Sixers defeat Brooklyn Nets and win first seed tie-breaker

Audrey Becker, Staff writer

Both Philadelpha 76ers and Brooklyn Nets fans circled last week’s contest on the calendar, not only because it would it match the top teams in the division, separated by a game or less in the standings for most of the season, but the winner of this matchup would also win the season series: an important tiebreaker should the teams end up with a similar regular season record.

After gifting their fans the usual fourth-quarter-heart-attack, the Sixers managed to pull out a 123-117 victory.

The team knows that losing the big leads they have built in the early parts of games this season is a significant problem, which could loom large in the playoffs.

After the game, Ben Simmons reflected on the nearly-blown lead in the Nets game, saying that “[the Sixers] have got to close our games; we’ve got to lock in that fourth quarter.”

The Sixers played a shorthanded Nets team at the Wells Fargo Center. Brooklyn only had one of their “big three” available, that being Kyrie Irving, as superstars Kevin Durant and James Harden were sidelined. Being at less than full strength is nothing new for Brooklyn, as the Nets have been plagued with injuries all season, with Durant, Irving, and Harden rarely taking the court at the same time. The “consistent inconsistency” of their lineup has caused NBA fans and analysts alike to question whether or not this was secretly a scheme to hide the team’s full firepower until the playoffs, but Head Coach Steve Nash denies these accusations. 

“I think when you start to really try to be cute, it backfires most of the time,” Nash said in a postgame press conference on ESPN. “It wasn’t strategic. It was, this [is] the availability we have.”

Both teams’ stars started off hot, with the Sixers’ Tobias Harris making all six of his second quarter field goal attempts for 13 points, and Joel Embiid dropping 21 of his eventual 39 points in the first half. Irving, gliding around the lockdown defense of Simmons and Matisse Thybulle, was making noise all night, and would finish the game with 37 points. The Sixers held a comfortable lead through the third quarter, as much as 22 points, but over the next nine minutes, the Nets’ bench unit sparked a comeback which cut the Philadelphia lead from 10-plus points to just three with just six minutes remaining.

Throughout the comeback, Coach Rivers left his starters on the bench, hoping to give them as much rest as possible, because the Sixers were scheduled to play five games in the next nine days. Reluctantly, with the lead at three, Rivers called a timeout, and put Embiid and Simmons back in the game.

“They should not have had to come back in,” Rivers said in a postgame press conference on the Sixers website.

The personnel change worked; Simmons played steady defense while also contributing from the line, making his free throws when it mattered most, despite shooting just 62 percent from the stripe this year. With time running low, Embiid, who had 37 at this point in the game, drained two free throws to seal the game to the tune of “MVP” chants from the Philadelphia crowd. 

Unlike Rivers, Nash opted to keep his high-man Kyrie Irving on the bench, much to the viewers’ befuddlement. He kept his second unit, led by former Sixer Landry Shamet, who finished with 17 points, out on the floor instead.

“I didn’t want to take the group out that was doing so well,” said Nash in a press conference. “I wanted to reward those guys for playing as well as they did.”

The Sixers’  schedule included three other title contenders in their next five games. Philadelphia defeated the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday evening, and will play Milwaukee Bucks twice this week. The team is looking to prove itself against some of the toughest competition in the league and the teams they are likely to face in the playoffs.