PHILADELPHIA – The Nets rolled out a new lineup and saw plenty of positives, yet it wasn’t enough in a 120-116 defeat to the Sixers at Wells Fargo Center.
Just five days after a woeful 120-97 loss to the same team at Barclays Center, Brooklyn proved its resilience on Friday, taking one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference down to the wire. Kenny Atkinson’s new lineup appeared to be behind his team’s significantly improved performance in Philadelphia.
“I liked it [the new lineup], we were locked in from the start” Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said after the game. “That’s the way we need to play from here on out.”
Hollis-Jefferson, who made his first start since Jan. 26 against Milwaukee, was one of the benefactors of the new starting five as he led the Nets with 21 points and 10 rebounds on 53.8 percent shooting. Joel Embiid paced the Sixers with 24 points and 19 boards. This was the first of a home and away back-to-back for Brooklyn, who will head back home to face the Mavericks on St. Patrick’s Day.
Here are three observations:
Turnovers, Defensive Lapses Prove Costly
The Nets did almost everything right yet some defensive mistakes and turnovers ultimately proved to be deciding factors in this game.
Brooklyn gave away the ball 12 times, which Philadelphia converted into 13 points. The Sixers gave up just five turnovers the entire game. There were two turnovers in particular midway in the fourth that were backbreaking as the Nets were down just 106-104 and were on fastbreaks. Had the Nets scored on those breaks, it could have changed the final result of the game.
Defensively, the Nets showed some positive strides from their new lineup and rotation, but were undone by some key lapses – which JJ Redick used towards his advantage. The veteran guard took advantage of some botched coverages to hit timely threes, including getting a late foul on a three-pointer that gave the Sixers a four-point lead with 5:12 remaining.
“Our defense was good in stretches, but it let us down towards the end of the game,” Atkinson said after the game.
Nets Improve After Lineup Change
Atkinson acknowledged one of the reasons he went with a bigger lineup was due to the Nets’ recent issues with giving up points in the paint. Despite the result, Brooklyn played significantly better in that area.
Embiid led the home team in scoring, but the Nets forced him to shoot 6-for-23. Points in the paint was almost identical, a 42-40 margin in favor of the Nets. The team also improved on the glass as it had a 47-42 edge in rebounding against the Sixers – the No. 1 team in the NBA in that area.
“We’ve got to do a better job of patrolling our paint and rebounding so it’s a little bit of a defensive shift,” Atkinson said prior to Friday’s game.
The new lineup appeared to spark Brooklyn’s offense as well. The team had six players in double figures and shot an impressive 50 percent from downtown. Part of that came from the team attacking the rim more and taking better shots from the perimeter.
“Opposed to the last game in Brooklyn, where Philly was definitely the more aggressive team, I thought tonight we put the first kind of push against them – and kept pushing and pushing. We’ll get some wins playing that way.”
Spencer Dinwiddie Ignited by New Role
Atkinson admitted another reason why he changed the lineup was to find a way to get Dinwiddie back to his assertive style of play. He was putting up just 8.8 points per game in March (shooting 15 percent from downtown), which is down from his season average of 13.
“[We’re] mixing it up a little. Tweak it a little to get him more aggressive with some different lineups that we’ve liked before,” Atkinson said.
Dinwiddie scored 14 points off the bench, showing some of the aggression that got him into the spotlight as one of the NBA’s most improved players. That attacking brand of play was punctuated by his two emphatic fourth quarter slams on Ersan Ilyasova. Although he wasn’t able to convert on two key possessions in the final minute of the game, one of which he acknowledged was a broken play, this was arguably his best game since the All-Star break.
“Definitely tried to be more aggressive, especially after all of the comments [about needing to be more assertive], just trying to fulfil the expectations and try to help the team,” Dinwiddie said after the game.