The Sixers' highest margin of defeat this season is a 48-point loss to the Celtics in February.
Thursday night's game surely felt worse.
In Ben Simmons' return to Philadelphia, the Nets dominated the Sixers and cruised to a 129-100 win.
Kevin Durant posted 25 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists. Seth Curry had 24 points and Kyrie Irving added 22.
Joel Embiid scored 27 points on 5-for-17 shooting. James Harden managed only 11 and missed 14 of his 17 field-goal attempts.
Simmons was not active Thursday (return to competition reconditioning/back soreness) but sat on Brooklyn’s bench, his first appearance at Wells Fargo Center since last June. He helped Patty Mills warm up before the game, rebounding and passing for his fellow Australian.
After a long, uncomfortable saga that culminated in the Sixers trading Simmons to the Nets and acquiring Harden, the hearty boos the 25-year-old received were more predicable than the sun rising in the morning.
As the night wore on, the Sixers' on-court product also drew boos. The team dropped to 40-25 and will face the Magic on Sunday in Orlando. Here are observations on the Sixers' blowout loss to Brooklyn:
Sixers hurt themselves, can’t handle Nets’ blitz
The Nets were as dangerous as advertised offensively in the opening stages.
Irving gave Brooklyn a 7-2 lead when he got Harden on a transition cross-match and nailed a three-pointer over him. Durant was smooth and sharp against Tobias Harris, starting 4 for 4 from the floor.
Curry bested former backcourt mate Tyrese Maxey in their early showdowns, too. Curry forced Maxey to fly past him on two pump fakes, and he also made a three off of a well-executed two-man action with Andre Drummond.
The Sixers were determined to attack the Nets but too often rushed in their attempts to do so. Matisse Thybulle committed a bad turnover when he took a loose ball and immediately tried to fling it to Maxey in the backcourt, which led to an Irving triple. Maxey later air balled a pull-up three and fouled Irving on a mid-range jumper. For the first time in a while, he looked like a 21-year-old facing veteran stars in a big game.
In a fitting conclusion to the first quarter, James Johnson slammed in a remarkably easy pick-and-roll dunk on DeAndre Jordan’s first defensive possession. Irving then hit a pull-up three with a tenth of a second to go, lifting Brooklyn to a 40-23 advantage.
That wasn’t the Sixers’ low point, though. A Jordan perimeter turnover created an and-one hoop by Nic Claxton that put Brooklyn ahead 45-25. The Nets recorded 12 of the game’s first 14 assists and were superior to the Sixers in almost every discernible way. While the charged atmosphere perhaps contributed to the extreme lack of precision, it’s clear the Sixers are a lesser defensive team than last season and will continue to pay for mistakes against talented opponents like the Nets, who shot 64.4 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three-point range in the first half.
“From the start, our defense wasn’t there," Harris said. “It wasn’t there all night actually, but from the start of the game we had no intensity defensively. The ball wasn’t moving. We didn’t do a great job of making the extra pass.
“That combined with missing shots just tallies up, and from then on it was tough for us to actually gain a flow and a rhythm to cut the lead. From the beginning of the game, those were the key factors. But for sure, defensively — no physicality, nothing.”
Needed a lot more than Embiid free throws …
The Nets’ double teams couldn’t stop Embiid’s frequent, inevitable trips to the foul line.
Embiid drew the third foul on Drummond late in the first quarter by driving straight at the 28-year-old and powering through his chest for an and-one layup. Bruce Brown and Irving also dealt with foul trouble.
In a grim first half for the Sixers, Embiid’s foul drawing was the biggest positive (and arguably the only one). He scored 21 of the team’s 51 points before intermission, knocking down 15 of 19 free throws.
Both Embiid and Harris (16 points on 5-for-10 shooting) made a couple of long-distance jumpers early in the third quarter, but the Sixers aren’t likely to have sufficient firepower when they’re so reliant on their All-Star big man and Harden struggles so severely.
Though there were good reasons to be hesitant, Embiid didn’t seem as confident in his teammates as usual with his passing. On an after-timeout play in the third quarter, he decided Harris wasn’t open in the paint and instead waited for Harden to come up to take a handoff. Brown out-hustled Harden, beating him to the spot and going the other way for a dunk that grew the Nets’ lead to 27 points.
“ ... I don’t want to say they wanted to win any more than us, but they played that way," Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said. “It was clear. Every single loose ball, every long rebound — they got to everything tonight. They blew up simple dribble handoffs that we run. Just simple … they ran through us. I just thought they were so much more athletic and physical than we were the entire night, and so that’s something we have to look at and see what we can do better.”
Nightmare outing for Harden
With a jumper over Irving in the first quarter, Harden passed Reggie Miller for third on the NBA’s all-time three-point list.
But, in contrast to his fantastic, 5-0 start as a Sixer, the game then turned nightmarish for Harden. Again and again, he drove into traffic and produced nothing positive. He thought he deserved more than his two free throws.
Shots sometimes don’t drop and whistles sometimes don’t blow, but Harden also did not enhance his teammates offensively. Thybulle (four points, 1-for-5 shooting) and Maxey (four points, 2-for-7 shooting) both had poor nights. As Brooklyn showed, placing heavy attention on Harden and Embiid doesn’t need to coincide with wide-open looks for everyone else.
The Sixers only played an eight-man rotation until Furkan Korkmaz entered with the team down 31 points late in the third quarter. Danny Green is sidelined by a left middle finger laceration and the Sixers’ bench didn’t fare well without him. Georges Niang made a few shots early in the fourth quarter, but it was absolutely fair to classify those minutes as garbage time.
As for Harden, Thursday was a major disappointment after all the encouraging signs and high-scoring nights from the beginning of his Sixers tenure. It's fine if he's not his best every game in the postseason, but performances like this figure to lead to similarly bitter outcomes.
“I just think for the entire game, we just didn’t have the pop that we needed to," Harden said. “Turned the ball over too much, which gave them a lot of easy points — not even contested points, just easy layups and threes and dunks. They made some tough shots early, which we expected.
“But offensively since I’ve been here, the last five games, we’ve been playing well. The ball’s been moving. And tonight it just didn’t move as much as we needed it to. So a combination of them making shots and the ball not moving helped them offensively.”