Andrew Unterberger is a famous writer who invented the nickname 'Sauce Castillo' and is now writing for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez, as part of the 'If Not, Pick Will Convey As Two Second-Rounders' section of the site. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AUGetoffmygold and can also read him at Billboard.
Andrew's writing is brought to you by Kinetic Skateboarding! Not only the Ricky's approved skate shop, but the best place to get Chucks, Vans, any apparel. Use code "DAVESILVER" for 9.1% off your order.
For months of the regular season, I prayed the 76ers would get a first-round matchup with pretty much anyone but the Brooklyn Nets. We got it anyway, of course, but outside of a cold-water-splashing letdown performance in Game One, the Sixers were mostly able to handle the upstart Brooklyn squad that gave them hives in the regular season, closing the series out last night in five games. (To be fair: still a much tougher out than any other underdog squad in the East’s first round.)
As much as I was dreading this matchup, my Billboard co-worker Josh Glicksman was craving it, as a Nets and New York sports fan heartened by the regular-season results between the two squads. Before we officially put any thoughts of the Nets in cold storage (where Joe Harris’ jumper has been residing since Game One) for the summer, and before he pivots to full-time draft scouting, I asked Josh about some of his final takeaways from Nets-Sixers. Here were the results.
Let's start with the most important question -- you told me before Game Five that you loved Jared Dudley and hoped "with all your heart" that the Nets re-signed him. Are you still feeling that way after his 18-minute, 0-point, minus-19 performance last night?
How’d I know we’d start here? (This is hardly the most important question, by the way.) At some point during all of this Jared Dudley/Ben Simmons noise, there seems to have been a disconnect: no one was ever raving about Dudley’s statline. Or if they were, I really don’t know where they were drawing from –– he averaged 4.9/2.6/1.6 in 20.7 minutes over 59 games this season. That’s not why the dad bod superhero adds such a boost to the Nets roster. He’s a veteran presence that serves as a mentor and an on-court coach, both offensively and defensively. He was crucial for the Nets’ Game One victory, and he was 0/2 from the floor with zero rebounds and two assists. Save the stats.
Of course, the “with all of my heart” sentiment naturally came with some added flair following Game Four, but I absolutely want him in Brooklyn again next year. If you’re forcing me to pick one veteran from the free agents (Dudley/Davis/DeMarre), I’m surely taking Ed Davis. But if Dudley will take a bit of a pay cut, sign me the hell up. And for anyone here saying Jared Dudley is too old, the Phillies traded for Jamie Moyer in 2006 when he was 43 and let him pitch on the team until he was 47! By that measure, Dudley is just entering his prime.
You were also supremely confident about D'Angelo Russell's performance in this series -- to the point where you shared your excitement with me about the possibility of getting to quote-tweet all of Spike's bad D-Lo takes if they won the series. How are you feeling now? How worried are you about getting your own D'Angelo takes Retweet Armageddon'd?
I’m feeling great. Anyone who hasn’t seen D-Lo’s evolution this year just didn’t watch or chose to ignore it. D’Angelo Russell played his worst game of the entire season last night, which capped off a disappointing series for the budding star. With that being said, I’d wait about a nanosecond before giving him a max contract this offseason. I understand that D-Lo isn’t the sexiest name in the coming free agent pool, but this is unquestionably Russell’s team. The team simply doesn’t work without him.
Who do the Nets plug in if Russell isn’t back in Brooklyn? Dinwiddie is a helluva sixth man, but barring that insane performance in Houston, he certainly doesn’t have the same ability as D-Lo to single handedly take the game hostage. You could look at a guy like Kyrie Irving (not happening) or Kemba Walker in free agency, but I really don’t see how the latter provides a large enough boost that makes that gamble worth the risk of letting D-Lo walk.
Nearly every facet of Russell’s game is improving, and he has the whole city behind him. With a notable buzz about the Nets here for the first time in any sort of recent memory, it’d be quite the unwise decision to send the face of the franchise packing. We’ll revisit those quote tweets a year or two from now, Spike.
Which Net are you generally most disappointed in for their overall performance in this series?
Joe Harris. Especially in Game Four, him missing his usual surefire three-point shots were the ultimate difference. Having the NBA league leader in three-point percentage (47.4%) and the Three-Point Contest champion shoot a frigid 19% from deep over the course of a five-game series is killer. Simple as that.
In more positive Brooklyn news, Caris LeVert seems to have been the one Net to consistently show up throughout the series. Do you think he has true franchise player potential? Does anyone on this Nets roster?
