Worst loss of the season. Bar none. Not up for debate.
Faced without a Philadelphia 76ers team that was without its three stars—James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and Joel Embiid—a victory seemed like a given for the Nets.
And Brooklyn played like it. They underestimated their opponent. The Nets’ defense was jumbled all game, leading to 16-of-32 made threes for Philadelphia, and the Sixers pounded the glass for a 49-35 advantage in that category.
“It’s the same s—t,” said Kevin Durant after the game. “20 more shots than us and seven more 3-pointers. That’s the game”
And so, the Nets were served up the most embarrassing loss of the season and fell to 8-10 on the year with the opportunity to reach .500 lost. Somehow, someway, Brooklyn managed to lose to what was effectively Philadelphia’s bench, which ranks dead last in scoring per game and is 20th in net rating.
“It’s really a mentality of us deciding that we’re going to play defense,” said Jacque Vaughn. “The amount of mistakes we had at halftime was baffling for this group. We had to stop the tape because we didn’t have enough time to show them all”
Ben Simmons, returning to Philly as a player for the first time, was one of the few positives for the Nets on Tuesday. He registered his second double-double of the season with 11 points and 11 rebounds and was one of the only players that showed genuine energy and passion during his homecoming in Philadelphia.
“I think he did well,” said Kyrie Irving about Simmons in his first game since being traded. “The crowd’s not going anywhere. It’s good to hear their loud voices, hear their boos. Next time hopefully that motivates us to go out there and get that win a little bit more.”
Despite the loss, Vaughn thought the experience was good for Simmons.
“Really good. Yeah, I thought he was in attack mode. He was aggressive, showed a lot of poise throughout the course of the night,” said the coach. “He competed on both ends. So I thought overall the experience for him they get through and get behind them really good.”
Irving had a good shooting night with 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting, but his defense off the ball was particularly underwhelming. (And we’re being kind.) His co-star, Kevin Durant, was equally woeful defensively, and his streak of scoring 25+ points was finally broken (he scored 20 on the night on 14 shots).
Philadelphia was led by DeAnthony Melton (22 points), who had a tremendous outing from deep, shooting 6-of-11 from deep. Tobias Harris was the game’s leading scorer with 24, and Shake Milton (16 points) carried his squad over the finish line. Paul Reed, filling in for Embiid, had 21 points and 10 boards.
After the compulsory round of boos for Simmons, Brooklyn took immediate advantage of the shorthanded sixers, building an 8-2 lead early. Simmons was everywhere, picking up right where he left off by pushing the pace vs. Memphis and slinging three assists early. Kevin Durant also pitched in with some early playmaking, and the main recipient of both players’ passing efforts was Nic Claxton, who recorded six early points on numerous well-timed cuts.
Philly tried to tighten the screws by shifting into the zone, which worked initially. Then, the Nets problem-solved by placing Durant, the most dangerous player in Wells Fargo Center, in the middle of the floor to warp the zone. That quickly produced two buckets and an assist to Simmons.
On Philly’s side of things, Montrezl Harrell pounded the glass to generate four quick rebounds and six points in just under seven minutes. The Sixers also couldn’t miss from three, nailing five of their eight long-range looks. Opponent 3-point shooting and defensive rebounding put the Nets at a 33-26 deficit to end the first. That set an ugly tone.
Brooklyn’s defense looked even worse to start the second quarter. The Sixers decimated the Nets on largely unguarded rim runs, particularly by Reed, growing their lead to 42-33 before a timeout. The Nets responded by going on a 19-10 run as the Nets began to get going from three—with Seth Curry and Patty Mills each coming off the bench and hitting a shot from distance.
Letting Philly get going early from deep hurt the Nets, as the Sixers continued to let it rip from distance. Melton swished a three to end the half when Kyrie overhelped after turning the ball over on the other end, and Philadelphia’s 10-of-19 3-point shooting through two quarters gave them the 63-57 lead.
In the third, Irving finally got going after a sluggish first six quarters of play upon returning from suspension. He hit a pair of jumpers and dished an assist to Claxton in transition to give Brooklyn its first lead since the first quarter. Then, Tobias Harris came alive following a quick trip to the locker room (he rolled his ankle to start the third). Philadelphia’s de facto lead option put up eight points in the quarter, including a pull-up two with 4 seconds remaining. Philly finished ahead 85-82.
