The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Brooklyn Nets 123-117 on Wednesday in a clash of the top two seeds in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. The victory pushes the Sixers a full game ahead of Brooklyn in the standings as we near the end of the regular season.
Many believe that these two squads are on a collision course for a playoff matchup. If that’s the case and the current standings hold true, that series would be the Eastern Conference Finals, with the winner advancing to the NBA finals. However, should that matchup transpire, it will look dramatically different than what we saw Wednesday, as the Nets were without not just superstars Kevin Durant and James Harden, but also ancillary pieces to their roster like LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin.
The Sixers strategy in any series is going to be a healthy dose of Joel Embiid. That plan was in full effect from the start of this game as Philly’s offense consistently ran through Embiid. All told, the big man took a staggering 29 shots to go with 11 free throws. That massive volume led to an impressive statline of 39 points, 13 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Also of note was Embiid’s 3/6 from three point range. When Joel is hitting this outside shot there is truly nothing defenses can do. No one in the league has the physical tools on defense to both bang with Embiid in the post and guard him at the three point arc.
Tobias Harris also continued his hot shooting stretch, going for 26 points on a hyper-efficient 11-17 from the field and 2-3 from three point land. Meanwhile, Simmons contributed a standard jack-of-all-trades game with 17 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals. I think he still needs to break out of a passive slump that has slowed his production since the all-star break, but his play was very helpful for the Sixers in this game. Finally, Shake Milton was the leading bench contributor, with 15 points on 6-8 shooting from the field.
With his costars sidelined, Kyrie Irving put on a sensational playmaking display in Brooklyn’s loss. He made 37 points and 9 assists look easy, even against Sixers defense known to be stingy. However, his scoring output came as a result of taking 22 shots, and that number of attempts will inevitably diminish with the return of Durant and Harden. Their absence makes it tough to draw any real conclusions from this matchup, though Nets fans likely feel comfortable with such a narrow loss in a scenario where they are without so many key contributors.
This was the last meeting between these teams in the regular season, though both will certainly jockey for the Eastern Conference’s first overall seed the rest of the way. Lucky for the Sixers, their remaining schedule is relatively mild, with the most exciting matchups coming against the streaking Phoenix Suns and a doubleheader with the Milwaukee Bucks.