After a disappointing loss in game one, the Philadelphia 76ers are looking more like the dominant Eastern Conference powerhouse they were expected to be.
While the Brooklyn Nets may only be down 2-1, the walls could be closing in the way the Sixers are playing. The Nets are faced with a pivotal game four if they hope to keep their playoff aspirations alive (3 PM ET Saturday).
When the 2018-19 NBA season began, the Eastern Conference was wide open for the taking for the first time in almost a decade. LeBron James, who whether a member of the Miami Heat or Cleveland Cavaliers, had led his team to the NBA Finals as Eastern Conference champions for each of the past eight years, had moved to the Western Conference as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. That meant that there were no ifs, ands or buts about it – there would be a new King in the East.
Philadelphia, armed with rising stars, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and the new acquisition of Jimmy Butler, seemed primed to take the spot. The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors, among others, would clearly have something to say about that.
We’ve yet to reach the stage where any of these princes of the East will rise to their throne, but after the first three games of their first round series, the Sixers are making sure the rest of the conference and the league know they are poised and prepared to take the crown.
Though, that’s not to say that this series has been all sunshine and rainbows as the Sixers actually lost their first playoff game of 2019 at home in Philadelphia. The Sixers found out just minutes prior to their opening game that Embiid, who has missed much of the remainder of the regular season, would in fact be good to play. For the first few glorious minutes of the first quarter, Embiid shone, leading fans to chant “Trust the Process,” loudly throughout the Wells Fargo Center. But Embiid quickly cooled off as did the rest of the team, mustering just 22 points in the quarter.
The Sixers were down eight points entering the second half/third quarter and continued to make runs, cutting what had been a double digit deficit down to six points. The Nets kept the Sixers at bay, never allowing them to even the score or take the lead. After four, Brooklyn were victorious by a score of 111-102, leaving the Sixers fans who had enduring those processing years of 12, 15, 18 wins, to experience doubt once more.
Head coach Brett Brown had said prior to the series that the matchup with the Nets scared him and in game one, that matchup proved to be the difference maker. The Sixers struggled with their perimeter defense allowing Brooklyn to take and make their share of threes. Entering game two, Philadelphia knew they couldn’t let that happen again, and yet, going into the second half/third quarter of that game, the teams were separated by just one point. It’s what happened next however, that seems to have shaped the moment this series started to turn in favor of the Sixers. Up just one at the start of the quarter, the Sixers exploded on a 21-2 scoring run (in just over four minutes) that turned into a 51-point record-tying third quarter and opened up a 29-point lead for Philadelphia.
For the Sixers, the series has been in hand and they haven’t looked back since. It’s troubling for the Nets, because in game three, which the Sixers won 131-115, only being outscored in one quarter, Embiid didn’t play a single minute. Brooklyn felt the full force of this team without one of its top stars and they struggled with it. Having Embiid back for even limited minutes doesn’t offer a promising result for the Nets as one of their big issues this series has been an inability to crash the boards, both offensively and otherwise.
Of all NBA playoff teams, the Sixers are first in the East in points per game, averaging 126. They are second overall in the league, behind only two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors. They are shooting a decent clip from the floor (49 percent) and from three point range (31 percent). But by far their biggest success story of the postseason has been on the boards, as they have created more second chance opportunities than any of the 16 playoff teams. The Sixers are just one of two teams with an offensive rebounding percentage over 30. The other is the Oklahoma City Thunder at .301. Philadelphia’s rate is .351, a significantly higher mark. Their total rebounding percentage of 56 is second best in the league behind Boston’s 57 percent. The Nets are also second, second to last, with a total rebounding percentage of just 44.
The combination of the two stats – the Sixers being second best in scoring and the Nets being second worst in rebounding, has been the deciding factor over the last six quarters. If Brooklyn can’t solve that problem, this series is going to be over in a blink of an eye.
Our Betting Preview’s Philadelphia 76ers vs Brooklyn Nets Game 4 Picks & Predictions
In game three, the Sixers opened up as 3.5 point favorites, a mark they surpassed and then some. In fact, none of the games in this series have been particularly close, with the only game decided in single digits happening in game one, which the Nets still won by nine.
Brooklyn has the ability to keep things close, especially at home, however the series seems like it has been slipping away and I’m not sure the Nets can get things back in hand. With or without Embiid, Philadelphia has found its groove as Simmons has led the team successfully alongside Butler and contributions from other key players such as Tobias Harris. Our Philadelphia 76ers vs Brooklyn Nets predictions against the US online bookies for this NBA playoffs game 4 are: