PHILADELPHIA — Game 1 of their first-round playoff series is in the books with the Nets already having stolen home-court advantage from the 76ers. Now, the chess match begins in Game 2 Monday night at Wells Fargo Center, and 76ers coach Brett Brown understands he has adjustments to make because his team had trouble with the Nets’ pace and really hasn’t contained guards D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert all season.
The Nets’ defense was sharp in Game 1, forcing the 76ers into a 3-for-25 performance from three-point range and especially shutting down outside shooters Tobias Harris, JJ Redick and Mike Scott, who combined for 12 points on 5-for-22 shooting, including 2-for-14 from three-point range.
“When you look at the starting five, Ben [Simmons with nine points] had a down game, JJ had a down game, Tobias had a down game,” Brown said. “If you go straight to the three-point shooting, we were 3 of 25. We were only 69 percent from the free-throw line. We missed a bunch of shots, we had three starters down and our bench was outscored heavily by their bench, 59-26. I give Brooklyn credit more than I do anything, but we have to get better and find a way to change some things to win.”
Brown isn’t the only one who will adjust. Even though they won, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said there are areas where the Nets can improve. For instance, it wasn’t part of the game plan to let Jimmy Butler score 36 points. They must continue to make things tough on center Joel Embiid and his sore left knee and try to avoid the foul trouble he creates.
“We can make some changes, too,” Atkinson said. “We’re not thinking, ‘OK, we won the game. Let’s stay 100 percent with what we did.’ I think we have to be ahead of the game a little bit and figure what we can do better.”
Foul trouble is a major concern for Atkinson, who was able to play center Jarrett Allen for little more than nine minutes because of fouls. “We want to play with physicality,” Atkinson said. “With young teams, this happens. You’re young, you’re raring to go and we’re emphasizing physicality. [But] that’s physicality with discipline and understanding. Get rid of the silly [fouls].”
On the most basic level, the biggest change the 76ers can make other than shooting better is guarding Russell, Dinwiddie and LeVert better. The Nets have been especially effective in transition offense, and when they play out of the half-court set, they excel at the pick-and-roll, and all three guards have proved they can get to the rim against Philadelphia.
“I just think we have to guard better,” said Butler, who is the Sixers’ best defender other than the shot-blocking skill of Embiid. “You’ve got to man up and guard one-on-one. I think that’s what it’s going to come down to this series. Whoever it may be, myself included, you’ve got to man up and you’ve got to stand in front of your man and try to get a stop.”
The Nets’ Russell, who scored 26 points but started slowly on a 10-for-25 shooting night, said the key for the Nets is to maintain a “defensive mentality” because getting stops is what ignites their transition offense. After that, it’s staying aggressive on offense and doing what they do best.
“I think we can score the ball at a clip that we want to score at,” Russell said. “It’s about getting stops . . . Any given night, it could be one of our nights to just take over the game. Fortunately, the other day, it was all of us. So, keep that going. We’re that much more dangerous when we’re all aggressive like that.”