For a while there, it seemed as if the Nets would be able to take the measure of the Sixers yesterday. Game Two of their first round series was crucial for the black and white, and not just because of the opportunity to steal a set-to on the road against their heavily favored opponents. And so they played with purpose from the get-go. Their game plan was simple; limit the production of the All-Stars Joel Embiid and James Harden, and thus compel the supporting cast to make up for the slack.
Needless to say, the gamble was that the Sixers, long used to riding Embiid and Harden, would not readily respond to the challenge. And, given the way the first half turned out, the Nets appeared to have latched on to a good strategy. What they lacked in talent, they strove to make up for in resolve — enabling them to keep pace in the first quarter and put up a slim but no less significant four-point advantage at the break.
Unfortunately, the Nets fell prey to the Law of Diminishing Returns from then on. Even as they kept Embiid and Harden in check, they proved to be a step slower in rotations. The Sixers knew well enough not to let the ball stick to the National Basketball Association’s leading scorer in the face of double — even triple — coverage, resorting to crisp passing to counteract the defense, and ultimately being rewarded by a plethora of open looks that saw the bottom of the hoop.
At first glance, all the Sixers really did with their inspired play yesterday was protect home turf. They made sure that there would be no upsets at the Wells Fargo Center. Then again, the manner in which they won pulling away underscored their increasing capacity to make the extra attention on Embiid and Harden work against the Nets. Which means that, when they trek to the Barclays Center for Games Three and Four, they’ll be primed to succeed. There will be no surprises. Embiid was only too glad to cede the limelight to teammates yesterday. He’ll be ready to do so again.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.