PHILADELPHIA — When the Nets visited Philadelphia barely two weeks ago, 76ers coach Brett Brown was asked about a potential first-round playoff matchup and described it as a “scary” proposition. His worst fears were realized as the Nets ignored their lack of playoff experience and came into Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon to steal a 111-102 victory that left a packed house booing the home team.
The 76ers were heavy favorites with a team built to win now that includes All-Stars Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler plus trade acquisition Tobias Harris, who might get a possible max contract as a free agent this summer. Embiid was effective early, but the Nets withstood the opening salvo and took control with a 20-1 run, including eight points from Caris LeVert, spanning the first and second periods on their way to building a 17-point lead.
“We weren’t rattled,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “You’re afraid with this crowd and the team they have that they’re going to knock you out of the box quick. I thought we kind of took a couple punches from them and still kept our composure. That’s big progress for us.”
Butler scored 11 points in a 13-6 76ers surge that cut their halftime deficit to eight, and they opened the third period with a 9-3 burst that ended with a layup by Embiid that trimmed the Nets’ lead to 65-63. That was as close as the 76ers got.
D’Angelo Russell heated up with 14 of his team-high 26 points in the third quarter as the Nets pushed their lead back to 93-82 by the end of the period. It never dipped below nine the rest of the way.
“The same shots I was missing early, my teammates kept putting me in position to make those shots,” Russell said. “I just kept taking them, and they started falling. I trust our offense. Coach set us up earlier this season with a routine and a recipe for the offense, and it’s been flowing ever since. We’ve got the right pieces with guys like Caris and Spencer [Dinwiddie]. It’s hard to stay in front of those guys. Then you add Joe Harris and other guards to capitalize on that. It’s fun to be part of.”
LeVert had 23 points, Dinwiddie 18, Harris 13 and Davis 12 along with 16 rebounds.
Butler topped the 76ers with 36 points. Embiid, who played despite being listed as doubtful with left knee soreness, had 22 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots but had to work hard against Davis. But Simmons was limited to nine points and outside shooters Harris and JJ Redick were held to a combined nine points.
The Nets held the 76ers to 41.2 percent shooting from the field and 12.0 percent from three-point range (3-for-25) and shot 42.3 percent themselves from three-point range (11-for-26). The Nets’ bench outscored the 76ers’ bench 59-26.
Jared Dudley noted that the 76ers’ big four has played together in only 10 games this season because of injuries. “Chemistry matters,” he said. “I want to see when it’s fourth quarter, crunch time, is that team willing to make the extra pass? You know Joel Embiid wants to shoot the ball. You know Jimmy Butler wants the ball. There’s only one basketball. They’re capable of scoring in bunches, but can they make the extra passes? Tonight, we did a good job of limiting that.”
Indeed, the home crowd rained boos on the 76ers. Embiid didn’t blame the fans but added, “They boo after every missed shot. You go to the next one, and you feel, ‘Should I shoot or not? I might get booed.’ ”
Davis smiled at the mention of the home team getting booed. “That’s Philly for you,” he said. “It’s a tough place to play, man. It’s kind of weird getting booed in Game 1, but that’s Philly for you.”