PHILADELPHIA — Royce O’Neale slapped the stanchion when reality set in. Jacque Vaughn replayed wide-open missed shots in his head at the podium while attempting to answer questions postgame. Dorian Finney-Smith sat at his locker, solemn.
“F—k, man,” he said.
The Nets had an opportunity to even their first-round playoff series at one apiece after building momentum in an impressive first half in front of a raucous, sold-out Wells Fargo Center crowd on Monday.
The wheels fell off in the second, where the offense sputtered — once again. The Sixers went on to win, 96-84. NBA teams that take a 2-0 lead in the playoffs go on to win 93% of the time.
And it was a zone defense the Nets were ill-equipped to handle that unraveled Brooklyn’s early offense. While star wing Mikal Bridges successfully handled the Sixers’ attempts to blitz him on the catch, it was Cam Johnson who took advantage of the opportunity — in the first half — scoring 23 points through the first two quarters.
He only tallied five more points on the night. No other Nets player had an efficient scoring night. Johnson shot 11-of-19 from the field. The rest of the team shot 19-of-61. Thirty-one percent.
“We’re looking for anybody [to step up],” Vaughn said postgame. “I think C.J. has the ability to do this performance over and over again. That much trust and belief in his ability, man it makes me smile thinking about what his game is right now and what it’s going to become.
“Do we need some other people to step up at home? I’ll take all of them. Anyone you want to sign up, put them on a list, I’ll check that thing off. We need everybody to show up and be ready to play.”
The game plan worked to a tee — but sometimes the game plan works and you still end up losing by double digits.
Brooklyn’s game plan was quite simple: Take away Philadelphia’s two-best players: A former MVP point guard in James Harden, and this season’s presumptive MVP, Joel Embiid.
For the second game in a row, the Nets held Embiid under his season average (33 points per game). After scoring 26 points in Game 1, the blitzing Net defense held the skilled 280-pounder to just 20 in Game 2.
And after Harden pelted the Nets for seven threes and 13 assists in the series opener, Brooklyn limited its ex-star guard to only eight points on 3-of-13 shooting. He dished seven assists but turned the ball over five times.
The Nets wanted to win the turnover margin, and they did: Embiid and Harden accounted for 13 of the 19 Sixer turnovers on the night.
The Sixers, though, are deeper than their two superstars. The Nets continue to search for answers beyond Bridges and Johnson. When the Sixers’ second-half zone thwarted the Nets’ fast tempo from the first two quarters, Vaughn’s team couldn’t respond.
Brooklyn scored 14 points in the third quarter. The game turned, and the Nets never recovered.
“I think that’s where you want someone to step up in that instance,” Vaughn said postgame. “And so would we have loved for Joe [Harris] to shoot eight threes and make eight threes? Yes, and so then he could have been the guy. So you’re just looking for, in playoff time, someone to make an impact if you’re going to try to take away their main two dudes.”
Yet when the Nets took away Embiid and Harden, the Sixers flexed the depth of talent that legitimizes them as championship contenders this season.
Tyrese Maxey hit six threes and scored 33 points on a Nets team keyed all the way in on Philly’s two stars. To an extent, Brooklyn’s game plan was to pick its poison.
“There’s an element of that, but at the same time, that’s not a poison you wanna pick,” Johnson said postgame. “Maxey teeing off open threes from the corner. … Harden was on the wrong side of that one today: Eight points, and that’s what we wanna do, but in games like this, that 33 from Maxey on efficiency is pretty killer.”
There’s one saving grace for a Nets team facing the uphill battle associated with teams who fall down, 2-0, in a playoff series: They are heading home to Barclays Center, and role players tend to play better in front of their own fans.
After the Nets generated just 29 three-point attempts in Game 1, they got up 42 on Monday — but converted on only 13 of them.
“The only adjustment made was that the ball didn’t go into the hole for us,” Vaughn said postgame. “We got open looks: They tried to go zone, we had enough shooting out there, the ball just didn’t go in. We shot over 40 3s tonight, I can almost guarantee a lot of those looks we’ll take again.”
The percentages aren’t on Brooklyn’s side, but the Nets hope they can get some life from a home crowd that can buoy them to an unlikely victory against a team poised for a deep playoff run.
“We need it,” Vaughn said. “You have a sense of playing at home, and there’s something to waking up in your own bed and getting to the arena in your routine. So we’re not gonna take that for granted going home. Sixers will be ready to play, but looking forward to playing in front of our home crowd for sure.”
“I feel like if we do what we just did tonight: We kept them under 100 points,” added Dorian Finney-Smith, who shot two-for-six from downtown on the night after shooting two-for-two in Game 1. “I mean what else can you ask from a great team like that? If we made shots it would be a different ending.”
Source: Berkshire mont
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