BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- JJ Redick is his own man.
For most of this season, the Philadelphia 76ers' designated shooter was a better shooter when he shared the floor with center Joel Embiid. But with Embiid missing Game 3 of the Sixers' first round series against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, Redick scored more points than he did in Games 1 and 2 combined. And despite the absence of their most important player, the Sixers rolled to a 131-115 victory and took a 2-1 series lead.
The Sixers' offense, which ranks No. 1 in the postseason at 120.8 points scored per 100 possessions, kept rolling without Embiid, even though replacement starter Greg Monroe shot 4-for-13. In scoring 32 points or more in all four quarters, the Sixers got big games from Tobias Harris (29 points on 11-for-19 shooting, 16 rebounds) as well as Ben Simmons (31 points on 11-for-13 shooting, nine assists). But it was Redick that had the Brooklyn defense scrambling for much of the second half.
After scoring 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting in the first half, Redick broke out in the third quarter to help the Sixers gain separation in what had been a close game. A 14-3 Philly run turned a three-point lead into a 14-point cushion.
Redick scored nine of those 14 points during the run. First, with Jimmy Butler probing the Brooklyn defense, Redick got loose from Joe Harris for a catch in the right corner, side-stepping Harris' closeout to drain a 3-pointer and put the Sixers up eight. Two possessions later, Redick cut from the right block to the left wing, side-stepped another Harris closeout, and hit another 3-pointer to put the Sixers up eight again. And two possessions after that, he drained a more standard catch-and-shoot 3-pointer off a pin-down to push the lead to 14.
After that, Redick started opening things up for his teammates. Midway through the third, D'Angelo Russell took his eyes off his own man to see where Redick was going. That man, Tobias Harris, found himself open for an easy catch-and-shoot 3-pointer.
With their own Harris struggling to keep up with Redick, the Nets gave the assignment to Spencer Dinwiddie. But later in the third, Dinwiddie got caught in a dribble hand-off from Simmons and Jared Dudley fouled Redick on a corner three. When the Nets went to a zone, Redick circled through it, caught the ball at the top of the floor, and hit a pull-up three that put the Sixers up 16 late in the third.
The Nets got back into the game with an 8-0 run to close the period. But Redick's gravity was felt midway through the fourth. With Dinwiddie trying to deny him the ball, he flared to the corner. As Dinwiddie closed out, Joe Harris took a step away from his man, Mike Scott. Redick got the ball to Scott, who ran a quick pick-and-roll with Simmons. And Simmons got a clean roll to the basket, because Dinwiddie was still attached to Redick in the corner.
Instead of Redick benefiting from Embiid's presence on the floor, it was the other Sixers benefiting from the attention paid to Redick.
"I thought J.J.'s run there really got us all out of kilter defensively," said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. "When a guy gets hot like that, guys start helping and cheating, and other guys get off too. That was a big part of the game when he got going."
The Nets have been top-blocking Redick all series, trying to deny his perimeter catches and keep him from getting clean runs into dribble hand-offs. So Redick has had to find different paths to the ball. That has meant running on the inside of the handoffs or flaring to whatever open space he could find. Mapping routes to his catches in Game 3 would be a fun exercise.
"Ben and I have an amazing thing," Redick said. "It's very organic. We don't really call plays. We just get into stuff. We talk about it in the huddle if we see something that a team is doing and we feel like we can exploit it. There were three or four plays tonight when we did that."
Through the first two games, both teams had kept the opponents' best shooter in check. Entering Game 3, Redick had 22 points on 9-for-19 shooting (3-for-9 on 3-pointers). Joe Harris scored 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting, going 3-for-6 from beyond the arc.
On Thursday, one of the shooters broke free. The other did not. While Harris scored eight points on 2-for-7 shooting (including 0-for-4 from 3-point range), Redick finished with 26 points on 7-for-17, draining 5-of-9 attempts from beyond the arc. His nine free throw attempts were one shy of a season high.
"He's elite at getting open," Atkinson said. "They did a fantastic job of screening for him. That was big. We're chasing him, he's flying off, and they're setting great screens. We didn't do a good enough job staying attached. Same game plan. We didn't change it. Just didn't execute it at a high enough level."
Only two of Redick's seven field goals came off a clean catch. A less-determined shooter would think that, with the way he was being guarded, it just wasn't his series to score. But Redick hasn't stopped moving, and he certainly didn't let Embiid's absence keep him from looking for the ball.
In the regular season, Redick's shooting splits (FG%, 3PT%, eFG%) relative to Embiid were:
- With Embiid on the floor: 46.8% | 42.0% | 58.8%
- With Embiid off the floor: 38.9% | 35.6% | 49.9%
- In games Embiid played: 46.5% | 41.6% | 58.5%
- In games Embiid missed: 35.7% | 33.6% | 46.2%
The with-Embiid and in-games-Embiid-played numbers are so similar because -- when health allowed -- Embiid was on the floor for 86 percent of Redick's minutes. Sixers' coach Brett Brown staggers his starters' minutes in pairs, and he has typically kept Redick and Embiid together, because of how tough it is to guard their two-man game.
Asked about his poor shooting with Embiid off the floor this season, Redick brushed it off.
"I believe in sample size," he said. "Small sample size this year."
Not really. Redick took 360 shots (222 of them from 3-point range) with Embiid off the floor. But a professional shooter is trained to forget the last failure. And Redick knows that he's had success without Embiid in the past.
"I think the best basketball of my career," he said, "was probably last year when we went on the winning streak."
Redick averaged 19.0 points on an effective field goal percentage of 59.9 percent over the Sixers' 16-game winning streak to close the 2017-18 regular season. With Embiid missing the last eight games of that run, Redick averaged 22.4 on an effective field goal percentage of 64.5 percent. And over the course of last season, Redick shot better with Embiid off the floor than he did with Embiid off the floor.
The number of shots he took with Embiid off the floor in '17-18? 371. So sure, this year was a (slightly) small(er) sample size.
The Sixers still need Embiid to compete with the best teams in the East. But with or without him, they have both the opportunity and the ability to take complete control of this series in Game 4 on Saturday (3 ET, TNT).
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