Game Review | January Had High Points, but Month Ends with Loss to Nets
All in all, for a second straight year, the month of January yielded the 76ers promising results.
On the heels of dealing with some turbulence in December, the team steadied the ship, got back on track, and even managed to navigate a few injuries to key veterans.
The end of a long, winding, seven-day, four-game road trip, however, presented some challenges, and on Wednesday at Barclays Center, the Sixers bowed to the spunky, upstart Brooklyn Nets, 116-108.
With the loss, the Sixers ended their trek with a 1-3 mark, and finished January with three consecutive setbacks. Their overall record heading into February will now stand at .500, 24-24.
“That’s a game we’ve got to win,” said Joel Embiid. “They’re a pretty good team, but I feel like we’re better.”
En route to winning the opener of this year’s four-game series between the Atlantic Division clubs, Brooklyn received a balanced effort from across its roster, as five players reached double-figures.
The Nets got a particularly potent performance from their backcourt, as starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie went for a game-high 27 points. His back-up, D’Angelo Russell, racked up 22 off the bench.
“We really had no answer for their point guards,” said Brett Brown. “Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell, I think, had great games.”
The Sixers were topped by Embiid, who, with 29 points (8-19 fg, 12-14 ft) and 14 rebounds, manufactured his third straight double-double.
As has been the case in recent games, Ben Simmons again proved to be a powerful, paint-driving force. His aggressiveness paved the way for a 24-point outing (11-16 fg), which also featured 7 assists and 2 boards.
JJ Redick looked solid in his first game back from a left leg injury that sidelined him for seven games. He netted 20 points on 4 for 10 shooting, with three of his makes coming from outside the arc.
Despite racing out to a 9-point first-quarter lead, the Sixers couldn’t sustain their strong start. Fueled by Russell, Brooklyn jumped in front at the outset of the second period, and a back-and-forth affair ensued from there (there were 21 lead changes).
The Sixers seized a 92-91 edge early in the fourth, but the Nets responded with 11 in a row to put itself in position for the victory.
Tough End to Trip
Over the course of the last four weeks, the Sixers experienced a lot. They made a historic regular season appearance in London, and achieved a first-of-its-kind victory against a franchise considered by many to be one of the gold standards in all of professional sports.
They weathered injuries to key members of the rotation, all while still managing to rattle off an impressive spurt against opponents that, like the Sixers themselves, are vying for coveted Eastern Conference playoff spots.
Having compiled a 7-5 record for January, the Sixers certainly enjoyed their fair share of positive moments. The mark was good for 10th-best in the month.
But the fact that the Sixers will head into February having dropped three in a row served as a reminder Brett Brown that for a relatively young squad, consistency remains a key focal point.
“That’s part of the wild ride we’re on with a bunch of 20-year olds and figuring stuff out,” the fifth-year head coach said Wednesday at Barclays Center.
Despite the heavy mileage the Sixers logged the past seven days making stops in San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, and, lastly, Brooklyn, Brown wasn’t buying the notion that fatigue was a factor in Wednesday’s loss.
“It just can’t,” said Brown. “This is the NBA, so we leave disappointed.”
After picking up his 23rd double-double of the season, Joel Embiid expressed a similar sentiment.
“That’s the kind of win we’ve got to get if we want to be a playoff team,” the big man said. “If we’re going to lose these types of games, we don’t deserve to go to the playoffs.”
Focusing on Defense
Secondary to Wednesday’s outcome itself, the matter that sounded like it was most on the minds of Brett Brown and his players was defense.
At the outset of a now-completed four-game trek, the Sixers delivered arguably the finest defensive performance of the Brett Brown era, stifling San Antonio for a mere 78 points, and holding the Spurs to 38.3 percent from the field.
Over the final three contests of the Sixers’ trip, opponents combined to average 115.0 points, while converting 49.0 percent of their shots. Wednesday in Brooklyn, the uptempo Nets shot 50.6 percent from the field, and 13 for 32 from 3-point territory (40.6 3fg%).
“I guess we’ve got to go back to the drawing board,” said Joel Embiid.
JJ Redick felt the Sixers let Brooklyn to get “too comfortable.”
“I don’t think at any point in the game they really felt us,” the veteran guard said. “When a team gets confidence, it’s tough to sort of turn that spigot off once the water starts running. We just let them get into a flow early on, and it was just too much to stop.”
Entering Wednesday evening’s match-up, the Sixers were fourth in the NBA in defensive rating. Brett Brown thinks that successful defense begins, in part, with pride.
“I like where we’re trending defensively, but tonight, you felt like you were 24,” said Brown, referring to the league ranks. “The 3-point shot, containment of the ball, I believe, are the things I’m going to see in the tape.”
It was good to see JJ Redick sporting the Sixers’ number 17 jersey again. Prior to Wednesday, he had been sidelined for the team’s previous seven games with a left leg injury.
Throughout the night, regardless of whether or not his shot was falling, the 33-year old mostly looked like his intense, bouncy self on both ends of the court. His offensive activity was perhaps best reflected by his 10 free throw attempts (he hit all but one), a total that matched the second-highest of his 12-year career.
Ben Simmons, for one, is eager to have a healthy Redick back on a regular basis.
“He’s going to be a huge help,” said the Aussie, who assisted on two of Redick’s four baskets. “You can’t leave him. If you leave him, and I’m going to hit him, and he’s going to knock it down, usually.”
Redick’s 20-point outing Wednesday was his 15th of the season.
The Sony A9R is a very nice piece of equipment, one that Sixers Digital is fortunate to have in its possession. Courtesy of the always steady, trusted hand of @kurtwearshats, here’s a look at Ben Simmons’ thunderous second-quarter reverse throwdown, still-frame style.
A dunk in four frames. pic.twitter.com/1i64gxYKKz
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) February 1, 2018
The Sixers will be home, for a moment, hosting the Miami Heat Friday, before completing their seventh back-to-back set of the season Saturday on the road against the Indiana Pacers. Both contests figure to carry implications in the Eastern Conference playoff race, as Miami and Indiana ranked fourth and seventh, respectively, in the standings as of Wednesday morning. Essentially a .500 through the first two months of the season, the Heat turned it on to start the new year, and had won 11 out of 15 heading into the final day of January.