PHILADELPHIA — Just 53 seconds into Game 1 of the Nets’ first-round playoff series against the 76ers on Saturday, second-year center Jarrett Allen picked up his second foul while trying to guard muscular Joel Embiid. When Allen picked up his third later in the opening period, he was done for the first half, and he wound up playing just 9:39 for the game.
Backup center Ed Davis came off the bench and put the backbone in the Nets’ defense with 16 rebounds and physical play against Embiid, who scored 22 points but shot 5-for-15.
Davis was just as effective at the offensive end, scoring 12 points, shooting 5-for-7, finishing plus-28 for the game and setting the picks that freed up guards D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie to get open in the paint.
The result was an emphatic 111-102 road victory by the underdog Nets that let the 76ers know they are in for a tough series.
After the game, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson tipped his cap to the monumental role eight-year veteran Davis played. “Game-changer,” he said. “Jarrett obviously got in foul trouble. Ed was the key. He really gave us the physicality we needed. Huge game by Ed.”
Jared Dudley said Davis displayed the tough-minded approach that set the example for how the Nets must play. “Blue collar, a miner,” Dudley said. “He put his hard hat on and went in there. He’s fighting Joel. He knows he’s giving up size and weight, but he rebounded his [butt] off.”
Embiid was doubtful for the game because of left knee soreness that caused him to miss five of seven games at the end of the regular season. His rust showed with a 0-for-5 shooting effort from three-point range, and Davis downplayed his defensive presence.
“He just missed some shots,” Davis said. “If he goes 2-for-5 from three in the first half, it’s a totally different game. He missed shots, and that’s all there is to it.”
Veterans such as Davis, Dudley and DeMarre Carroll have played a key role in guiding a young Nets team all season, and it was no different in a playoff game that was the first for the majority of players on the active roster.
Asked how they responded, Davis said, “We’ve got a bunch of dogs on this team, starting with Rodi [rookie Rodions Kurucs]. Guys are just ready, locked in and focused. Obviously, it’s the first time for a lot of the guys. But this is one of the toughest environments in the league and they did a hell of a job tonight.
“Hopefully it rolls over. It’s just one game. You can’t go out and celebrate and pop bottles tonight. It’s the first of four.”
Davis said the Nets have embraced the underdog role in this series just as they have all season long while exceeding by far the preseason projections most had for them. “Sometimes you’ve got to find something to motivate you and you’ve got to have that chip on your shoulder,” Davis said. “That’s what we have, starting with Kenny at the top.”