NBA Film Study: How Sixers Cooled Off Nets’ Mikal Bridges After Dynamic First Half

Mikal Bridges, Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, NBA News
NBA Analysis Network

The Brooklyn Nets were handily defeated 121-101 by the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of the first round of their NBA playoff series. Mikal Bridges had a massive opening half, scoring 23 of his 30 points before halftime, then came some adjustments from the Sixers.

“None of that [stuff] matters when you lose,’’ Bridges said. “It feels good to make some shots, but I’d rather miss shots and win.”

Early on, the Sixers often allowed Bridges to play against neutral defenses without sending an aggressive double team. He found a significant amount of success being allowed to either get to the rim or pull-up in mid-range with Joel Embiid hanging back in a deep drop while the on-ball defender struggles to cover.

The pattern of Bridges getting into the gap of the defense without being heavily pressured was seen on the Nets’ first scoring possession when he was able to turn the corner into a short-range floater out of a Zoom action handoff. Embiid was focused on staying attached to Nic Claxton after the handoff exchange, forcing Bridges to make a play.

Bridges was getting the job done in isolation situations, too. It was clear that he wanted to seek out James Harden in the action by having his man set a ball screen, forcing him to contain a drive. Joel Embiid was put in a similar situation on one of Bridges’ ball screen plays, too. It was too easy for Bridges to win at the point of attack and to finish the play on the attack.

NBA NEWS & PLAYOFFS COVERAGE: Mikal Bridges, Brooklyn Nets & Philadelphia 76ers Updates

“At halftime, Bridges was destroying us,’’ Sixers coach Doc Rivers said. “The first half for us was like being on the beach. He just kept curling in the paint, wide-open shots. Second half, we double-teamed him a lot more. We got the ball out of his hands and I thought that was effective.’’

The Nets became more intent about having Spencer Dinwiddie initiate the offense, as well as other wing players just simply push the pace when possible, as opposed to settling into the half-court to intentionally involve Bridges as the initiator.

NBA NEWS & PLAYOFFS COVERAGE: Mikal Bridges, Brooklyn Nets & Philadelphia 76ers Updates

The Sixers were intent on face-guarding Bridges when he was off the ball after halftime. As Rivers mentioned, Philadelphia deployed more double teams to get the ball out of Bridges’ hands, putting the onus on his teammates to make plays. Dinwiddie did make a few tough plays, but living with those results is far more advantageous than letting a rising star continue to carve up single coverage.

Another element of the Sixers’ approach was to stay tighter on Bridges when he was spacing the floor. Doing so forced another scoring threat to make a play running a ball screen or playing out of an action, or when attacking out of isolation. On a Nets team that is limited on starpower, that’s what makes the playoffs so challenging as not just a series, but a single game progresses.

It will be necessary for the future of the Nets’ franchise to see how Bridges personally adjusts as the series goes along. If he can transcend a more focused effort from the Sixers to contain him, he will give a significant amount of confidence in just how sustainable and substantial his post-All-Star break rise has been as the team’s new franchise cornerstone.

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