Through four games of their first-round playoff series against the 76ers, the Nets have received the full NBA playoff experience. Center Jarrett Allen has been dropped twice by flagrant 1 fouls from 76ers center Joel Embiid, Jared Dudley and the 76ers’ Jimmy Butler were ejected for their roles in a Game 4 melee after Embiid leveled Allen, and Nets general manager Sean Marks was fined $25,000 and suspended for Game 5 Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center after making a postgame visit to the officials’ dressing room Saturday.
Adding to that, part-owner Joseph Tsai was fined $35,000 by NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Monday for public statements detrimental to the league.
Dudley, who is in his 12th NBA season, has been at the center of much of the emotional drama, and his rivalry with 6-10 point guard Ben Simmons has been a critical factor in a series the 76ers lead 3-1.
After practice on Monday, Dudley embraced his role as the Nets’ emotional leader going into a game they must win or see their season end.
“We started off well, and we’ve now faded a little bit,” Dudley said of a series in which the Nets have lost three straight since winning the opener in Philadelphia. “So we have to get back up and possibly get a second one to steal in Philly to get back to Brooklyn. I told these guys four years ago we did it in Milwaukee versus the Bulls. We won at Chicago and went back. So young teams have done it before.”
Dudley obviously loved that Marks went to bat for his players with the officials and that Tsai supported his actions. “You see how much he’s invested with the team,” he said of Marks. “We’re trying to set the tone for what he wants. Once the owner gets involved, that just lets you know you have the full support.
“Philly has the more recognizable players. They play more physical basketball, trying to initiate calls. We have to do a better job of protecting ourselves defensively by not putting our hands in the cookie jar and offensively being more aggressive.”
As much as coach Kenny Atkinson appreciates Dudley’s leadership, he was upset that he triggered the shoving match that led to his ejection. “Brawls and hard fouls, that’s not the way we teach the game,” Atkinson said. “That’s not our message to our guys. I don’t want to go back 20 years to where we were in this league. I think the fans want to see clean play and good basketball, freedom of movement, all the stuff the NBA preaches. I’m 100 percent on board with that.”
Reflecting on his actions, Dudley felt it was important to stick up for a teammate who repeatedly has been abused by Embiid. “There was history built up with this one,” Dudley said. “It’s putting [Embiid] on notice that it’s his second flagrant foul. It’s putting my teammates on notice that I wanted to stick up for [them] if a player is being inappropriate or doing stuff to take advantage of us. It’s just the character of who I am as a person.”
Dudley riled Simmons earlier by calling him “average” in the half-court as opposed to “elite, All-Star level in the full-court.”
Dudley basically neutralized Simmons in Game 1 in the Nets’ lone win, and he was doing the same in Game 4 before he was ejected.
Dudley said he hopes to carry the same emotion he displayed in Game 4 over to Game 5. “Sometimes it’s battles between one-on-one and sometimes it’s me talking to teammates about putting everyone in the right place defensively and offensively,” Dudley said. “It’s not me versus Ben Simmons because if it’s me versus Ben Simmons, they’re probably going to win 90 percent of the time. It’s the Brooklyn Nets versus the Philadelphia 76ers. It’s a chess match.”