Instant Observations: Harris, Reed Power Sixers to Sweep Over Nets

Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris (12) reacts after a basket against the Brooklyn Nets during the second half of game four of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers battled and overcame being without Joel Embiid to defeat the Brooklyn Nets 96-88 in Game 4 on Saturday afternoon. The Sixers swept the Nets right out of the playoffs. It was their first sweep since 1991 and their first four-game sweep since 1985.

It took a full team effort from the Sixers to win this game. Tobias Harris led things with 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting to go with 12 rebounds. James Harden added in 17 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists. Tyrese Maxey finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and two steals. Paul Reed totaled 10 points and 15 rebounds (eight on the offensive glass).

The Sixers were without Embiid, who was ruled out on Friday evening with a sprained right knee. Danuel House Jr. also missed his second consecutive game with a non-COVID illness.

Spencer Dinwiddie led the Nets with 20 points, three rebounds and six assists. Nic Claxton finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.

The Sixers now have at least a week off before beginning their second-round series. Here are some instant observations from the series-clinching win:

– With Embiid out of the lineup, the slack would have to be picked up throughout the rest of the roster. A lot of attention was garnered towards the duo of Harden and Maxey. However, Harris stepped up as the team’s most consistent scorer in Game 4. Both Harden and Maxey struggled to get anything going, the Sixers were able to go to Harris early and often.

Harris continued his excellent play this series, impacting things both as a scorer and on the glass. A lot of his damage offensively came in the mid-post, where he hunted the weak spot in Brooklyn’s defense and took advantage. In the fourth quarter, the Sixers made it a point to get Dinwiddie switched onto Harris. He feasted on that matchup, bullying him and getting to his spots in the mid-post area.

His ability to punish the weak points in Brooklyn’s defense in this game and throughout the series was crucial. Usually serving as the fourth option when the Sixers are fully healthy, this series served as a reminder of the type of things Harris is capable of.

– How the Sixers elected to fill out the center minutes with Embiid out of the lineup was something to watch throughout Game 4. Paul Reed received the start in place of Embiid. A quick side note on Reed’s path to this point: His journey over the past few seasons is extraordinary. At times, he was completely out of the rotation. Head coach Doc Rivers did not trust him, partially due to a propensity to commit a ton of fouls. However, Reed put the necessary work in this season to gain the trust of both Rivers and James Harden. He gradually earned his way back into the rotation throughout the past few months. Now he finds himself starting in a playoff game.

Reed struggled in the early going. The Nets used the pick-and-roll to put him in a blender. He was consistently caught helping too much on the driver and letting Nic Claxton get open on the back door. Claxton scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds in the opening quarter. The Sixers as a team were not sharp to open up the game, allowing the Nets to get off to a 19-9 start. It was clear this lineup had some unfamiliarity. There were a handful of miscommunications both on switches and in picking people up in transition.

However, the script was completely flipped in the second half. All the reasons why Reed can be an effective, high-energy role player were highlighted. He was a monster on the glass, seemingly coming down with every contested rebound. He also picked things up defensively, making the adjustment to play down on the pick-and-roll. The Sixers gave up just 15 points in the third quarter, and Reed’s impact was all over that. He also sprinkled in some layups, getting open on the pick-and-roll with Harden.

The Sixers also ran a fair amount of small-ball lineups with P.J. Tucker at center. That lineup produced adequate results in short bursts. Montrezl Harrell also received some action on the floor, playing five non-eventful minutes in the first half. Reed was the star of the show at center. It was notable to see Reed on the floor over Tucker in the closing minutes of the game.

– Maxey had a relatively quiet performance offensively. He could not find the mark from 3-point range, and his pacing was a bit off. One of the things he provides to the Sixers is an ability to play with speed while attacking the basket. His willingness to drive into the paint was there in this game, but he was a bit reckless at times. There were a few possessions where he drove too deep too quickly. Those often resulted in him having to put up a contested layup over two or three defenders.

While this was not his finest game offensively, Maxey played some quality defense. He picked Cameron Johnson’s pocket on one play in the first half. There is a lot of fear Maxey will get exposed defensively in the postseason. Through at least the opening round against the Nets, he managed to mostly stand his ground. He did a fair job defending guys like Dinwiddie in space throughout this series. The opponent will only get tougher from here, but Maxey’s defense against the Nets was promising.

– The worries about Harden’s finishing ability, let’s just say, were not quieted by his performance in Game 4. He continued to throw up bricks from around the rim, showing absolutely no touch from an area of the floor he used to carve up with ease. The issue has not been his ability to get to the rim. He showed throughout this series he remains capable of breaking down his man at the point of attack. He dropped Johnson on this crossover move in the third quarter before passing it to Tucker for a 3-pointer.

It is good to see Harden still have the movement and burst to get by the defender in front of him. However, eventually the finishing ability needs to show up as it gets deeper into the postseason.

– For much of this game it looked like De’Anthony Melton was not going to make any sort of positive impact. However, he then proceeded to explode in the fourth quarter. All 15 of his points came in the final frame. He helped space the floor, knocking down a handful of open 3-pointers. His biggest play of the game was when he tipped in his own miss to extend the Sixers’ lead to nine points with 3:58 remaining. At times in the fourth quarter, it looked as if the Sixers were about to run out of gas. Melton’s play in the final frame was huge to help the team close things out.