PHILADELPHIA, PA – The last couple of years, the 76ers have shown on plenty of occasions why a team shouldn’t be judged on record alone.
Brooklyn, owners of the NBA’s lowest winning percentage this season, did the same themselves Tuesday at The Center, dealing the Sixers a 141-118 loss in the opener of a four-game homestand.
A dominant start proved decisive in helping the Nets to a season-best third consecutive victory. Their 81 first-half points marked the highest total in franchise history.
The Sixers, already undermanned and with Dario Saric again playing on a 24-minute guideline, fell behind by as many as 29 points by the break, and 39 before Tuesday’s final horn sounded. Brooklyn passed 100 points midway through the third quarter.
“It’s one of those games,” Brett Brown said afterwards. “We give Brooklyn credit. We couldn’t guard them.”
Even though they entered the evening with 18 victories, the Nets had shown proficiency in several areas over the course of a long season. They began Tuesday ranked fifth in the league in 3-pointers made, second in drive points per game, and second in bench scoring. Pace has also been one of Brooklyn’s strengths, with no team in the league currently playing faster.
Each factor referenced above loomed large in the opening stanza. Going into the locker room, the Nets had converted 70.0 percent of their shots on the strength of a 12 for 17 effort from beyond the arc. They outscored the Sixers 11-3 on the break during the first 24 minutes of action, as Brooklyn’s reserves accounted for 43 points in that same stretch.
All the while, the Nets competed with difference-making speed.
“They were on fire in relation to 3-point shots,” said Brown. “Some of it was poor defense. Some of it, you shake their hand, and say they had a hell of a night.”
Brooklyn finished with a balanced box line. Eight of its players finished in double-figures. Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez, the two veteran-most members on the Nets’ youthful roster, led the way with 16 points apiece. Philadelphia native Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was pivotal to the Nets’ torrid start, generating seven of his 12 points in the first quarter.
The Sixers were topped by Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s 19 points. Fellow rookie Shawn Long came off the bench to deliver 18 points and six boards.
Despite the uphill climb the Sixers faced, Brown, all too familiar with his club’s signature competitive nature and fight, kept hopes high.
“I actually thought we were going to get back in it,” said the fourth-year head coach. “These guys play with tremendous passion. They play with tremendous character. They squeeze everything they can out of the group, and they have done it for a long time. So, I give them the benefit of the doubt. You think [a comeback] has a chance to happen, and it just didn’t.”
Saric posted 10 points in 19 minutes Tuesday. Early in the second quarter, he connected on a 3-pointer from the sideline to eclipse the 1,000-point plateau for the season. The 22-year old became the 11th player in franchise history to reach quadruple digits in scoring in his debut campaign.
Saric now shares that distinction with Allen Iverson, who set the club’s rookie record with 1,787 points in 1996-1997, as well as Jerry Stackhouse, Clarence Weatherspoon, Charles Barkley, Billy Cunningham, and Dolph Schayes, among others.
The Croatian, however, was far more concerned with Tuesday’s outcome than he was with his noteworthy individual achievement.
“Our performance wasn’t on any NBA level,” said Saric. “I always try to talk honestly, and I apologize to Philly fans.
“It was looking like we tried. I tried, but sometimes there is no exception for it.”
Saric did not appear after the third quarter. Neither did fellow frontcourt starter Richaun Holmes, who put up 16 points, six rebounds, four assists, and three blocks against the Nets.
At the outset of the night, the Sixers’ mission was to sweep their four-game Atlantic Division season series with Brooklyn, something that hadn’t been done in nearly six years. After three evenly-played match-ups earlier in the campaign, including the Sixers’ five-point victory at Barclays Center a week ago, the Nets set an aggressive tone from the jump Tuesday.
Randy Foye’s steal 30 seconds in set up a Lopez three, and although Brooklyn would misfire on three shots in the next two and a half minutes, the visitors were dialed in for the rest of the half.
The Sixers used a driving lay-up from Saric to get within three, 11-8, but the Nets answered with seven points in a row to build their first double-digit edge.
Not too long after that, Alex Poythress, in his second NBA appearance, capitalized on his teammates’ crafty passing (see the ‘Sixers Social’ section below) to get the margin down to four, 22-18. A hook shot from Long made it, 25-22, before Brooklyn revved up its offense once again.
The Nets proceeded to pour in the next 13 points to establish a convincing 40-27 advantage through one period of play. With its 3-pointers and down-hill drives continuing to hit home, Brooklyn swiftly seized command in the second.
“They really got it going from three,” said Justin Anderson, whose 13-point showing was fueled by a career-high tying three 3-pointers. “They were doing a great job of creating shots for one another, and finding the open guy. Hats off to them for showing up and playing hard.”
While the Nets’ cushion wouldn’t dip under 20 points during the second half, several of the Sixers’ youngsters took advantage of minutes that came their way down the stretch. Luwawu-Cabarrot netted 14 second-half points, with Long supplying 16. The latter prospect was particularly active around the basket, and threw down a pair of quality dunks in the fourth frame.
Poythress manufactured a team-best plus-12 rating in the second half. In all, the forward scored 10 points, snagged seven rebounds, and dished out three assists versus the Nets.
“The thing that we all, led by me, have to be mindful of, this group cares,” Brown said emphatically. “This group has given the organization, they’ve given the coaching staff everything they’ve got. Sometimes, over 82 games, games like this happen. Sometimes, when you have [limited] players, games like this happen.
“I’m not overreacting. I think these guys deserve that. We’ve got more home games that we want to perform a lot better than we just did to end the season. Nobody’s going to walk out of here losing our minds.”
We’ll borrow a post pushed out from the league’s official handle Tuesday night. With the first quarter winding down and the contest still close, the Sixers strung together a sequence showcasing their passing prowess. Newcomer Alex Poythress was the beneficiary of some nifty facilitating here. The Sixers took the floor Tuesday ranked first in the league in passes per game, and third in assist percentage.
The Sixers’ four-game stint at The Center rolls along Thursday, when they host the Chicago Bulls. All of a sudden, thanks to a recent four-game winning streak, the Bulls have vaulted back into playoff contention, holding a top eight spot in the Eastern Conference at the start of play Tuesday. Chicago’s timely surge began immediately after a bumpy 117-107 loss to the Sixers on March 24th at United Center. That night, the Sixers led by as many as 26 points.