PHILADELPHIA (AP) — D’Angelo Russell flashed some postseason magic, playing like the All-Star leader Brooklyn needed with 26 points, and Caris LeVert scored 23 to lead the Nets to an impressive 111-102 win Saturday over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.
The sixth-seeded Nets turned Philly in the city of 20,000 boos — and that’s just counting the ones echoing throughout the Wells Fargo Center — as they smoked a Sixers team that resembled one straight out of the early Process era.
Jimmy Butler scored 36 points and saved the Sixers, widely considered a favorite to at least reach the East semis, from losing by 25. Joel Embiid slogged his way through 24 forgettable minutes on his bum left knee. Ben Simmons was a postseason dud against Russell, his high school teammate.
Russell, LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie gave the Sixers fits off the dribble, buried open looks from 3-point range, and suddenly a team that got hot late just to make the playoffs has the upper-hand on the road over a 51-win team stocked with stars.
Russell, who scored 19 points in the second half, can safely scroll through his cell phone to see he’s trending.
Who knows what the Sixers used a phone for — benchwarmer Amir Johnson appeared to show Embiid a text when they sat on the bench and the Sixers down 16 in the fourth. Johnson slid the phone into his warmup pants pocket.
The Sixers sure phoned it in.
Poised for a postseason breakthrough, Russell flourished and hit a string of jumpers in the third that never let the Sixers seriously chip away at the lead. LeVert’s third 3 in the fourth made it a 16-point game and there was no looking back for one of the biggest wins since the Nets moved to Brooklyn. Russell raised his arms in celebration as he headed down the tunnel into Brooklyn’s locker room.
Embiid was introduced to a roaring standing ovation and heard chants of “MVP!” and “Trust the Process” when he opened the game with two free throws. But he just wasn’t ready to play at an All-Star level for any serious length of time. He was hit with a technical when he shoved Jared Dudley to the ground and went back to the locker room for more treatment with about 3 minutes left in the first half. He scored 22 points — including 12 free throws — and had 15 rebounds.
Butler kept the Sixers in the game with a sensational first half that showed why the franchise surrendered so much to land the four-time All-Star. He buried a 3 at the horn to send the Sixers into the break down 62-54. He was 6 of 10 and scored 23 points while the rest of the Sixers shot 10 of 38 for 31 points. Simmons, a first-time All-Star, missed four of five shots and scored only two points.
“I think he’s a little more focused,” coach Bret Brown said before the game. “I think he’s more aware of what to expect.”
Embiid has always fancied himself a 3-point shooter and with tendinitis in his left knee that cost him most of the final month of the season rendering him immobile he decided to camp out a bit more beyond the arc. He missed all five 3s in the half — and the Sixers missed their first 11.
With or without a healthy Embiid, the Nets were about unstoppable for much of the half with the Sixers clearly not ready to play. Dinwiddie and DeMarre Carroll hit consecutive 3s during a 12-0 run. LeVert hit two straight 3s for a 14-point lead and the Sixers — who had been the darlings of the city during the Process — were soundly booed off the court by 20,000 fans ticked off at a supposed East contender.
Nets: C Jarrett Allen was whistled for fouls on Philadelphia’s first two possessions.
76ers: Butler and Tobias Harris are both eligible for free agency and could stick around after they were acquired in mid-season trades. Team owner Josh Harris said both players could be resigned. “It’s really hard to get good players of their caliber. Now that we’ve attracted them into our system, we’re going to work really hard at keeping them around for a while,” Harris said.
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE?
Harris said Brown was a “great coach” but offered no assurance he would return to the bench for another season if the Sixers failed to make a deep run in the playoffs.
“We think he’s the right leader to take us where we need to go in the playoffs,” Harris said. “I’m focused on the Brooklyn Nets.”
Game 2 is Monday in Philadelphia.
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