The odds were stacked against the Nets when their Big 3 shrank to the Big 1 after they lost Kevin Durant for a week because of NBA health and safety protocols and also were without Kyrie Irving (sprained right index finger). That left only James Harden active among their superstar triumvirate to take on the Eastern Conference- leading 76ers Saturday night in Philadelphia.
That was far from enough. The Nets hung tough through the middle of the third period but then got blown out in overwhelming fashion in a 124-108 loss. They fell behind by 19 points early in the final period, so coach Steve Nash rested Harden the entire fourth quarter.
"We were a little undermanned," Nash said of their third-quarter breakdown, when they surrendered 43 points to the 76ers. "I thought our guys got a little tired from the load they were carrying. [The 76ers] were able to use their depth and their talent to find a little separation, but I was proud of the way the guys competed."
As usual, center Joel Embiid was a dominant presence for the 76ers (17-7) with 33 points and nine rebounds. Tobias Harris added 21 points, 12 rebounds and six assists and Ben Simmons totaled 16 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
Harden topped the Nets (14-11) with 26 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. Landry Shamet had 22 points off the bench, shooting 5-for-13 from three-point range.
Reflecting on the third-quarter breakdown, Harden said, "[The 76ers] picked it up a little bit, and it was us being careless. You can’t give up 43 points in that quarter. In the third quarter, we gave them the game."
Given the fact the Nets have another back-to-back set coming up Tuesday in Detroit and at home Wednesday against the Pacers, Nash was asked if load management was part of the reason for resting Irving.
"This one with Ky is not any load management," Nash said. "He genuinely has a swollen finger and he took a knock to it yesterday .
Harden had 13 points in the third quarter, and the score was tied at 79 with 5:15 left in the period. But the Nets quickly came unraveled as the 76ers finished the quarter on a 23-7 run, including eight points from Danny Green and seven from Embiid. During that stretch, the Nets made three of nine shots and committed five turnovers.