A sellout crowd at Barclays Center got its money’s worth for playoff basketball Saturday afternoon.
Things turned rough in the third quarter when Joel Embiid hammered Jarrett Allen to the floor for the second time in the first-round series, sparking a melee that resulted in the ejections of the Nets’ Jared Dudley and 76ers All-Star guard Jimmy Butler.
The teams continued fighting through a tense fourth quarter that included six lead changes, the last a go-ahead basket by Mike Scott that was followed by an Allen turnover that cost the Nets their final chance in Philadelphia’s 112-108 Game 4 victory. The 76ers lead the series 3-1 and have a chance to end it Tuesday night in Philadelphia.
The Nets had a seven-point lead with 5:20 left, but Embiid took over, scoring four straight baskets in an 8-0 run for a 102-101 76ers lead with 2:39 to go. The Nets led three more times, including 108-107 on Joe Harris’ layup with 25 seconds left, but committed three costly turnovers in the final 2:09.
After Philadelphia’s Scott hit a corner three-pointer with 18.6 seconds left, Nets guard D’Angelo Russell hit Allen with a pass on the pick-and-roll. He was surrounded by three 76ers — Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris — and the ball was wrestled away from Allen. Harris then made two clinching foul shots.
Asked if Allen was fouled, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, who always avoids criticism of the officials, left no doubt. “The big point of emphasis this year was wrapping a player when he rolls to the rim, wrapping around the waist,” Atkinson said. “There was a clear wrap by Tobias Harris on the roll. I’m just disappointed. How that all of a sudden doesn’t become a foul on a wrap, I just don’t understand. I’ve looked at the clip 10 times. It’s a clear wrap.”
Allen said Simmons “hindered” him when he set the screen and said of the contact at the end: “I did get hit a little bit, but you know how it is at the end of the games in the playoffs.”
Caris LeVert led the Nets with 25 points and six assists, Russell and Allen each scored 21 and Spencer Dinwiddie added 18 points.
Embiid dominated the paint with 31 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and six blocks, and Harris added 24 points. The 76ers outscored the Nets 62-44 in the paint.
Before Game 4 began, Atkinson made a big admission: “Their starting lineup has kind of had their way with our starting lineup. We’ve got to figure out how to slow them down because they’re dominating us right now.”
Atkinson replaced DeMarre Carroll and rookie Rodions Kurucs with LeVert and Dudley, who was assigned to cover Simmons after two strong outings by the 76ers’ 6-10 point guard. The 76ers also had a change when Embiid returned after sitting out Game 3 with left knee soreness.
The changes worked well for the Nets in the first half, when they led by as many as 10 points. They were clinging to a six-point lead when playoff fireworks went off in the third quarter as Embiid decked Allen on a drive to the basket. After the ensuing altercation, Butler and Dudley were ejected and Embiid got off with a flagrant 1 foul. Atkinson declined to comment on the ejections except to say, “You’d love to play these games at full force.”
At the same time, he emphasized that he thought LeVert gave the Nets an offensive boost and Dudley’s veteran savvy helped the defense.
“I feel like we matched up pretty well with them tonight,” LeVert said. “Obviously, some things happened with Jared. Felt like we had to protect ourselves out there. We support him and what he did. We wouldn’t have liked him to get thrown out of the game. It kind of affected us a little bit, but we’ve got to be better down the stretch.”