In years past, the news that Joel Embiid would be missing a playoff game would have been grounds to declare a state of emergency. Head to the life rafts in an orderly fashion, women and children first, because this ship is sinking.
This year, however, the Sixers were able to calmly sail along and complete their first-round sweep in Brooklyn with a 96-88 win over the Nets, even with Embiid back in Philadelphia resting his sprained knee.
A big reason for the win was the play of BBall Paul Reed, who started in place of Embiid and tallied 10 points, a game-high 15 rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block in 32 minutes. Reed terrorized the Nets on the offensive glass, securing eight offensive boards and helping lead the charge in the Sixers outscoring Brooklyn, 25-10, in second-chance points.
After the game, head coach Doc Rivers was asked why he started Reed, and then discussed with reporters in Brooklyn the team’s advantage on the glass this series.
“I just thought he earned that. He’s been playing well. I didn’t love the Paul and Tuck combination together, but in the third quarter that turned out to be great. We’ve won this series I think mostly because we’ve dominated the glass. So that was our thought going into the game today: Paul and Tuck are our two best rebounders. Let’s put ‘em on the floor (together). I know it’s going to create offensive spacing problems, but let’s see what we can get. And then, in the second half — really, from the second quarter on — we separated them. We played, for the most part, one of them on the floor, not both of them on the floor. And I thought that was good for us.”
As Doc alluded to, it was actually a rocky start for Reed in the first half. Only two of his 10 points came prior to halftime, and he was overhelping far too much defensively, leading to plenty of easy buckets for Nets center Nic Claxton (15 of Claxton’s 19 points came in the first half). The Sixers trailed by eight points at halftime, but Reed’s improved play in the second half was a big factor in the game turning around in Philadelphia’s favor.
Apparently, one big adjustment made after halftime was to kick the ball out more following an offensive rebound, rather than trying to force a put-back attempt. Reed mentioned what goes through his mind when he gets those offensive rebounds and has to make a decision.
“Sometimes it’s tough. I feel like my first look should be if I’ve got anybody to kick it out to for a three. That’s what the coaches have been emphasizing to me. Early in the season, Georges, he told me that’s what they wanted from me. So ever since I’ve been focusing on that, I’ve been getting more and more minutes. That kind of needs to be my mindset moving forward: Just kick out for open threes. And then, if the open threes aren’t there, it’s me and the rim and I can get into my bag.” (Smiles.)
Though he said kicking it out has been a focus for him throughout the season, Reed apparently needed some reminders following that first half. Teammate Tyrese Maxey discussed Reed’s game and brought up his coach’s advice to BBall Paul in the halftime locker room.
“ … In the first half, he was trying to get some put-backs in. And Doc told him as soon as we got to the locker room at halftime, ‘Look, man just go out there and get the rebound. And then when the layup comes, you make it.’ And he had 15 rebounds; he got every rebound. Him and Tobias as well … they were huge.”
James Harden had a similar message for Reed during the game.
“He listens. He plays hard, so you’ve got to give him credit for that. In the first half, he was getting really good offensive rebounds. He was just trying to go up over two and make difficult shots. I keep telling him, ‘Obviously, if you’ve got a put-back layup, then take it. But if you feel like you don’t have a layup, get the ball out and we can get a better shot.’ So in the second half, he did a better job of that and that generated more opportunities for our guards.”
Reed mentioned those second-half tweaks during his own postgame presser.
“The first half, I came out and I was trying to force shots that weren’t the best look for the team. The second half, guys got on me, gave me some good constructive criticism. And some guys like Tobias, he had my back and was like, ‘Bro, we believe in you, trust in you. Just go out there and do what you do.’ So second half, I went out and every offensive rebound, if I didn’t have a wide-open layup, I kicked it out. It helped us a lot; we were getting a lot of good looks.”
Fortunately, the 23-year-old big man is receptive to advice and takes any constructive criticism in stride.
“I’ve just been getting coached hard my whole life. In my mind, I feel like I have to set an example for the rest of my teammates on how to take constructive criticism. When they’re all getting on me, I shouldn’t be one of those dudes to retaliate, get mad and have attitude. I’ve got to just take it. So I feel like now, when other dudes get yelled at, they should kind of react the same way. So I’m just glad I’ve set a good example.”
Of course, that famous BBall Paul bravado still shined through when asked if he ever doubts himself upon hearing criticism.
“Nah, I never doubted myself. (Smiles.) Never did. Never doubted myself...I work so hard. I work on my game every day. I know what I can do; I know what I’m capable of. Sometimes, like in the first half, I forced bad shots because you can get over-confident. And that’s what happened today in the first half. But in the second half, I came out still confident and just knowing that I don’t need to force it ever. My teammates are going to find me and I’ve got to trust that. And that’s what they ended up doing down the stretch of the game.”
The Sixers now have at least one more week before their next game to rest up and hopefully get Embiid back in the lineup. Whether he’s needed for 10 or 30 minutes, though, Playoff Paul will be ready, both to grab every possible rebound and every possible opportunity to move some merchandise.
Issa great time to get you a Out The Mud hoodie. I love seeing my hoodies in the crowd when im playing. $100 DM if you interested pic.twitter.com/ZqfZvqLR1Y— Paul Reed (@Bball_paul) April 22, 2023
You’re a real one, BBall Paul.