PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia 76ers used a historic shooting performance to power past the Brooklyn Nets in the first game of the best-of-seven first-round series between the two teams on Saturday afternoon.
Very early on in the contest, it became clear that MVP favorite Joel Embiid was going to draw a lot of attention -- and personnel -- from Brooklyn. With the Nets sending two or three defenders at Embiid virtually every time he touched the ball, the rest of the Sixers were afforded ample open opportunities from the perimeter, and they took full advantage.
Starting with the first quarter, the Sixers let it fly from long range early and often. They got up 12 triples over the first 12 minutes, and converted half of them, with six different players each making one. That sizzling start carried over to the second quarter where the Sixers knocked down seven of nine attempts from beyond the arc, led by James Harden, who had four of those.
When all was said and done, the Sixers had connected on a franchise playoff high 21 threes (out of 48 attempts), and their production from long range was a major key in their series-opening 121-101 win over Brooklyn. In all, eight different Sixers made at least one triple, led by Harden, who had seven. Only Allen Iverson (8) has made more in a playoff game in franchise history. Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris also each had three, and P.J. Tucker added a pair.
The Nets, who made 13 threes of their over the course of the contest, were outscored by 24 points from beyond the arc. That's a tough differential to overcome, especially if you're also going to lose the rebound and turnover battle, as Brooklyn did.
Philadelphia's previous franchise high for threes in a playoff game was 18, a mark the team hit twice during the 2018 postseason. Of Philadelphia's 21 made shots from distance on Saturday, many of them were uncontested, and that was a direct result of the Sixers capitalizing on Brooklyn's scheme of sending multiple bodies at Embiid every time down the floor.
"It was something they were giving us," Harden said of Philly's output from deep in Game 1. "They doubled Joel [Embiid] the whole game, basically. They tried their best to not let him get going. He still had 20-something [points], but I think he did a really good job of just making the easy passes and we knocked shots down."
Embiid has majorly improved when it comes to handling pressure and extra defenders, and that was evident on Saturday. Earlier in his career, Brooklyn's consistent pressure might have tripped up Embiid and forced him to play outside of himself, but that didn't happen. Instead, Embiid embraced the pressure, displayed patience and made the right play time and again. He was only credited with three direct assists, but many of Philly's open looks originated with Embiid drawing the defense and moving the ball.
"Give [Joel] credit. I thought, especially early on, he was really patient," Sixers coach Doc Rivers said after the game. "When you start making everybody else better, and we have James making everybody else better, it makes us a pretty good team."
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So, this is the dilemma that the Nets find themselves in. If they keep applying so much pressure on Embiid moving forward in the series, the Sixers' shooters are going to continue to have a field day. They might not shoot 48% from deep every game, but simply surrendering open opportunities to a team clearly capable of converting at a high clip isn't a sound strategy. But, the alternative -- letting Embiid go to work against single coverage -- is also a recipe for disaster.
In Game 1, Embiid had 26 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the floor while dealing with all the aforementioned pressure. Imagine what kind of damage he can do if Brooklyn opts to pay less attention to him. There's no good answer for Brooklyn, and that's why this could be a pretty quick series.
When it comes to the bind that Embiid's dominance has placed Brooklyn in, Harden summed it up pretty succinctly:
"I mean, he's the MVP. So it's like, would you rather him score 40, or live with us making shots? We'll be ready either way."