PHILADELPHIA — It was over at the top of the fourth quarter.
Backup Sixers center Paul Reed grabbed an offensive rebound, shook Nets wing Royce O’Neale with a behind-the-back dribble, then lost Joe Harris with a pump fake before finishing the play with a layup at the rim.
The Wells Fargo Center crowd erupted. Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn immediately called a timeout. Spencer Dinwiddie flung the ball toward the official closest to the baseline.
The Nets trailed by 17. They went on to lose Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Sixers, 121-101.
They will practice on Sunday before suiting up for Game 2 on Monday.
Reed’s play isn’t the reason the Nets dropped their opening playoff matchup, but it’s a microcosm of the challenge that lies ahead for a team that doesn’t like the underdog moniker but wears the appropriate shoe size.
The Sixers simply have too many weapons. The Nets are overmatched.
Mikal Bridges scored 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the field, Cam Johnson added 18 points and Spencer Dinwiddie added 14 points and seven assists.
The Nets struggled, however, to find offense elsewhere. Against a scoring juggernaut in Philadelphia playing in front of a sold-out home crowd, it wasn’t enough.
Certainly not enough against a team as loaded as these Sixers, who have their eyes on much bigger fish in pursuit of an NBA championship.
Three Sixers starters scored 20 or more points, led by 26 from Joel Embiid. A point of emphasis in Brooklyn was to keep the Sixers’ star big man off the free throw line, where he scores a third of his points.
On Saturday, almost half of his points came at the charity stripe: Embiid shot a perfect 11-of-11 from the foul line.
In the playoffs, game-planning can only get you so far. Talent has to carry a team the rest of the way.
And in the week leading into their first-round matchup against the 76ers, the Nets preached transition offense, playing locked-in basketball for four full quarters and jacking up as many threes as humanly possible — all as methods of wearing Embiid down over the course of a 48-minute game.
Some of those things worked: The Nets sped up a Sixers team that likes to play slow, double-teamed Embiid often on the low- or high-post touch and had six different players each hit a three.
“You’re gonna receive some punches. You’re gonna give some punches,” Vaughn said pregame. “So our ability to stay poised throughout the entire game, whether that’s possession, quarter to quarter, and for us to show some poise as a group on the road. Good challenge for us.”
None of it matters, though, if the Nets can’t keep other players not named Embiid in check. James Harden had 23 points and 13 assists and hit seven threes, and Tobias Harris scored 21.
Reed scored 11 off the bench in just 13 minutes.
If the Nets can’t contain the Sixers’ backup center, they won’t stand a chance in the rest of the series.