3 observations after the Sixers swept the Nets with an Embiid-less Game 4 win

3 observations after the Sixers swept the Nets with an Embiid-less Game 4 win

NEW YORK — The Sixers didn’t need their star big man to sweep the series over the Nets on Saturday afternoon.

After Joel Embiid was sidelined with a sprained right knee, the Sixers cruised to a 96-88 Game 4 victory over Brooklyn at Barclays Center to advance to the second round of the playoffs. It was the Sixers’ first series sweep since 1991 and their first sweep in a seven-game series since 1985.

Tobias Harris led the Sixers with 25 points.

James Harden had 17 points and 11 assists. Paul Reed had 10 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said pregame that he wasn’t sure when Embiid could return.

“From my understanding, they checked his knee right after the game,” Rivers said, “because he was complaining of some soreness in the back of the knee, which is always a scary thing with players with the back of the knee. There was already swelling, which It’s too early, and so we did an MRI.

“As a coach, I hate those three letters, because they never come out well. It seems like every time they say to a coach, ‘Hey, we’re doing an MRI,’ most of the time it doesn’t go well. And did not do this.”

Sixers vs. Celtics in Round 2 of the playoffs. The Hawks will play the winner of the series. Boston leads 2-1.

Here are observations from the Sixers’ Game 4 win in Brooklyn:

Different faces from Game 3

Reid got his fifth start of his NBA career and his first postseason start.

The Embiid-less Sixers have had a rough start. Harris scored the game’s first bucket on a driving layup and Reed converted a short righty hook inside traffic, but the Sixers’ offense otherwise struggled. Harden misses a layup and a floater. Sixers guards Harden, Tyrese Maxey and De’Anthony Melton started 0 for 7 from the floor. Harden also threw an ankle-high pass to a wide-open PJ Tucker in the corner that bounced out of bounds.

Switching remained fundamental to the Nets’ defense, but Brooklyn attempted little because of the lack of offensive double teams on Embiid. The Sixers made just four three-pointers in the first quarter and didn’t hit any of them.

As expected, the Sixers’ defense was less strong than usual without Embiid at the start. Spencer Dinwiddie scored eight of Brooklyn’s first 10 points and the Nets took a 14-4 lead when Nick Claxton got free for a half-court dunk.

Less than 11 minutes into the game, the Sixers had already used three centers. Rivers took out small-ball Five Tucker late in the first quarter and inserted Montrezal Harrell, who had been out of the Sixers’ rotation since early February. In his five first-half minutes, Harrell had no points (0 for 2 from the floor) and one rebound. The Sixers played the net even with Harrell on the court thanks to an effective stretch of zone defense early in the second quarter.

During that run, Seth Curry came up empty on two jumper attempts. The former Sixer got 21 minutes for Brooklyn after not being part of the Nets’ Game 3 rotation. Patty Mills also played for the first time in the entire series.

Immediately following Mills’ entrance, Shake Milton made his first non-garbage time appearance of the postseason. The Sixers liked the look of that matchup, with Milton’s size (6-foot-5 with a 7-foot wingspan) and comfort getting into his spots against the 6-foot Mills. Sure enough, Milton went over Mills on his first touch and drew a foul.

However, Milton didn’t magically fix the Sixers’ offensive problems, and he also picked up three quick fouls. The Sixers had just 40 points at halftime and trailed by eight. That loss would have been worse if shooters like Joe Harris and Curry had knocked down an open jumper or two; Brooklyn’s bench was 0 for 10 from three-point range at intermission.

Harden, Maxey works through shooting struggles

By the 4:55 mark of the first quarter, Harden had made his most free throws in a game in the series. He shot 4 for 4 from the foul line in the opening period.

However, Harden’s finishing in the paint was still a problem. He blew past Claxton in the second quarter, but the 33-year-old paid for some hesitation and blocked his layup later. Harden made just one basket at the rim all day and shot 4 for 18 from the field. Although poor luck was involved with some narrow misses, Harden’s timing and instincts for which the best option is not overall sharp around the hoop.

Early in the third quarter, Maxey took his time on a wide-open three, then left it short. After his stellar finish in Game 3, almost nothing seemed to break Maxey’s path. He’s made strides this year in terms of playing through contact and finding savvy ways to draw fouls, but it would certainly be nice for the Sixers if Maxey could reliably draw piles of free throws when he’s on an off night against higher-level competition.

Maxey and the Sixers didn’t let the poor shooting hurt, though, and they got a few timely jumpers in the end. After a Dorian Finney-Smith three gave the Nets a 53-42 lead, Harden answered with a three of his own. He also assisted on a Tucker corner three early in the third.

Harris’ score was especially valuable for the Sixers on Saturday. With Embiid out, he showed off his skills in the post on a few occasions, using his size and strength well, and hitting several very tough mid-range jumpers.

Reed comes up big in the second half

Reed certainly wasn’t flawless, but the Sixers looked great defensively with him on the floor for most of the day.

The 23-year-old’s ability to handle all types of players shone through in the third quarter. When he switched between guards and wings he was consistently steady and forced jumpers in the contest. The Nets started settling for a lot of threes, too. While high three-point volume is an aspect of Brooklyn’s team identity, many of the Nets’ attempts in the second half didn’t come from defense, crisp ball movement or drives into the paint that broke down anything close to an ideal offensive process.

Reed turned in a 14-0 Sixers run and capped it with a layup that gave his team a 56-53 lead. He also rebounded tremendously at both ends of the court. At one point in the third quarter, he ripped off AJ Brown-Eick, a defensive board with one hand.

In the fourth quarter, Melton had a huge impact. He drained all three of his three-pointers in the final period, including one set up by Reed after an offensive rebound. Melton tipped in his own foul with 3:58 left to give the Sixers an 85-76 lead. Reid’s lefty lay-in extended the Sixers’ lead to 13 points, and Harris’ corner three was ultimately the series dagger.

The Sixers have prided themselves on finding unconventional ways to win this year. On Saturday, Reid was a big reason they did.

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AI-generated chart toppers, Apple enter savings and Microsoft ditches Twitter

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Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey celebrates his third quarter three-point basket with teammate forward Tobias Harris against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 4 of the first round Eastern Conference playoffs on Saturday, April 22, 2023 in New York.

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