June 9, 2023

Philadelphia 76ers have been the most impressive NBA team in the postseason

Game 4 against the Brooklyn Nets is a game that would normally be a disappointing loss for the “Trust the Process” era Philadelphia 76ers. The opportunity to close out a first-round series against an inferior team, along with a Joel Embiid injury to navigate.

In 2021, the result was a Game 4 loss to the Washington Wizards when up 3-0 as the top seed in the Eastern Conference — Philly went on to close out the series in five games. Last season they were up 3-0 against the Toronto Raptors. The 76ers lost two in a row before defeating the Raptors in six games.

There’s no ‘I’ in team

Embiid suffered a knee injury during Game 4 of Wizards series, and played through a torn thumb in his shooting hand against the Raptors. He limped through the 76ers’ Game 3 win against the Nets on Thursday, going 5-13 for 14 points. On Sunday, the 76ers closed the series without their MVP candidate. They defeated the Nets 96-88. It was the 76ers first best-of-seven series sweep since 1985, and they are the first team in the 2022 NBA Playoffs to advance to Round 2.

Harris led the charge for the 76ers with Embiid out of the lineup with a knee injury. He attempted 19 shots and scored 25 points. However, it was the 76ers’ defense that allowed them to run away with the game in the fourth quarter.

Mikal Bridges hit a jump shot with 8:55 remaining in the game. The Nets did not make another field goal until the 4:28 mark, and were successful on only four more attempts. One was Nic Claxton alley-oop, and the other three were jump shots with 76ers up by double digits with less than one minute remaining in the game.

Getting the job done

The 76ers only truly dominated the Nets in Game 1, winning 121-101. It took some hot fourth-quarter shooting from Tyrese Maxey for the 76ers to both pull away in Game 2, and escape with a victory in Game 3. That 76ers’ defense though, the Nets broke 100 points only once in the series.

It was unlikely for the 76ers to crumble and suffer one of the worst upsets in franchise history, but for this team to pull out the franchise’s first sweep in 38 years — as a No. 3 seed — a breakthrough has finally taken place.

The Nets were far from one of the league’s most talented teams, but they aren’t much different than the Raptors in 2022 or the Wizards in 2021. With all of the Nets’ wing depth, this series had all the makings of a contender in boxing getting flustered by an awkward southpaw.

Offense was at times difficult to come by for the 76ers, but they got baskets when they needed them the most. Maxey has proven in his third season that he is ready for prime time, and with Harris as the 76ers’ fourth option, they have one of the deepest lineups in the east.

When will Embiid return?

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi reported that Embiid would be available early this week. Because the 76ers handled business, they won’t need him until the weekend at the earliest. The Boston Celtics dropped a game on Friday to the Atlanta Hawks. Even if they do win on Sunday, the earliest that they can close the series is on Tuesday at home. The Celtics — a championship favorite — will be facing a well-rested 76ers team that hasn’t been this confident since Allen Iverson stepped over Tyronn Lue.

Giving a contender credit for a dominant first round might seem superfluous, but the 76ers did actually earn a new badge. They dispatched an inferior — yet feisty — opponent as quickly as humanly possible. Now they get to wait — and their star gets to heal — as the 76ers get ready to play in the most important series in the entirety of the “process.”