The Philadelphia 76ers secured a trip to the second round of the 2019 NBA playoffs with a 122-100 Game 5 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.
Joel Embiid totaled 23 points and 13 rebounds in just 20 minutes at the Wells Fargo Center, helping the 76ers clinch the first-round series 4-1.
Philadelphia jumped out to a 23-2 lead in the first quarter and never looked back in what became an easy victory. Ben Simmons added 13 points, six assists and five rebounds while finishing a game-high plus-34 to help close out the series win.
D'Angelo Russell helped to keep the Nets competitive throughout the series, but his eight points on 3-of-16 shooting in Game 5 weren't enough to extend his team's season.
Consistent Defensive Effort Would Make Sixers Favorites in East
Based on talent alone, the 76ers can match up with just about any team in the NBA. Entering Tuesday, their starting five had the best net rating of any five-man lineup in the playoffs, per NBA.com.
Joel Embiid showcased his full skill set against the Nets, scoring both inside and out.
Simmons is also unguardable at times, even without an outside shot:
With Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick also in the fold, finding ways to score won't be a problem throughout the postseason.
The question for this group is consistency, especially on defense.
Philadelphia finished the regular season tied for 13th in defensive rating, well behind the other Eastern Conference contenders, per NBA.com. In the first four games of this series, the Nets averaged 114.3 points per game, as their guards repeatedly exploited mismatches on the perimeter.
However, the 76ers flexed their muscles in Game 5, showing exactly what can happen when they focus on that end of the court.
Brooklyn took nearly six minutes to get its first points of the game as Philadelphia built an early lead:
The defensive effort continued throughout the first half as the Nets managed to score only 31 points.
The Nets finished the game shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 29.0 percent from three-point range.
While it was an off night for the visitors, Philadelphia also rotated quickly on defense to ensure Brooklyn had few easy looks at the basket. The Sixers also forced 14 turnovers, with Butler and Harris combining for six steals.
It'll be more difficult for Philly to defend Kawhi Leonard in the second round and perhaps Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kyrie Irving in the Eastern Conference Finals. But the Sixers' length and athleticism should allow them to match up with anyone.
If they match their effort from Tuesday, the Sixers will be able to slow down the Raptors or anyone else. Their offensive skill will then allow them to pull out many more wins over the coming weeks.
Nets Remain a Premier Free-Agent Destination Going into Offseason
No team will be happy about losing a playoff series in five games, but the Nets should be proud of how they remained competitive against a clearly superior opponent. For a franchise coming off four straight losing seasons, just reaching this point exceeded expectations.
This season featured the emergence of several young players, including Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen. None of those players were lottery picks, but they all showed they can be key parts of a playoff contender.
Even with strong efforts throughout the season, the playoffs were a bit of a coming-out party for each player. Dinwiddie scored at least 15 points in each of the first four games, Allen had 21 points and eight rebounds going against Embiid in Game 4 and LeVert was on fire all series long, including 18 points in Game 5.
Russell was one of the Nets' few household names, but the 2015 No. 2 overall pick took his game up a notch in 2018-19 while earning his first All-Star selection. He will be a restricted free agent this summer, but Brooklyn is likely to retain him.
The Nets thus boast an impressive young core that can become elite with the addition of some key free-agent signings.
Per Spotrac, the Nets rank third in the NBA with $54.6 million worth of practical cap space going into the offseason. With DeMarre Carroll and Jared Dudley coming off the books, they'll have room to add at least one big-time player and possibly more.
Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated speculated about one possible addition:
Harris could provide some scoring balance in the frontcourt and upgrade the roster without taking anything away from Brooklyn's current players. Butler could also potentially be an option to switch sides as someone who makes an impact on both ends of the court from the wing.
Meanwhile, there will be a lot of big names on the open market, including Leonard, Irving, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and more.
A few of those players have been linked to the New York Knicks, but Brooklyn is in the same New York market while also being much closer to contention.
With top-level guard play and a high-upside center in Allen, any superstar could sign on and have a smooth transition going into next season. With the right moves in the summer, the Nets could become an elite team in 2019-20.
The 76ers will advance to the conference semifinals to take on the Toronto Raptors, who punched their ticket to the second round Tuesday as well with a win over the Orlando Magic.