"If you're going to boo, then stay on that side," Simmons said. 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 76ers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.
"We've got the right pieces to keep it going," Russell said. Check out this update on a mobile device: A Nets 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.
"I think earlier in the season, especially when we were struggling, we'd lose games like that," coach Kenny Atkinson said. Not in April. Russell, LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie gave the Sixers fits off the dribble, buried open looks from 3-point range (11 of 26) and smoked a Sixers team that resembled one straight out of the early Process era.
Russell got the first win of his playoff career and the last laugh, scoring 14 points in the third quarter and leading the Nets to one of the biggest wins since they moved to Brooklyn. It came days after Los Angeles Lakers executive Magic Johnson, who dumped Russell on the Nets, resigned. Russell, who scored 19 points in the second half, can safely scroll through his phone to see his Nets are trending.
The 76ers might want to keep their phones on lock. Sixers benchwarmer Amir Johnson was caught by TV cameras sitting on the bench and scrolling through his phone late in the fourth quarter and the Sixers down big. Johnson showed All-Star Joel Embiid whatever message was on the phone and then slid it into his warmup pants pocket.
Embiid said Johnson received an update on a sick daughter. Sixers coach Brett Brown called Johnson's actions "completely unacceptable." So was Philadelphia's performance. Jimmy Butler scored 36 points and saved the Sixers, widely considered a favorite to at least reach the East semis, from losing by 25. Embiid slogged his way through 24 forgettable minutes on his bum left knee. Simmons was a postseason dud against Russell, his high school teammate.
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 phoned in one of their worst efforts of the season.
Sixers starters Simmons, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick combined to shoot 11 of 31 from the floor for 18 points. The Sixers missed 22 of 25 3-pointers. "We all got to do a better job. Us. The fans. We have to bring the fun," Embiid said.
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 — at least not for Russell as he raised his arms in celebration as he headed down the tunnel into Brooklyn's locker room.
"I trust our offense. We got great minds behind it," Russell said. "Coach set us up earlier this season with a routine and recipe for the offense and it's been flowing ever since." 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.
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.
"I thought that Joel looked like he hadn't played for a while yet was still dominant," Brown said. 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.
TIP-INS 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 re-signed. "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."
UP NEXT Game 2 is Monday in Philadelphia.
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