The story of the Sixers' second-round playoff loss to the Hawks last season was their inability to close out games and hold onto leads.
The team's home opener Friday night at Wells Fargo Center was an unfortunate sequel. After leading by 10 points with 5:33 left, the Sixers fell to a 114-109 loss to the Nets.
“Ball stopped moving," Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said after the game. “Something that we’ve really worked our butts off on and it was disappointing to see. I thought we started walking the ball up the floor. There were two or three plays where we didn't execute things that we’ve worked on.
“The good sign for me is how well we played, the bad sign is we can’t finish games that way. ... Overall, I liked the game. I just didn’t like the last four minutes."
Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant notched a triple-double with 29 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists.
Seth Curry posted 23 points on 9-for-12 shooting, while Joel Embiid had 19 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four blocks.
Tobias Harris recorded 19 of his 23 points in the first half.
The 1-1 Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Thunder in Oklahoma City. Here are three observations on their loss to Brooklyn:
Embiid spearheads near-perfect start
The Sixers matched the home crowd’s energy from the opening tip, jumping out to a 20-6 lead.
Danny Green, who was scoreless Wednesday in New Orleans, buried two transition three-pointers. The Sixers played with good pace and Embiid picked up four quick assists. He rejected Nicolas Claxton at the rim on Brooklyn’s first after-timeout possession, too. As a team, the Sixers couldn’t have started much better.
It’s never been clearer that the Sixers’ fate rests largely on Embiid and his availability. Questionable leading into the game with right knee soreness, his movement was smooth and his processing sharp. He exited the game with 54 seconds left in the second quarter, walking slowly off the floor and into the locker room, but returned for the second half.
Embiid said postgame his knee was "extremely sore."
“Tonight was just one of those nights where I probably shouldn’t even have played," he said. “But it’s good to be out there with the guys and fighting for every game.”
Embiid heard “MVP” chants when he headed onto the court before the game to address the home crowd. He asked them to support Ben Simmons, who Embiid said is “still our brother.”
Rivers called Friday a “productive day” with Simmons. The 25-year-old missed the game for personal reasons after speaking to his teammates in the morning and indicating he’s not mentally ready to play. As has been the case for a while, Rivers was unsure when Simmons might return.
Curry and Harris vs. Brooklyn’s All-Stars
After his impactful opening stretch, Embiid was relatively peripheral until late in the first half as Curry and Harris took charge on offense.
Curry began the season 11 for 13 from the floor. His confidence is immense, as it should be. Even if he’s due to cool off a tad at some stage, Curry’s stellar playoff performance doesn’t look fluky right now.
Harris was also in a first-half groove. The Sixers have had a good sense for how to find him favorable matchups, both through called and improvised actions.
Those two had a scoring duel of sorts against Durant and James Harden (20 points on 7-for-17 shooting). Durant, who was guarded mostly by Green and Matisse Thybulle, hit plenty of his usual beautiful, unstoppable jumpers. He’s truly an all-time great offensive player.
Tyrese Maxey was eager in his matchup with Harden, providing ball pressure when appropriate and guarding him full court at times. Maxey forced a steal and coasted the other direction for a fast-break hoop on the Nets’ first possession of the third quarter.
While the Sixers have more defensive vulnerabilities without Simmons, the team can compensate for some of them with effort and attention to details.
Thought they weren't flawless defensively, the Sixers didn't lose this game on that end of the floor. From 5:33 left in the fourth until 15.2 seconds remaining, they didn't score. Few teams can survive that kind of late-game drought against an opponent as talented as the Nets.
Drummond's unique game, Sixers' struggles down stretch
With Shake Milton (right ankle sprain) still out, Furkan Korkmaz again played as a second-unit point guard. Though he didn’t have any dramatic scoring explosions, he was solid at that job, hitting Andre Drummond on a wrap-around assist and driving in for a layup during a nice second-quarter stint.
It only took about five minutes on the court for Drummond to show the full spectrum of his game. He conceded several pick-and-pop jumpers to LaMarcus Aldridge; blocked two shots, grabbed four rebounds and played physically on the interior; committed a turnover; and dished a brilliant behind-the-back pass to Georges Niang, who missed an open three.
Drummond’s passing skill and eagerness to find his teammates are positives, but he’ll need to have a little more restraint in that area. A ho-hum dribble handoff or pass back out to the perimeter sometimes work just fine.
“He’s a hell of a passer,” Rivers said pregame. “I just think, like most bigs, he wants to be a hell of a passer every pass. And we’re trying to get him to see we don’t need the home run every pass. But if you remember that one year in Detroit where they put him at the elbows, he was a heck of a passer. And he’s doing it for us as well.”
Rivers actually stuck with Drummond until 4:12 remained in the fourth, seemingly hoping he could afford to buy Embiid a few extra minutes of rest. He said postgame that Embiid "wanted another minute and a half."
The Nets continued making a run even after Embiid's re-entry as the Sixers couldn't produce anything offensively. An Aldridge and-one with 48.2 seconds to go gave Brooklyn a one-point lead. Disappointing for the Sixers to lose a game they had so many opportunities to seal, though not unfamiliar.