The Brooklyn Nets blew a big opportunity to steal Game 3 against the Philadelphia 76ers due to poor defense, which remains the key moving forward.
Do not let the box score deceive you. Although the Brooklyn Nets were outscored 34-25 by the Philadelphia 76ers during the final quarter of Game 3, it was a horrific defensive performance during the previous two quarters that ultimately sunk this team.
After piecing together one of their better defensive performances of the season in Game 1, Brooklyn has followed up with two duds: allowing 145 points in Game 2 and 131 points in Game 3.
Game 3 was an especially dismaying performance as seemingly every player on Brooklyn’s roster had his worst defensive habits be completely exposed by the Sixers.
The Nets let Philadelphia’s most prominent offensive players get hot during the early portions on the game. Edit: make that scalding hot.
This applies most to JJ Redick, who scored 26 points on 5-of-9 shooting from deep. Redick feasted on Joe Harris: his basketball doppelganger and assigned defender. Harris spent most of Thursday night scrambling aimlessly to track Redick’s off-ball movement, but to no avail.
Seriously, Harris’ “coverage” on Redick was downright embarrassing. For a guy who apparently takes a great deal of influence from Philly’s sharpshooter, it appeared as if Harris hadn’t watched one second of game footage on Redick in his life. I mean really, has Harris never heard of a pump fake? Redick had this man spinning pirouettes after nearly every single ball-fake. With Harris doing god knows what on chase outs, Redick — a career 41 percent three-point shooter — had all of the time in the world to line up his shots.
Redick is the skeleton key to Philly’s offense. Outside of Tobias Harris (whose outside shot comes and goes), he’s the only player who can consistently hit from deep. In Philly’s system, a well engaged Redick means more open shots for his teammates. Unfortunately, Joe Harris was so kind as to provide Redick with any shot he wanted. This kind of snowballed things for the rest of the Sixers’ offense.
Even worse, Joe Harris’ poor play on defense undeniably bled into his offensive output. Shortly after getting torched on three straight possessions by Redick, Harris missed a wide-open three-pointer off a curl (a shot he usually makes). In the end, Joe Harris finished with 8 quiet points on an ugly 28.6 percent from the field.
You’ll never believe this but Dinwiddie struggled to contain Redick; who is elite at curling around screens. During the regular season, Dinwiddie was a notoriously awful defender, especially when it came to chasing down opponents off-ball. Talk about a matchup nightmare. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, Dinwiddie was his normal self on Thursday, resulting in some big Sixer buckets.
It is almost impressive how Dinwiddie — who is a legit 6-foot-5 and is nimble for his size — always appears a step behind on defense. He has the unmistakable quality of falling asleep on D and forgetting about his man until it’s too late. To compound the issue, he’s terrible at navigating his way around screens.
You can see this in the first clip from the video above. Instead of making things easier by taking the short-cut (and going under the Boban Marjanovic pick), Dinwiddie finds himself well behind the play after attempting to sprint around Boban’s leaning screen.
Perhaps Dinwiddie’s most insulting play of the night was letting Tobias Harris stroll into an open three-pointer out of an out-of-bounds play. Watch this possession a couple of times and ask yourself, who did Dinwiddie think he was guarding?
Speaking of Harris, assuming that he earns a max contract this summer, he should consider sending some of those proceeds to the Brooklyn Nets’ organization. Brooklyn allowed Tobias to break out of his series-long shooting slump in a big way; Harris finished with 29 points on 6-of-6 shooting from three. SIX OF SIX!
Look, no offense to Harris. I think he’s a wonderful all-around player who has refined his game over the years to become an excellent outside shooter. But the 6-foot-8 forward scored 29 points in a playoff game without breaking a sweat. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this transition three (in the video below). Not a single Brooklyn defender even has the thought of stepping out to contest Harris’ three-point attempt.
Oh, but it gets worse. D’Angelo Russell decided to get in on the action and gave Harris 10 feet of air-space to launch from the catch-and-shoot during the third quarter.
Russell, who had a pretty poor shooting night on offense, didn’t do himself any favors on defense either. Although he’s improved a great deal on defense by increasing his total deflections and contested shots, he is still prone to bouts of laziness.
Whatever the reason may be — fatigue, immaturity, anger about a previous possession, etc. — Russell’s forbidden sin on defense is to reach in for steals. Here he attempts to poke the ball away from James Ennis, resulting in an easy uncontested layup.
After failing to strike against a Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers team, the Brooklyn Nets may have missed their window to beat the mighty Sixers in the seven-game series. Even worse, Brooklyn squandered a lethal Caris LeVert offensive performance because of a team-wide lethargic defense.
The Nets will get another shot at taking down the Sixers at home during Game 4. Already at a talent disadvantage, Brooklyn needs to make up ground through heightened intensity on defense.
Game 4 will tip off on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage begins on TNT.