NEW YORK — Through two playoff games, the 76ers have taken 74 free throws — nine more than any other team in the playoffs, and 19 more than the Brooklyn Nets.
Joel Embiid leads players in postseason free throws, and Jimmy Butler is third.
For Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, that’s an obvious problem, but fixing it is easier said than done. The crux of the situation is that playoff basketball requires intensified physicality, but players who get too physical end up fouling.
“You have to have the whole package to beat an excellent team like this, and that’s being a little-more-disciplined,” Atkinson said after Nets practice on Wednesday.
If the Brooklyn squad learned anything from its Game 2 loss to the Sixers, it is that playoff basketball is physical. Jarret Allen learned that lesson first hand — or first elbow, rather. Handling Embiid is a tough assignment, and to do it with the kind of discipline that Atkinson is talking about it requires a level of experience, something the Nets don’t have a lot of.
So, how does the Nets coach get young players with no playoff experience to play physically and stand their ground without fouling?
“I don’t know, I don’t have the answer to that,” Atkinson said. “It’s frustrating when our young guys go for pump-fakes and it’s frustrating [because] you know Embiid is going to bring his hands through, I’m frustrated by that. ... I’m not sure that until you really experience it and you’re really in the mix that you can really understand it and get better at it.”
The Nets veterans have talked to their young teammates about ways they can react to contact to draw offensive fouls, and the Nets have made it a point to watch film and go over ways to defend without fouling, but time is not on their side.
“It’s like in school, if you take the same test over and over, you hope that you get better,” Jared Dudley said, noting that Allen’s drop to the floor after getting popped by Embiid’s elbow was a good example of how to react to physical play. Embiid was called for a flagrant foul on the play.
So, the Nets are hoping that with each game they can gain a little more clarity and pass the test. But, Atkinson wants more physicality from his players in other areas as well.
“Rebounding is a big one, screening is another,” he said. “Rebounding is a big one, especially for us. It’s kind of been our Achilles’ heel this year; we’ve got to do a better job.”
The Nets have been outrebounded by the Sixers, 99-77. Again, it’s easier said than done, especially when one of the Sixers’ strengths is their length and size, while the Nets often play with three smaller guards.
Brooklyn focused on those areas in Wednesday’s practice. The team watched more film, talked extensively about not fouling and setting intentional screens, and worked on their boxing-out techniques.