The excitement for playoff basketball has been building around the NBA, especially for fans of the Philadelphia 76ers. Finishing in the third seed, they would face the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the 2019 playoffs. Many 3 vs 6 seed match-ups are supposed to be simple for the higher seed, but Brooklyn had other ideas for its first year back in the playoffs since 2015.
Philadelphia’s starting center, Joel Embiid, faced injury problems heading in to the postseason, having picked up a knee injury around the time of the All-Star break. The injury has bothered him ever since, causing him to miss 14 of the final 24 games of the regular season. He was a game-time decision for Philly in the first game of the playoffs, but when Scott Brown revealed he would be starting the game, the city of Philadelphia breathed a simultaneous sigh of relief.
Brooklyn closed out the regular season with wins over the fourth-seed Boston Celtics and number one seed Milwaukee Bucks, as well as winning six of their last 10 games. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises to come out of the east this year, they secured the sixth best record in the conference, allowing them to play basketball through late-April once again.
Brooklyn came in to this series as underdogs. Headed up by second-year player Jarrett Allen and MIP candidate D’Angelo Russell, the Nets had a job on their hands to take a win in game 1, especially with it being on the road.
Acquiring Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris in the regular season has worked wonders for Philly, helping them to finish third in the East for the second consecutive year and making them one of the most complete squads in the NBA. Shooting, post moves, blocks, rebounds – there isn’t a skill this Philly team doesn’t possess in one player or another.
But despite the deep skill set, the game would turn out to be far from an easy ride. With Philadelphia being outscored by nine points in just the first quarter, Nets fans managed to see a glimpse of what their exciting young team is capable of.
The Nets would outscore the Sixers in only two of the four quarters, but would ultimately prove too much for Philadelphia, beating them on their own turf, 111-102. From beginning to end, Brooklyn looked the better team. D’Angelo Russell continued his terrific All-Star form, putting up 26 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists. All-Star Weekend’s 3-Point Contest champion Joe Harris, chipped in with 13 points and 3 rebounds, while Sixth Man of the Year contender Spencer Dinwiddie racked up 18 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist in 32 minutes.
Perhaps the most surprising outing of the game was by 11-year NBA veteran Jared Dudley. Despite finishing the game with only 4 points and 4 assists, every time Dudley was on the floor, the Nets looked better. Dudley ended with a +/- of +16 and held Ben Simmons to just 9 points and 7 rebounds.
Philadelphia looked tough to beat heading in to the playoffs but would be inconsistent in this first game. Simmons, JJ Redick and Harris scored a combined 18 points, with Harris playing 40 minutes and Simmons playing 32.
With Embiid having battled a persistent injury, he only managed to 24 minutes, but was still able to score 22 points and secure 15 rebounds to register his first double-double of the 2019 post season.
Philly’s strongest player was Jimmy Butler. Scoring 36 points in just short of 39 minutes, Butler seemed to be the only player with a desire to win. He also added 9 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks, but it would not prove to be enough for Philadelphia to overcome New York’s only playoff bound team.
Philadelphia showed glimmers of hope throughout the game, looking as if they were going to come back and take a lead at certain points. When it came down to it, the Nets proved too much for the Sixers and will look to take a two-game advantage on Monday, before heading back to New York for game 3 next Friday.
Feature photo – Abbie Parr / Getty Images / Tim Tai / Philadelphia Daily News / Double Clutch illustration – Tom Crawford