Joel Embiid couldn’t hurt the Nets in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series Thursday night at Barclays Center because the All-Star center was in street clothes on the bench nursing his sore left knee. But it wasn’t as if the 76ers’ deep well of talent was depleted.
Tobias Harris, JJ Redick and Ben Simmons totaled 86 points against a porous Nets defense in a 131-115 victory that gave the 76ers a 2-1 series lead and allowed them to regain home-court advantage. Game 4 is Saturday afternoon, and if the Nets fail to win at home, their season could end in Philadelphia in Game 5.
Trailing by 18 late in the third period, the Nets rallied, fighting to within six points of the 76ers during a fourth-quarter stretch in which D’Angelo Russell scored 11 straight Nets points. The problem was they couldn’t get enough stops at the defensive end to get any closer.
The most glaring deficiency for the Nets was their 8-for-39 three-point shooting (20.5 percent), and they also were outrebounded 54-43. Caris LeVert and Russell each scored 26 points, but Joe Harris, who led the NBA in three-point percentage, had his second straight single-digit game with eight points and was 0-for-4 from beyond the arc. Russell was 2-for-9 from three-point range.
“They did an outstanding job defensively,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Taking away Joe is huge. Joe gives us a lot of our movement. We obviously have to shoot it better.”
The 76ers’ length on defense obviously has bothered the Nets, especially the aggressive coverage by the 6-10 Simmons the past two games against Russell.
“It’s their athleticism, and they’re locked in defensively,” Atkinson said. “We’re not moving the ball as well as we have in the past. Obviously, we’re not getting stops. That slows you down, too.”
Simmons had 31 points and nine assists, Dix Hills native Harris totaled 29 points and 16 rebounds, and Redick added 26 points. Harris was 6-for-6 from three-point range and Redick was 5-for-9.
Without Embiid, the 76ers played at a faster pace and emphasized their perimeter shooting. Early in the third quarter, they really heated up from three-point range as Redick buried a trio of threes and Harris had a three-pointer and a conventional three-point play in a 17-5 run that pushed the 76ers’ lead to 84-69.
“In prior games, we’ve done a better job containing Redick, but he got loose and was the key,” Spencer Dinwiddie said. “With Embiid out, you expect Tobias Harris to get more shots, but what really makes them a super-potent offense is JJ.”
Toward the end of the third quarter, LeVert had a three-point play that triggered a 14-3 Nets run to end the period and cut the deficit to 97-90. It ended when LeVert made a steal and went the length of the court for a layup in the final seconds of the quarter. The crowd for the Nets’ first home playoff game in four years roared with anticipation of a rally that failed to materialize.
With Embiid sidelined, it felt like an opportunity missed for the Nets. “When arguably their best player sits out, you have to take advantage of that,” said Nets center Jarrett Allen, who had 15 points. “We just couldn’t perform on it.”
For Atkinson, it’s back to the drawing board, including consideration of changing the starting lineup, which hasn’t produced.
“I think we have to look at everything,” he said. “It starts defensively. I think we have to look at lineups. Obviously, what we have been doing the last two games is not working.”