On an off night from their brilliant, bounteous backcourt, the Brooklyn Nets rode the two biggest men on the floor through the first three quarters, turning the game into a laugher early before officially putting away the Philadelphia 76ers 104-83 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The Nets, who were able to rest their starters for the fourth quarter on the first end of a back-to-back, led by as much as 28 and out-rebounded the 76ers 67-34. That’s not a typo; the Nets had nearly twice as many rebounds as the 76ers throughout the entire game. Center Brook Lopez (11) and forward Reggie Evans (24) combined for more rebounds alone than the entire 76ers team.
“We were able to get the stops we needed, we helped each other out and limited them to one shot,” Brook Lopez said in the locker room after the game.
It was a gameplan — scripted by assistant coach Mario Elie, according to interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo — that the Nets executed to perfection: keep the 76ers out of the paint, take opposing scorers out of their comfort zone, control the glass, and stick to successful principles.
“Our attention to defense was good tonight,” Carlesimo told me when I asked him about the defense. “It was the thing that cost us the last game in Philadelphia. Tonight … we contested shots, we played the pick-and-roll better.
“(Elie)’s gameplan was good, but I thought our players’ attention to it, particularly individual tendencies, was better than it’s been recently. They played people for the most part the way they should’ve played them. Guys they should’ve gone under on, they did. Guys they should’ve fought over, guys that were shooters, they got out on. … The attention to the plan was very good tonight.”
The 76ers finished the game with only 22 attempts from within 5 feet on 80 field goal attempts, well below their season average and the league average near the rim. On at least one occasion, the Nets employed an intriguing strategy, cross-switching on the pick-and-roll: when Lopez’s man (usually Spencer Hawes) set a screen for a ballhandler, it was not Lopez, but Reggie Evans that switched up top to contest the dribble-drive, allowing Lopez to hang back near the rim and protect the paint. With Lopez & Evans in the game, the 76ers shot just 3-7 in the restricted area. With them out, the 76ers shot 7-9.
Though Lopez led the team in points — finishing with 29 on 13-22 shooting and adding three blocks in just 26 minutes of play — it was Evans, the perpetual crowd favorite, who ran the show. Evans finished with 17 points, trailing only Lopez for the team lead in scoring, and added 24 rebounds, not far off from his career marks of 22 and 26. The crowd routinely chanted his name, cheered him on at the free throw line, and showed a committed respect for his aggressiveness going after the ball.
That wasn’t lost on his teammates.
“Reggie has been playing unbelievable of late, man,” starting guard Joe Johnson said after the game. “Probably about the last month or two. (He’s) just very relentless in going to the glass, whether it’s offensively or defensively, and just making plays. … He’s a guy that definitely fueled this engine within the last month.”
“It seems like a nightly routine,” Lopez added of Evans. “He has become so great at making a decision after he gets the offensive rebound, either to go back up strong or to find the open man.”
Evans now has 14 straight games with double-digit rebounds. Since the beginning of March, he’s averaged 8.5 points and 16.5 rebounds per game, shooting 52.9% with a 32.2 rebound percentage.
Evans, as usual, was loath to talk about himself, focusing more on his son R.J., who accompanied him after the game in the locker room (as he often does). He wouldn’t even talk about the tooth he lost Sunday night — when asked what tooth he lost, he merely said “It don’t matter.”
Are you okay? “Yeah, it’s cool. Gotta keep on trucking.”