NEW YORK — The Sixers somehow slid past the Nets on Saturday night.
It wasn't a pretty performance, but the team overcame a 12-point second-half deficit to take a 101-98 victory at Barclays Center.
Spencer Dinwiddie looked like he'd hit an unbelievable shot from about 40 feet out at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, but a review reversed the make and allowed the Sixers to breathe a true sigh of relief.
Joel Embiid led them with 37 points on 12-for-18 shooting and 13 rebounds. James Harden had 29 points, six assists and six rebounds.
Mikal Bridges posted a team-high 23 points for Brooklyn.
The 36-19 Sixers have two games remaining before the All-Star break and both are at home. They’ll play the Rockets on Monday, the Cavs on Wednesday. Here are observations on their win over Brooklyn:
Sixers fall behind despite major edge at foul line
New Nets Bridges and Cam Johnson impressed early in their Brooklyn debuts.
Those two combined to score nine of the Nets’ first 11 points. Dorian Finney-Smith then drilled a second-chance three and Day’Ron Sharpe’s put-back layup gave Brooklyn a 16-6 lead. Defensive rebounding has unsurprisingly looked more challenging for the Sixers when they’ve allowed regular dribble penetration and then had to scramble, which was again the case in the opening minutes Saturday.
Embiid hit an and-one bank shot on his first post-up against Nic Claxton and continued to score with incredible efficiency just as he’d done in a 14-for-18 shooting performance Friday in the Sixers’ win over the Knicks. Embiid followed up a 15-point first quarter against New York with 14 points in the first period on 4-for-5 shooting. The Embiid-Harden duo scored all of the Sixers’ first 15 points.
The Sixers took the game’s first 14 foul shots but trailed by 10 points late in the second quarter because of the Nets’ sizable advantage from beyond the arc (10 made first-half threes to the Sixers’ five) and the team’s lack of offensive production from starters Tobias Harris, PJ Tucker and De’Anthony Melton. That trio was scoreless and 0 for 6 from the floor until a Harris corner three with 45.5 seconds until halftime.
Jalen McDaniels subbed in with 4:44 left in the first quarter for his Sixers debut.
He scored his first hoop in a Philadelphia uniform rather stylishly when he slipped a screen on a neatly designed action and slammed in Tyrese Maxey’s lob.
After spending his entire NBA career until now with the Hornets, McDaniels enjoyed his first action for a team that aims to go deep in the playoffs.
“It felt good to get out there, especially a high-energy game, high intensity," he said afterwards. “That’s how each game is going to be playing here, so it was good to get out there to support the win."
McDaniels had another alley-oop chance early in the fourth quarter but couldn’t convert an easy attempt. He redeemed the miss right away, however, nailing a three-pointer on the Sixers’ next possession. McDaniels finished with five points on 2-for-4 shooting and four rebounds in his 16 minutes.
For better and for worse, McDaniels didn’t stand out defensively. He mostly did the basics right on the ball and wasn’t clueless in terms of where to be off ball. Though McDaniels was not fantastic as far as screen navigation, it’s clear that his size (6-foot-9 with a 7-foot wingspan) enables him to get some impactful rearview contests.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers was very pleased with McDaniels' outing.
“He’s going to help," Rivers said. “He’s going to really help us. His length, his rebounding … he’s going to be big for us. You can see it. Very happy with a guy that didn’t know what the hell we were doing. He literally didn’t know offense, defense. You could see guys screaming at him to get to this spot, go to this spot. But he’s going to be really good for us.”
Paul Reed remained the Sixers’ backup center and had a solid first stint. Two highlights were a strong defensive effort to force a Cam Thomas air ball on Brooklyn’s final first-quarter possession and an alley-oop dunk assisted by Harden.
While the Sixers’ bench was decent overall, this version of the Nets without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving has plenty of legitimate NBA rotation players who won’t start. Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn used a 12-man rotation and brought Ben Simmons (four points, three assists, three rebounds) off the bench. Joe Harris burned the Sixers with four first-half threes. Georges Niang tried to stay tight on Harris, but he clearly was not the ideal candidate to chase him around off-ball screens.
Tyrese Maxey was unable to duplicate his stellar two-way game Friday and posted 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting. He again played significantly more than Melton — 34 minutes to 14.
Sixers somehow grit one out
Tobias Harris and Rivers vehemently expressed disagreement with the officials on a couple of plays early in the third quarter. The Sixers’ collective energy out of intermission was neither high nor positive.
After a miserable stretch in which Harris missed a fast-break layup through contact and Claxton then scored back-to-back buckets, Rivers called timeout. Harris and Melton came out.
The Sixers went down 74-62 on a mid-range jumper by Bridges, but they played reasonably well late in the third quarter with Embiid surrounded by four bench players. Embiid hit an elbow jumper with 0.9 seconds left in the third to cut the Sixers' deficit to 82-76.
To start the fourth quarter, the Sixers featured Harden in a bench-heavy lineup. That unit had bright moments on both ends of the floor, but the Sixers still couldn't neutralize Joe Harris (18 points) and Thomas (14 points).
Down 96-87 with a little under seven minutes left, the Sixers made an 8-0 run with all the scoring from Maxey, Harden and Embiid. Brooklyn missed a few good looks, but the Sixers again showed they're capable of elevating their defense when fully dialed in. The team's defensive rebounding was much improved in the fourth, too. Guards like Maxey weren't piling up tons of rebounds, but their efforts to chip in on the glass were noticeable.
Embiid, Maxey and Harris all agonizingly missed potential go-ahead shots that it seemed the Sixers might regret. Dinwiddie then drove past Harris for a dunk with 1:45 to go.
The Sixers' clutch execution wasn't at all flawless, but they continued to play scrappy defense and earned a chance to take the lead late. Harden missed a layup, but Embiid grabbed the offensive board, was fouled with 5.2 seconds left, and made both foul shots. By a very, very narrow margin, the Sixers squeaked out a second straight win.