76ers

Sixers 145, Nets 123: Ben Simmons and company leave no doubt in historic Game 2 win

Sixers 145, Nets 123: Ben Simmons and company leave no doubt in historic Game 2 win

BOX SCORE 

Whatever the message was at halftime, it definitely worked.

The Sixers used a record-setting 51-point third quarter to crush the Nets, 145-123, Monday night in Game 2 at the Wells Fargo Center.

Thanks to some more hot shooting by Brooklyn, the Sixers held just a one-point advantage at the break. Then Joel Embiid, a game-time decision heading in, started to look like himself, and Ben Simmons continued a brilliant bounce-back performance.

The 51 points were the most ever scored in the third quarter and tied for the most in any quarter of a playoff game in NBA history. The 145 points set a playoff franchise record.

The series now heads up to Brooklyn for Game 3 Thursday tied, 1-1.

Here are observations from the win:

• Simmons said at practice on Sunday that he was planning to be much more aggressive in Game 2. He was a man of his word from the opening tip … literally.

After Embiid won the tip, Simmons took the ball directly to the rim. He missed, but it was definitely a tone-setting type of play by Simmons. It made everything come a little easier for the Sixers as Simmons continued to go to the rim, looking for his own shot.

Of course Simmons took exception to the fans booing in Game 1, but everyone kissed and made up in the first quarter. After an excellent take and finish on Jarrett Allen, Simmons raised his arms up, urging the crowd to get louder.

They obliged.

He recorded his second career playoff triple-double with 18 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.

Also, for as poor as Simmons was offensively in Game 1, he did an outstanding job on D’Angelo Russell, holding him to 10 of 25 from the field. Game 2 wasn’t much kinder to Russell, who finished just 6 of 16. Simmons has flashed elite defensive ability at times this season and has been stellar through two games in the playoffs.

• Embiid was a little slow to get going. He didn’t attempt a field goal in his first seven minutes of action.

Then this happened …

It’s funny, Embiid seemed quiet in his 12 first-half minutes, but had 10 points and five boards. Even with an achy knee, he can shows signs of sheer brilliance. He moved around much better Monday night than he did Saturday afternoon.

He started the second half with a personal 7-0 run and had 13 points in the third. Brett Brown had to play the All-Star center only 20 minutes as he finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds.

• While Jimmy Butler was a beast and Embiid was still rounding into form in Game 1, there was legitimate concern over the play of Simmons, JJ Redick and Tobias Harris. All three surpassed their point totals from Saturday less than two minutes into the third quarter.

Redick has been in these situations before. While his playoff play has been up and down in his career, you know he’s a veteran and he ended the regular season on an absolute tear. He finished with 17 points on 7 of 12 from the field and 2 of 5 from three. He adjusted to the Nets overplaying him at the three-point line by taking — and making — more long twos.

It was good to see Harris finally get rolling. After Harris missed his first five shots, Brooklyn did him a huge favor in the third quarter. Harris was fouled taking a three and then Russell committed a clear-path foul on him. Harris made five straight free throws and it must have made the basket grow from a pinhole to an ocean. He had 12 of his 19 points in the third and finished 2 of 4 from three.

• If you were looking for Brown's adjustments, you got ‘em.

With James Ennis back in the lineup, Brown didn’t bring T.J. McConnell or Jonathon Simmons off the bench until garbage time. The move paid dividends immediately. Ennis played better defense on Caris LeVert on his first defensive possession than any Sixer did in Game 1. I wasn’t sure the impact Ennis would have in this series, but he gave the Sixers a real boost in 12 minutes Monday.

And speaking of the bench, how good has Boban Marjanovic been during the first two games of the series? Maranjovic had 14 points in 11 first-half minutes and ended up with 16 points and eight boards. He’s also held up OK on defense. Getting solid backup center minutes from him will be huge for the Sixers.

Mike Scott also had a bounce-back performance, hitting 5 of 7, including 3 of 5 from deep, for 15 points.

Brown cut his rotation down to eight guys, with Jonah Bolden getting two spot minutes in the first half. In Game 2, it worked out quite well.

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Sixers Talk podcast: Bring on the Bucks!

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NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: Bring on the Bucks!

