2019 NBA Playoffs: Nets' attacking guards bring Sixers' worst fears to life in Game 1

In between the third and fourth quarters of Saturday's playoff opener, Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown described the difficulties they were having against the Brooklyn Nets.

"A lot of it is just trying to do better guarding our own man," Brown told ESPN's Cassidy Hubbarth. "I think they're excellent off [the dribble], they're hard to guard one-on-one. We have to do a better job spacing that and sort of recognizing how close can we get. But they're a difficult team for us to defend." 

As the sideline interview aired at the beginning of the final frame, viewers watched Nets guard Caris LeVert drive past Jimmy Butler and score at the rim. The split screen was a little on-the-nose. 

Coming into the series, Brown freely acknowledged the matchup problem Brooklyn posed. While Philadelphia employs Defensive Player of the Year candidate Joel Embiid, it struggles to defend aggressive guards. The Nets have three such players -- D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and LeVert -- and, in four regular-season meetings with the Sixers, they scored 117.2 points per 100 possessions, a mark that would lead the league. 

Much of Brooklyn's surprising success has been attributed to Russell, a former No. 2 pick and its only All-Star. In Game 1 he got hot in the third quarter, scoring 14 of his team-high 26 points. Philadelphia wouldn't be in trouble, however, if he were the only playmaking threat. LeVert, a crafty young wing rounding into form after a devastating early-season injury, scored 23 points in 23 minutes on 8-for-18 shooting. Spencer Dinwiddie, a Sixth Man of the Year candidate had he stayed healthy all season, scored 18 points on 6-for-14 shooting. 

Late in the second quarter, the Nets went small so they could space the floor for Dinwiddie and LeVert to go to work. Over and over again, they got to the rim, and even veteran forward Jared Dudley got in on the action:

Since coach Kenny Atkinson's arrival in 2016-17, Brooklyn has earned praise for its commitment to his pace-and-space style. Even when the team went 20-62 and 28-54 in his first two seasons, opposing coaches routinely pointed out that the Nets played hard and played to their identity. Brooklyn indeed is fast and shoots a lot of 3s, but its attacking mentality is what puts pressure on opposing teams. The Nets averaged 53.2 drives per game in the regular season, which ranks third in the league, and every time they run a pick-and-roll with Jarrett Allen, the threat of the lob makes defenders scramble. On the broadcast, ESPN's Doris Burke said that the Russell-Allen pick-and-roll was the NBA's most-run play aside from a James Harden isolation. (One bright spot for Philly: Allen was largely ineffective in the opener, playing only 10 minutes because Embiid was able to push him around and get to the free throw line.)

Philadelphia's coaching staff is going to have to make some hard choices before the second game of the series on Monday. Brown knows that Philadelphia is going to challenge J.J. Redick, who fouled out in 23 minutes, whenever he is on the court. He knows that Dinwiddie is no ordinary reserve, as this season he was as efficient in isolation as Kevin Durant and more efficient in pick-and-roll than Harden. There aren't easy answers, but Dinwiddie has destroyed centers on switches all season, so it seemed unfair to leave Boban Marjanovic and Jonah Bolden hanging out to dry against him one-on-one:

There were other factors besides the Nets' guardplay in their 111-102 win. Ed Davis, Brooklyn's beloved backup big man, had 12 points and 16 rebounds and finished plus-28 in 25 minutes -- a shaky stat to use in a single-game sample, but not a coincidence here. Embiid, whose status was in question until shortly before tipoff, clearly played through knee pain. Ben Simmons didn't assert himself and the Sixers shot an atrocious 3-for-25 from deep. If Philadelphia is going to bounce back, though, it must find a way to slow Brooklyn's backcourt down.

CBS Sports Writer

James Herbert is somewhat fond of basketball, feature writing and understatements. A former season-ticket holder for the expansion Toronto Raptors, Herbert does not think the NBA was better back in the... Full Bio

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