basketball

Nets fall to shorthanded 76ers in Ben Simmons’ return game

PHILADELPHIA — The Nets’ Big 3 was assembled. Ben Simmons thrived in an arena that hated him. Kyrie Irving played 30 minutes in his second game back since suspension. Kevin Durant scored 20 points on 9 of 14 shooting.

Where the Nets should have seen potential, instead they saw frustration. Against a team missing three-fifths of its starting lineup, the Nets looked like they were the ones undermanned.

Facing the shell of the 76ers, the Nets, at near full-power, were outworked in a 115-106 loss at Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night.

The Nets were outbound, 49-35. The 76ers took 19 more shots, outshooting the Nets 99-80. The Nets were shot from beyond the arc, too, 50 percent to 32.1 percent.

Less concrete was how much the Nets were outhusted.

“We’ll play the guys who want to play hard and we’ll keep it that simple,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said of a team whose effort has wavered.

76ers’ Paul Reed and Kyrie Irving battle for the ball in the Nets loss on Tuesday night.
AP

Shortly after Vaughn took over, the Nets held opponents under 100 points in five straight games that coincided with an encouraging spurt. The Nets have given up at least 107 points in five straight games.

The Nets (8-10) halted a short two-game winning streak and head to Toronto on Wednesday for a back-to-back after a poor defensive effort and poor hustle, allowing the 76ers to shoot 16 of 32 from beyond the arc. The Nets’ top guns continued to struggle, Joe Harris and Seth Curry combining to convert 3 of 13 from 3.

This is the same s-t. Twenty more shots than us and seven more [made] 3-pointers,” Durant said after he failed to score at least 25 points for the first time this season. “That’s the game.”

Nets
Ben Simmons shoots a layup during the Nets’ loss to the 76ers on Tuesday.
AP

How does that get fixed?

“Just go do it,” Durant said. Just go do what you need to do. Rebound, box out, move the ball.”

The Nets actually shot 55 percent from the field and made several runs, but they could not come up with the big stops or big loose balls. The Nets were down three entering the fourth quarter and watched the deficit balloon, starting with a wide-open 3 from Furkan Korkmaz. The 76ers opened the final frame with an 11-5 run without Durant and Simmons on the floor and never looked back during a 30-point quarter.

The 76ers were playing without Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, all out with injuries. Instead, five 76ers scored double-digits, led by Tobias Harris’ 24 points. Harris ran off 10 points in the last quarter, burning the Nets with runners, floaters or back-ins at will.

“We just got to look ourselves in the mirror and say that we didn’t give the effort tonight,” said Irving, who scored 23 points on 10 of 18 shooting but was not fit defensively. “On the defensive end, I just think it starts with our attention to detail.”

Nets
De’Anthony Melton of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts behind Kevin Durant.
GettyImages

The Nets looked like a team still finding its footing. Durant has been the constant, but Irving was suspended eight games; Simmons is still gaining strength and confidence after not playing last year and offseason surgery; Their sharpshooters, Curry and Harris, are searching for their shots after their own surgeries.

But it’s not the personnel that is the problem, Vaughn said. He did not see the kind of effort he expected.

“It’s really a mentality of us deciding that we’re going to play defense,” Vaughn said. “We can score the basketball. We have individual talent. We’re learning how to play together on the offensive end of the floor. We had too many mistakes at halftime. The amount of mistakes that we had at halftime was baffling for this group — almost to the point where we had to stop the tape because we didn’t have enough time left to show them all.

After trailing much of the first half, the Nets seized the lead at 69-68 four-and-a-half minutes into the third quarter on a pretty feed from Irving to Claxton.

But the 76ers answered with a 7-0 run. Georges Niang (16 points) nailed a 3. Claxton was then arguing a foul on the other side of the court, which allowed Tobias Harris a breakaway dunk. After Harris hit a jumper, Vaughn wanted time.

Each run had an answer. Do the Nets have an answer for their effort?

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