Absolutely. Caris LeVert looked phenomenal in the opening stretch of the season before suffering his gruesomeankle injury. It understandably took him some time to re-find his groove after coming back, but his play at the end of the season and in the playoffs was extremely encouraging. With LeVert’s speed, he’s going to be a defensive nightmare if he can continue to hit that 3-point shot as he did against Philadelphia (46.2% isn’t sustainable, but still). Also, don’t snub D’Angelo Russell like that. They’re 24 and 23, respectively. If both are healthy, this backcourt should be a pure delight for years to come.
Which Sixer do you hate the most at the end of this series? How does it compare to your feelings about them from series start?
This really feels like a set-up, but if you’re going to force my hand (there are so many good options to choose from!) I’ll go with Simmons. For one, Simmons is taking the early-years-Drake approach of picking his battles with clearly inferior opponents, which is lame. I mean, at least Joel Embiid starts beef with legitimate stars like Russell Westbrook and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Come on, Ben –– Jared Dudley? Rodions Kurucs? Get out of your comfort zone. Secondly, as much as I love to hate read important think pieces like this one, where’s the love for Tinashe? Have you all heard “2 On?” That song goes. Third -- wait a second, Ben Simmons can’t even score that many points in one possession. Go Raptors.
After getting beaten up by Joel Embiid for four games, what's your respect level for the big man?
My respect level for Embiid? Very high. He’s a straight up monster who torched the Nets all series long. My liking for Embiid? Very low.
Outside of Embiid, did anyone on the Sixers impress you more than expected?
I don’t know if it’s necessarily surprising given that he’s literally the most efficient player in the history of the NBA, but dear lord, Boban really cannot miss from 14 feet, huh? It’s just absurd –– when he’s hitting that mid-range jumper, I just don’t know how you’re supposed to defend him. He grabs every rebound (the one where he practically plucked the ball of Joe Harris’ head was hysterical), he hits way too many free throws, AND he is near automatic from mid-range? Sheesh. Now if only he could learn to set a legal screen, that’d really be something. Also, shout out T.J. McConnell, another guy who I’m pretty sure didn’t miss from 14 feet all series long.
You were about as excited for this general Sixers-Nets matchup going into it as I was terrified of it. What did we both get wrong about it? Or do you believe it was actually closer than the 4-1 result would indicate?
Given that Theo Pinson played in three of the five games this series, it’s hard for me to argue that this series was particularly close. I probably should’ve factored in the Nets’ inexperience more than I did. They just couldn’t hit the 3-point shots that guided them all season long. When that went out the window, so did the ability to space the floor, meaning more isolations and frantic possessions. The Nets just don’t possess enough raw talent for that type of play. Perhaps some of it can be attributed to nine players on the roster never having appeared in a postseason game.
Kenny Atkinson’s rotations were also questionable in multiple games of the series. Treveon Graham led the Nets in minutes in Game Two -- I realize that he picked up a bunch of minutes during garbage time, but even if the Nets are down 100, that simply cannot happen in a playoff game. Oftentimes, it just looked like the Nets first postseason series since 2014-15.
Speaking of, if Mike Scott misses the three in the final minute of Game Four, do you believe in your heart of hearts that the Nets go on to win the series?
Of course I do. What kind of legitimate fan isn’t going to pick their team to win a then best-of-3 series against a team that they’ve split eight games with over the course of a season series? If they won in Brooklyn in Game four, you’d better believe I have them winning Game Six in Brooklyn. That means they would’ve needed to win one of two at WFC. They had already won two in Philly this year. I’m not a fan of the “what if” game, but for argument’s sake, yes. Nets in 7 if they win Game Four.
What's your feeling about the Nets' long-term outlook going into this summer? Is it any different after this series than it was before it?
The future is bright. So long as the Nets re-sign D’Angelo Russell, they have a strong, young core, a smart, develop-savvy coach and a dedicated, invested GM. The team has two picks in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft -- as well as the first pick of the second round -- and two max contracts to hand out to big-name free agents (though one should go to Russell). Going into this season, there’s no way I could’ve expected this outcome, and though the series result sucks, it has been an incredibly fun season to be a Brooklyn Nets fan. The foundation is there and the opportunity to take the next step is before them -- now it’s just a matter of taking it.
You've told me that as a Nets fan, your absolute doomsday scenario is a Sixers-Celtics ECFs. Any clearer after Game Five who you'll be rooting for if it does come to that?
Here’s one that might improve my favorability with the RTRS community: I’d go with the Sixers there in a heartbeat. That series would bring me absolutely no joy, but just as a rule of thumb, never Boston. Never, ever, ever Boston.
Any final trash-talking you want to leave the Sixers or their fans with on your way out?
Please send any and all complaints to your nearest Sheetz.