On this edition of Sixers Talk, Paul Hudrick and Amy Fadool discuss Joel Embiid dominating, Alec Burks being a spark off the bench, and Saturday's huge matchup against the Bucks.

• Sixers win a weird one in their first game after the All-Star break (1:07)

• Alec Burks gives the Sixers exactly what they need (9:18)

• Al Horford's new role (12:55)

• Joel Embiid vs Giannis Antetokounmpo (25:08)

• Ben Simmons' defense has allowed the Sixers to really compete against the Bucks (29:42)

• Sixers' three-point shooting percentage against Milwaukee (32:32).

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With Joel Embiid-Al Horford pairing, Brett Brown has more important decisions ahead

With Joel Embiid-Al Horford pairing, Brett Brown has more important decisions ahead

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers have 24 two-man lineups that have played at least 400 minutes together this season. The Al Horford-Joel Embiid pairing has the worst net rating of them all, by a margin of 2.9 points.

It’s an important statistic and an obvious reason why it made sense for the Sixers to remove Horford from their starting lineup. Horford played only nine minutes with Embiid on Feb. 11 against the Clippers, seven minutes Thursday night vs. the Nets. Before that, the pair had averaged 14.3 minutes per game together. 

Is Brett Brown’s goal simply to minimize the time those two share the floor? 

At times when you see that number to be low, it will be driven because the matchups just, in my opinion, didn't allow it," he said Friday. "It's just a stone cold small-ball game. Some of it will be driven out of performance and my gut feel, but I feel like a large portion of it will be driven out of just the matchups that we have on the floor. 

“It is my hope that you see that number in a healthy way. It's still the desire to have those two guys play quality basketball and coexist whenever that is required. But I feel like the number that I was saying should be judged based on matchups. You're going to see if it's a tiny number, I'll be shocked if it's not driven completely because the game is really small.”

The Nets did indeed use ultra-small lineups against the Sixers, with 6-foot-8 Wilson Chandler seeing time at center. Horford also played poorly. He was a minus-26 in 18:33 which, though an extreme number, did not seem to be an outrageously inaccurate reflection of his performance. 

Putting Horford on the floor with Embiid at the end of the game would have been illogical — doing so would have removed a ball handler like Alec Burks or Shake Milton or forced Brown to take out Tobias Harris (22 points, 12 rebounds). Essentially, Brown would have been trying to insert an ill-fitting piece and using a lineup that made little sense in the circumstances. 

Still, one can understand the instinct to involve Horford as much as possible. The Sixers gave him a lucrative four-year contract this season with the idea that he could both back up Embiid and play next to him. To abandon one half of that equation could be viewed as admitting a costly mistake, even in the context of Horford still having value as an improvement over the team’s backup centers last year and as Embiid insurance.

Brown doesn’t see Horford as a lost cause and was insistent Friday that the five-time All-Star is still an important player for the Sixers. 

“There's a human side of this that I take a lot of pride in, figuring that side out as as best I can,” he said. “Relationships and communication rule our sort of worlds. … He's a prideful man, he's got a history that he has, he has been rewarded with the contract that he has, and just keeping it very straight, very clean, very quick, and this is how I see it, this is why I see it this way, and not being apologetic about it. … He knows that I am aware of it all. And I believe that things will settle. 

“We have seen the history of Al Horford, and all of us would be very naive to think that some of his signing wasn't driven to where we think we want to be in April, May and we hope June. Just progress out, look ahead to see the matchups. … I think the communication and how I speak to Al is for me driven with those sort of core tenants in mind that I try to stick to.”

Horford is shooting 32.4 percent from three-point range, his worst mark since 2014-15, and 33.1 percent on wide-open threes. A hopeful look at history would suggest those numbers will improve. 

He’s also accepted a bench role without any fuss, saying Wednesday, “It’s what the team needs right now, and that’s what we’re doing.”

There is certainly evidence to support the notion he can excel at a job that includes a few less minutes alongside Embiid but still has him featuring in late-game lineups, especially against teams like the Bucks. 

Brown will continue to track the success and regularity of the Embiid-Horford duo. Though he and the Sixers will be looking for signs of improvement, it’s feasible that he’ll eventually be best served by further decreasing the playing time of his original frontcourt. 

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