NEW YORK — It was never in doubt.
Led by an otherworldly Joel Embiid, the Sixers took a commanding 3-1 series lead with a thrilling 112-108 win over the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center Saturday afternoon.
JJ Redick, who struggled for much of the game, hit a huge three to give the Sixers a 107-106 lead with 50 seconds left. Then Joe Harris, who has had a nightmare of a series, hit a backdoor layup with 25 seconds left to give Brooklyn a 108-107 lead.
Mike Scott, who also hasn’t had the best series, nailed a corner three with 18.6 left to put the Sixers up 110-108. The Sixers then smothered Jarrett Allen underneath as Ben Simmons just ripped the ball out of his hands. Tobias Harris hit a pair of free throws to seal the win.
Listed as doubtful coming in, Embiid was spectacular in every aspect of the game and willed his team to a win.
The Sixers will have a chance to punch their ticket to the second round Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Here are observations from the win:
• We were waiting for this series to get a little extra physical and we got that and then some in the third quarter. Embiid committed a hard foul on Allen. Then Jared Dudley went after Embiid. Jimmy Butler then came to the defense of Embiid and shoved Dudley.
When the dust settled, Embiid got called for a dubious Flagrant 1 foul and Butler and Dudley were both given double technicals and ejected. That’s a trade-off the Nets will take any day of the week. Butler was having a strong game up until that point as well. The Sixers also could’ve used Butler in the fourth quarter with the game still close.
• We should all probably stop guessing whether Embiid is going to play. He played and looked strong early. He made his first two buckets from the top of the key and hit a midrange jumper and short hook shot. He made two sensational passes out of double teams, finding two open corner threes — a Scott miss and Butler make. It’s something Embiid has improved on tremendously.
Defensively, this guy is just ridiculous. The combo of Simmons and Embiid in the pick-and-roll on defense hasn’t ended well for the Nets in this series. Embiid had three blocks in the first half alone. He played just 10 minutes and was a plus-8 before halftime.
He was phenomenal Saturday, finishing with 31 points, 16 rebounds, six blocks and seven assists in 31 minutes.
The chemistry between the pair was strong again on offense as Embiid spotted Simmons on doubles multiple times. Simmons was solid again, recording 15 points, eight assists and eight rebounds.
• Nets coach Kenny Atkinson knows he’s not going to win a defensive battle with the Sixers. With that in mind, he inserted Caris LeVert into the starting lineup. LeVert scored the first bucket of the game on his way to 11 first-quarter points. He gave Brooklyn juice early on, helping the Nets get out to a nine-point lead after one.
LeVert (25 points) and reserve guard Spencer Dinwiddie (18 points) sparked the Nets in a big way, while D’Angelo Russell (6 of 19 for 21 points) and Joe Harris (4 of 14 for 10 points) continued to struggle.
The other change was inserting Dudley. It was a much smaller starting five without DeMarre Carroll and Rodions Kurucs. Dudley and Simmons did share some words after an early timeout, but nothing came out of it.
• It’s noticeable that Brett Brown has listened more and more to his players. You saw a bunch of pick-and-rolls with Butler and Harris featured as the ball handlers. It’s not a staple of Brown’s offense, but it is something both Butler and Harris excel in. It’s also something the Nets struggle to defend.
Both players got off to strong starts, as Harris posted a team-high 14 points in the first half and Butler had 11. They had three assists each as well.
Harris seems to be getting more and more time at the point, and he seems to be relishing that role. He had 24 points, eight rebounds and six assists. He was 0 for 4 from three after hitting 6 of 6 in Game 3.
• Unfortunately, Boban Marjanovic came back down to earth early on in this one. Brooklyn was able to expose him, most noticeably Allen, who hasn’t matched up against Marjanovic much. This was Allen’s most productive game of the series. The second-year big had 21 points.
In a game in which the Sixers seemed very wary of Embiid’s minutes in the first half, Brown had trouble finding a solution with Marjanovic struggling. Rookie Jonah Bolden came in and looked like a rookie — he played three minutes and was a minus-6. Greg Monroe didn’t fare much better in his quick stint.
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