on a Thursday. Sixers fans endured some tough news before tip off. Superstar center Joel Embiid was declared out after being a game time decision and it was revealed that his knee didn’t make progress after a couple of days off following the game 2 victory. That was a bit of a bummer. I started to wonder if the Sixers were going to “play for game 4” and mail this one in.
But I, like some people in the Brooklyn area ... underestimated Ben Simmons:
“Missing: Ben Simmons jump shot” hanging outside of Barclays Center prior to Game 3. pic.twitter.com/pC94WF8eAs— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) April 18, 2019
Even without the jump shot, the Nets got demolished by the 2nd year Australian Freak. (Do you think that will catch on?) Simmons had 31 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals, went a crazy 9-11 from the line, and 11-13 from the field. D’Angelo Russel was a -22 for the game and Ben had plenty to do with that as well, defensively. Simmons was just that good.
It wasn’t just that though. They needed more and got it.
The Nets were persistent. Every time the Sixers pushed a lead to around 10, they’d get a decent look at a shot that felt like it would really push their momentum but missed and the Nets would cut into the lead. The end of the third quarter was a total collapse as they were up 16 with 1:07 to play and went to the 4th up just 7.
Philly came into the series as one of the best teams at defending triples and held the Nets to just 20.5% from beyond the arc, a huge adjustment that worked in their favor.
Philadelphia is one of the better passing teams and had 26 assists to Brooklyn’s 12; a major divide in the willingness and success seen sharing the rock. Without Embiid they lost the points in the paint battle that they might normally win 58-46 but they ran more than usual and finished with twice as many fast break points 16-8, something that felt reminiscent of the stretch Embiid missed last season with his orbital fracture when the team ran often.
So the Sixers needed much more and they hit tough shots.
Tobias Harris has been mired in a funk over the last few weeks but he broke out in the nick of time. The New York native likely had some extra loved ones in attendance for this epic battle and he absolutely delivered a clutch performance. Harris was a game high +23 and drained big shot after big shot, finishing a perfect 6-6 from downtown with 29 points. He also crashed the glass for a game high 16 rebounds. It’s good to know the Sixers have such a clutch player who isn’t named Joel Embiid or Jimmy Butler. GM Elton Brand bet big on having a lineup that was top heavy with talent and tonight it paid off in a monster way.
Speaking of clutch, JJ Redick was no slouch either. After struggling in game one and prompting lots of talk about the crafty way the Nets were defending him, his adjustments and unrivaled cardio training sprung him loose again. The Brooklyn resident avoided the top-lock schemes Nets’ coach Kenny Atkinson employed and found the soft spots in the zone going 5-9 from 3 and torched the home team for 26 points. The Virginia native should sleep well this evening in his own bed not far from the stadium. He earned it, he was just stellar and fully warped the Nets zones.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Sixers had three 25 point scorers for the first time in 41 years during a playoff game:
The 76ers have three 25-point scorers (Simmons, Harris, Redick) in a playoff game for the 1st time since Game 3 of the 1978 Conference Semis vs the Knicks.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 19, 2019
That night, it was Julius Erving, George McGinnis and World B. Free. That's the only other instance in the last 50 seasons. pic.twitter.com/HweUR94l2Y
Boban Marnović was instrumental in his own right. Despite what felt like months of hearing that he would not be able to play in a series against a Nets team who loves to utilize high pick-n-rolls, he not only contributed, he really hurt Brooklyn with his length and ability to read a defense, pass, and knock down 15 footers. He was a perfect 8-8 from the line and applied two-way pressure all evening and quieted his doubters including myself. Boban’s 14 and 8 were really important. The Nets’ lack of a floor-spacing big allows him to be very effective protecting the rim and crashing the glass. There’s no other way to say it, he’s a problem for Brooklyn and their undersized center rotation of Jarrett Allen and Ed Davis. Few teams allow more points to centers on the year than the Nets and big Bobi exploited their weakness.
The Sixers have wrestled home court back and will probably have a much more Philly-friendly crowd on Saturday at Barclays Center as Sixer-fan commuters will have the chance to organize, hit the turnpike and get loud.
Ah yes, there were some trash talking points.
Jared Dudley who pointed out before the game tonight that Ben Simmons was very good in transition but simply “average” in half court. The well-spoken Dudley is just a role player and should have expected clap-back from Simmons which he got. After the game, Dudley showed class and said: “...credit them they played phenomenal, they came in here they did everything right....”
The biggest winner tonight was perhaps Brett Brown. Even with huge performances from Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, JJ Redick, and key contributions from Jimmy Butler and Boban, Brown delivered a major victory. And he did so with some lineups he was warned by fans and analysts would not work. Many (like myself) called for more small-ball or more Jonah Bolden lineups, more Zhaire Smith, but to his credit the numbers and permutations he dialed up looked good together and the team made huge shots over and over when it counted.
The biggest question of all for Philadelphia is still the health of Joel Embiid, whose knee will determine their ultimate ceiling this season. Can he heal in time to play for game 4? Can he heal in time for game 5 or even the next series? But there are also huge decisions to be made about who gets a max contract (like Tobias Harris or Jimmy Butler) or what role players the team wants to bring back. Some light was shone on those questions in a really exciting and clutch win tonight.
Game 4 is on Saturday afternoon and I’m expecting plenty of E-A-G-L-E-S and Trust the Process chants.