The fourth quarter began and Brooklyn’s troubles with rebounding cropped up once more. Reed made an impact all over the court—a smooth finish at the rim out of the pick-and-roll, a steal on a bad inbounds pass, a block against Curry, and a tip-in offensive rebound—and the Sixers utilized his energy to build a 96-87 advantage.
Philadelphia didn’t let their foot off the pedal. Tobias Harris continued to cook, pouring in six points as the Nets botched rotations and screening coverages. Milton picked up the slack, hitting a slew of jumpers over the top of Joe Harris. In the end, Brooklyn’s indifference on defense and on the offensive glass doomed them for the 10th loss of the season.
The Movie Room
This was one of the worst defensive games we’ve seen from the Nets in a long time. Maybe dating all the way back to last season.
Every player on the roster—aside from Ben Simmons—let the team down. The switches were soft throughout the entirety of Tuesday’s contest, which TNT’s Stan Van Gundy commented on during the broadcast, and the Nets had a major problem with overhelping.
A lot of this stemmed from the top down. Its two best players, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, were especially disappointing defensively.
Kyrie’s issues were mostly off-ball. He had two major goof-ups at the end of the clock that resulted in six 76er points off threes. Here’s the first one.
This was mentioned earlier in the article, but Melton hit a big three-pointer to end the half to put his sixers up 6. Why? Because after Philadelphia runs screen/pop action for Reed and Georges Niang, Irving jumps to Niang for no reason at all even with Kevin Durant positioned correctly to contain the action. This, of course, leaves Irving’s man, Melton, open from three. A truly bizarre overhelp.
Here in the fourth quarter, Irving is attempting to play center field between Furkan Korkmaz and Reed while Nic Claxton shows extra help against Tobias Harris. Things are going well initially. Harris drives, Claxton contains before retreating back to his man (Reed), and Irving is in good position against Korkmaz. Then, for no reason at all, he jumps slightly to gamble for a steal while Korkmaz rises up the wing for a three.
Even Irving’s on-ball defense was pretty lacking. He hasn’t been great at staying in front of his matchup upon returning from suspension, and Melton blows by him with ease on this possession. That forces Nic Claxton to rotate over to contest, opening up the rebounding opportunity for Harrell.
Kevin Durant wasn’t much better. He continued to have some odd moments as an off-ball defender, a problem that started to pop up in the win against Memphis. Perhaps he’s showing signs of exhaustion after carrying this team on his back for the first 18 games, it’s tough to say. But you can’t deny that getting dusted by Georges freakin’ Niang is brutal to stomach.
Brooklyn wasted what was largely a successful return to Philadelphia for Ben Simmons because its two best players failed to show any sort of engagement defensively. That can’t happen if this team wants to seriously look at itself as a contender, regardless of the competition.
Philly fans react to Simmons return
As Stan VanGundy said during the TNT broadcast, 76ers fans gave Ben Simmons a big “welcome” on his return and booed him every time he touched the ball, but in the end, it was a bit underwhelming.
Some of the reaction was typical revenge game…
This being Philly, there were moments of course like this one…
Simmons himself thought it would be worse. “I thought it was gonna be louder.” He called the experience “amazing.”
“It was nice to have support in Philadelphia still. Lifelong fans, they do support me, so that was really cool to see. I think I did some things in Philadelphia that can be respected. I don’t think we all had bad times”
When Jacque Vaughn pulled his starters with three minutes remaining in the game, it foreclosed the possibility that Kevin Durant’s 17-game streak of scoring 25+ points would end. KD finished with 20 points. It was of course a Nets record and the longest streak at the beginning of a season since 1966-67 when Hall of Famer Rick Barry did it.
Brooklyn heads to Toronto for a back-to-back to avenge the disappointing loss against the 76ers. The Nets are 1-0 against the Raptors this season, with the first victory being Steve Nash’s only win before his dismissal. Coverage begins at 7:30 PM EST on the YES Network.
For a different perspective of tonight’s game, head to Liberty Ballersour 76ers sister site.