The Brooklyn Nets were eliminated from the 2023 NBA Playoffs after a 96-88 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 4 of their first-round series. It completed the Sixers’ sweep and ended the Nets’ roller-coaster season. Here we will look at the three players most to blame for the Brooklyn Nets’ ugly sweep at the hands of the Sixers in the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
Expectations for Game 4 of the Nets’ playoff series against the 76ers were low or non-existent. The Nets had been focused on stopping Joel Embiid, the Sixers’ star player, in the first three games by double-teaming him and working around his strong defense. Everything else in the series had been a result of the Nets’ strategy against Embiid.
Before Game 4, Embiid was ruled out due to a knee injury. This gave the Nets a glimmer of hope. However, the Nets still struggled with creating and making shots. They also had trouble with rebounding defensively, just as they had throughout most of the series. Despite Embiid’s absence, the game was still difficult for the Nets. This was especially on the offensive end. It also marked the end of a painful and awkward season.
Now, let’s look at three players to blame for the Nets’ loss to the Sixers in the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
1. Nic Claxton
Nic Claxton led Brooklyn’s strong defense in the first half, with four blocks. This included a rejection of his former teammate James Harden. He also had 15 points and six rebounds, making him the standout player on the court at the start of Saturday’s game. He dominated his matchup against Paul Reed, the backup center for Philadelphia. Claxton also prevented the Sixers from going small due to his size, athleticism, and scoring ability. Claxton, who was almost unplayable in last year’s playoffs, was now the best player on the floor in a playoff game.
Harden, seemingly worried about getting destroyed by Claxton at the rim, gets destroyed by Claxton at the rim. And Clax with a little stare, too: pic.twitter.com/9vBECsZ4Il
— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) April 22, 2023
But that was just Game 4. In the first two games of this series, we hardly felt Claxton’s presence. He had a combined 5 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 blocks in Games 1 and 2. Those numbers were just not what Nets fans wanted from one of the candidates for Most Improved Player this season. Recall that over the 2022-23 season, Claxton averaged 12.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. He also shot a red-hot 70.5 percent from the floor over 76 games. In this series, however, those numbers dipped to just 10.5 points, 8.0 boards, and 1.5 blocks per game.
2. Royce O’Neale
Another guy whom we hoped would step up was Royce O’Neale. In some games this past season, the Baylor alum was a rock for coach Jacque Vaughn. In all, he averaged 8.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.1 triples per game during the regular season. Against the Sixers, however, O’Neale struggled big time. He had no game where he scored more than seven points. He also shot under 19.0 percent from beyond the arc and made just 1.0 triple per contest. O’Neale will turn 30 in a couple of weeks and is entering the last year of his current contract. We hope he’ll play much better in the 2023-24 season. This is so he can secure another deal when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2024.
3. Kyrie Irving
How can we blame Kyrie Irving? He’s not even on this team anymore! Well, if it weren’t for him, this would be a very different Nets team. The Nets might also have finished top four in the East with first-round homecourt advantage. They most certainly would have been favorites to get past the first round as well.
Too bad Irving, as he is wont to do, threw a wrench in the whole mechanism in Brooklyn. After Irving’s last game with the Nets ended, they had a win-loss record of 31-20. Since Irving’s departure, however, the Nets have gone 14-21, including their four straight losses here against the Sixers.
Irving basically managed to (unintentionally?) screw up another franchise (one may argue he has screwed the Mavs up as well). It’s amazing how a player who’s no longer part of a team can still adversely affect its fortunes in significant ways, eh?
This disappointment in Brooklyn is palpable. Just look at this quote from GM Sean Marks.
“They’re disappointed with the way the season ended, just like we all are,” he said in a recent exit interview. “And you have to do some self-reflecting, look in the mirror. But, you know, at the same time, you’re positive with this group, because this group has shown a lot of resiliency to fight through some things, come together quickly in a hurry, on the fly. So as a collective, from the coaching staff and the players, I think they did a tremendous job. And again, like I’ve said before, there’s a pathway for this group to continue to grow individually and as a team together. So it’s an exciting pathway.”
That’s how he tied a bow on the Nets’ season. Once more, his team was the only one to get swept out of the first round for the second year in a row. Thanks again, Kyrie.
The post 3 Nets most to blame for ugly sweep at hands of Sixers in 2023 NBA Playoffs appeared first on ClutchPoints.