NBA teams that have a 3-0 playoff series lead are 147-0 in going on to win the series. On only three occasions has the series even gone on to a Game 7. So statistically speaking, it’s not hyperbolic in the least to say if the Philadelphia 76ers win tonight, this series is over.
That being said, I don’t feel it’s too presumptuous to say the series is already over. The Sixers have looked like far and away the better team through the first two games. They sleepwalked through the first half of Game 2 and were still only down five points at halftime, ready to race ahead to a double-digit lead as soon as they woke up in the third quarter. The Nets posted the best eFG% ever in a playoff loss (65 percent in Game 1), so they can’t even say, “Well, maybe we’ll get hot for one game.” That already happened and they lost by 20!
Brooklyn simply has no way to defend Joel Embiid without selling out multiple defenders at every possible opportunity. That defensive scheme has led to countless open opportunities for Joel’s teammates, and guys like Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris have done a terrific job taking advantage. Offensively, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson are doing their best to create offense from a steady diet of jumpers, but everything just comes too hard for Brooklyn. They don’t have an above average on-ball creator to make things easier for everyone else and it shows.
Here are some things I’m keeping an eye on in Game 3:
- Will Brooklyn lighten up on its double-heavy system against Joel? They tried it towards the end of the third quarter of Game 3 and it resulted in an Embiid bucket, a Joel miss at the rim, and a travel whistled against the big man. Brooklyn has tried the “limit Embiid and make others beat them” strategy, and well, others have beaten them. It might be time for Jacque Vaughn to say, “We’re fine with Joel scoring 40, let’s make sure everyone else has it as difficult as possible.” If I’m the Nets, I would at least want to see what happens once playing more straight up.
- I wrote about this the other day — how will Doc Rivers finalize his playoff rotation? Georges Niang does not seem suited for playoff basketball, particularly in a second-round series against Boston. Does Danuel House, Jr. get one final look? Can you play smaller with Shake Milton? Will the Sixers test drive the P.J. Tucker at five lineup or do they not want to put any more of that on film for the Celtics to watch?
- Can James Harden reignite some optimism in his play? Even when The Beard was sinking seven threes and getting the “called a perfect game like a catcher” plaudits after Game 1, there were worrying signs. Harden is now 2-of-13 from two-point range in this series and has yet to attempt a free throw. He has maintained he feels good, but if that Achilles is bothering him to any degree that it is affecting his ability to finish in the painted area, the Sixers are in trouble next round. The Celtics will be better equipped to deal with Joel and won’t be creating openings for everyone else. Philadelphia will need James to create offense out of thin air in the half court. Looking sprier in these last couple games against Brooklyn would help alleviate those concerns to some degree.
Don’t lose focus tonight, Sixers. Maintain the proper spacing on offense and move off-ball, creating those passing lanes for Joel when the double- and triple-teams come. Boston looks to be having zero trouble with Atlanta, so the last thing the Sixers need is a slip-up and an extra game of wear and tear before that second-round series. There has been plenty of rest and short travel up I-95; no reason not to come out firing from the opening tip and maybe see some deep bench guys late in the fourth like in Game 1. Let’s roll.