Sixers vs. Nets Game 4: Sixers Sweep Brooklyn
One series down, three more to go.
Adam Aaronson, whose legal name is Sixers Adam (@SixersAdam on Twitter), covers the Sixers for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez. He believes cantaloupe is the best food in existence, and is brought to you by the Official Realtor of The Process, Adam Ksebe.
After 90 or so minutes in real time in which the Sixers looked completely out of sorts, something clicked. Their defense was impenetrable. Their offense executed time and time again. They got just about every 50/50 ball. Quickly, Sixers fans who made the trip to Brooklyn were drowning out the voices of Nets fans. The 2022-23 Nets’ funeral proceedings began.
The Sixers defeated the Nets Saturday afternoon, 96-88, to finish off a clean 4-0 sweep of the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed. They will face the winner of the series ongoing between the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the playoffs.
The Sixers had every reason to come up short in Game 4: Joel Embiid was ruled out with a knee sprain, the Nets were fighting for their lives, the Sixers already had a comfortable lead in the series and things did not go as planned early on. But a team with a newfound confidence in its mental toughness just kept chipping away until its massive talent advantage became clear.
“We just hung in there,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said. “We felt like we were going to win the game. You can feel that with our group.”
The person most responsible for the team sticking with it was Tobias Harris. Harris, the often-maligned $180 million man, once again showed his ability to shift roles on the fly. With Embiid sidelined and James Harden and Tyrese Maxey struggling from the field, he rose to the occasion in just about the biggest way possible. Harris scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds -- his +15 was the best plus-minus of any Sixer.
In a setting where half-court scoring ability is at a premium, Harris displayed his ability to score at will in a way he used to do frequently before he was traded to Philadelphia and assigned a different role.
“I understand the type of games in the playoffs,” Harris said. “It’s where hoopers really shine and showcase their abilities to score in different spots.”
Rivers, who has coached Harris with multiple teams and frequently speaks to Harris’ willingness to adjust, was thrilled to see his pupil shine in a major moment.
“He literally dominated that fourth quarter and won that game for us,” Rivers said. “That was huge.”
But there was more than one hero today. With Embiid out, Paul Reed stepped in as the team’s starting center -- it was Reed, not PJ Tucker in a small-ball lineup, not Montrezl Harrell and not Dewayne Dedmon.
“I thought [Reed] earned that,” Rivers said.
Reed’s first half performance was lackluster. He struggled to finish around the rim and was not consistently making the proper reads as a passer. But after halftime, Reed had his fingerprints all over the game. He finished the game with 10 points to go with 15 rebounds, with eight of those boards coming on the offensive glass. He was able to revive Sixers possessions and end Nets possessions, he defended well and made all of the right decisions as a passer.
When asked about the win, Maxey ignored the question and spoke at length about Reed, his 2020 rookie classmate.
“Before I even get started, Paul Reed was huge, man,” Maxey said, also noting that Reed did not know he was going to start until very soon before the game. Maxey lit up as he spoke about Reed.
Most expect the Sixers’ next opponent will be the Celtics, who lead the Hawks 2-1 in their first-round series right now. But the longer the series goes, the better for the Sixers, who have earned the right to receive a healthy amount of time off as they prepare for the second round.
“We value it… Today was big for us so we can get healthy,” Harden said. “I guess we got to wait and figure out who we play next.”
Pulling off a sweep is no easy feat. But for these Sixers, it is merely the first step of what they hope will be a long journey. So far, so good. But the hard part comes next.