Instant Observations: Sixers Take 2-0 Series Lead Over Nets Behind Strong Maxey Performance

Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) brings the ball up court against the Brooklyn Nets during the fourth quarter in game two of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers overcame a slow start to defeat the Brooklyn Nets 96-84 in Game 2 on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center. They now possess a commanding 2-0 series lead.

Tyrese Maxey led the Sixers with 33 points on 13-of-23 shooting, including going 6-of-13 from beyond the arc. Joel Embiid poured in 20 points, 19 rebounds, seven assists, one steal and three blocks. Tobias Harris added in 20 points and 12 rebounds.

The Nets were led in their losing effort by Cameron Johnson’s 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting. Mikal Bridges added in 21 points, five rebounds and seven assists.

The series now moves to Brooklyn. Game 3 is on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. Here are some instant observations from the win:

– Embiid showed why he is likely going to be the MVP this season. He impacted the game on multiple levels despite the Nets making it nearly impossible for him to get anything going as a scorer. Brooklyn continued their strategy from Game 1, throwing incessant double teams at Embiid every time he touched the ball. While it took away much of his scoring ability, he still mostly made the correct read out of the double team.

Embiid found the majority of his success early on when getting the ball deep into the paint. There were a handful of plays when he got the ball mid-court with momentum going towards the basket. In the first quarter, he twice drove the ball deep into the paint, drawing in the defense before finding an open teammate for a corner 3-pointer. He tried to often establish deep post position, but the Sixers failed to consistently make the entry pass into the post.

It took until the second half, but the Sixers made a critical adjustment to their offense. They got Embiid the ball at the elbow and slowed the game down. The Nets continued to rush double teams at him and the big fella responded by swinging the ball to the open man. The shots that were not falling much in the first half began to fall more often. Their floor spacing also improved as a result of having P.J. Tucker spot up in the corner with Harris sitting in the dunker spot. These adjustments led to a 20-7 run for the Sixers coming out of halftime that completely swung the momentum of the game.

The Nets made the mistake of trying their hand at playing Embiid in single coverage in the fourth quarter. The results were as expected. Embiid powered through the much smaller Royce O’Neale. Needless to say, but Brooklyn is likely going to continue utilizing double teams on Embiid for the remainder of the series.

– The Sixers’ offense was out of rhythm for long portions of the night. Maxey stepped up as their savior, hitting big shots over and over again throughout the contest. His 15 first-half points were the only reason the game was close heading into halftime. He took advantage of the multitude of wide open looks generated as a result of the Nets doubling Embiid. It did not matter whether it was a fadeaway, step-back or relocation, he knocked them all down.

After having a quiet Game 1, it was good to see Maxey put together a great performance in this one. The Nets present a mildly difficult challenge for him due to their length and athleticism. He did not let that stop him from attacking the basket. He had a few good drives to the basket, using his speed and craftiness to overcome tough defense. The Sixers will be a tough out in the playoffs if they receive this version of Maxey on a consistent basis.

– Brooklyn head coach Jacque Vaughn told reporters before the game he wanted the Nets to shoot 40 or more 3-pointers. They came out swinging from deep, led by Johnson. He scored 22 points in the first half, including shooting 4-of-7 from 3-point range. The Nets adjusted to get more 3-pointers up by running more small-ball lineups where everyone on the floor was a capable shooter. The results, at least in the first half, were to the Nets’ advantage. They were able to spread the floor. The Sixers failed to punish their lack of size on the other end.

Despite still getting a lot of good looks, the Nets cooled down a lot from beyond the arc in the second half. With their 3-pointers not falling, they had to resort to playing more from inside the arc. Embiid made his presence felt defensively in the guts of the game. He stepped up his rim protection, as evidenced by this block of a Johnson layup with a few minutes remaining in action.

– Harris followed up his good showing in Game 1 with yet another impactful performance. He got into some early foul trouble in the first half, but he battled through it and came out of halftime playing with a purpose. He forced a steal by jumping into the passing lane, following it up with a dunk on the other end of the floor. His effort on the glass was superb as well, generating multiple extra possessions. The Nets’ strategy of doubling Embiid hinges on the performance of the Sixers’ supporting cast. If Harris continues to produce at this level throughout the rest of the series, the Nets do not stand a chance.

– Nothing went right for James Harden in this contest. He was sloppy with the basketball, committing five turnovers. As a scorer, he failed to make an impact from both inside and outside the arc. He was also a huge negative for them defensively, especially in the first half. The Nets took advantage of his porous off-ball defense, leading to multiple wide open 3-pointers.

Harden can receive a pass somewhat for his brutal showing in this game. He played a big role in the team’s win in Game 1, but he needs to get things together offensively. In order for the Sixers to compete outside the first round, they will need a much better performance from Harden.