Associated Press

No Embiid, no problem, 76ers roll past Heat in Game 1

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Ben Simmons had 17 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds in his playoff debut, and the Philadelphia 76ers romped again without Joel Embiid, beating the Miami Heat 130-103 on Saturday night for their 17th straight win.

Embiid was a spectator in Game 1 of the first-round series because of a broken orbital bone around his left eye. The All-Star center has been hopeful he can return early in the series. The Sixers could end this one early with Embiid back in the lineup.

Simmons dished and dazzled in the paint and the Heat had no answer for Sixers reserves Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova. Belinelli and Ilyasova combined to hit four 3-pointers in the third quarter that helped shift the tone from physical and foul-filled to a long-distance game that allowed the Sixers to put away this one. They used a 15-0 run in the third in their first postseason game in five seasons under coach Brett Brown to get the rout rolling.

Brown won 47 games his first three seasons as the Sixers underwent the Process – and 52, plus Game 1 this season.

JJ Redick scored 28 points to lead the Sixers, who host Game 2 on Monday. Belinelli had 25 and Ilyasova 17.

Embiid ditched the black mask he’s been wearing in light shooting drills for a white “Phantom of the Opera” mask to ring the ceremonial Liberty Bell before tipoff.

The Sixers crowd roared as Embiid, the self-proclaimed “Phantom of the Process,” waved his arms toward the crowd and exhorted them to get louder. Sixers fans started tailgating in the sports complex about seven hours before tipoff and one group posted a sign on their tent that read “Saturdays Are For The Process.” The Sixers had a blue-out and gave away free T-shirts in preparation of their first playoff game since 2012.

“There is a gratitude that I have, we have. Finally, here we are and our fans genuinely have something to be proud of with us,” Brown said.

The Game 1 victory sure didn’t surprise Embiid.

He had already mapped out the 76ers’ road to an NBA championship on his Instagram feed.

“It’s about that time!!! (hash)Playoffs (hash)PhantomofTheProcess

Embiid posted a photo burst of teams in order of a potential road toward a Process title. He started with the Heat, followed by Boston, then a picture of him hugging Cleveland’s LeBron James, and ending with Embiid looking at Golden State’s Draymond Green.

The Heat would swipe left on the collage.

For a half, the Heat got what they needed against one of the NBA’s toughest teams and James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk helped them take a 60-56 lead at the break. Olynyk led the Heat with 26 points.

The Sixers, who set an NBA record with 16 straight wins to end the season, got the rout in full swing with a raucous crowd behind them. The Heat shot 26 percent in the third and were outscored 34-18.

Simmons assisted on Ilyasova’s 3 and then hit a jumper for a 66-63 lead. Dario Saric, who the Sixers waited for two years to come over while he played overseas, also buried a 3 off an assist from Simmons. Simmons made a statue out of Olynyk, crossing him up and busting through for a two-handed slam that brought down the house.

All that was left was the “Trust the Process!” chants and they rang out inside the Wells Fargo Center once Saric buried a 3 in the fourth for a 109-87 lead.

 

Russell Westbrook outduels Damian Lillard, Thunder pick up win to get back in series

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook called his play in Game 2 “unacceptable.”

It was more than acceptable in Game 3. He had 33 points and 11 assists and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Portland Trail Blazers 120-108 on Friday night to cut their series deficit to 2-1.

Paul George added 22 points, Jerami Grant had 18 and Dennis Schroder 17 for the Thunder. They will host Game 4 on Sunday night.

Damian Lillard scored 32 points, but he had just three in the fourth quarter after scoring 25 in the third.

C.J. McCollum had 21 and Enes Kanter added 19.

Oklahoma City closed the second quarter on a 10-1 run to take a 49-39 lead. Lillard was held to four points on 2 -or-6 shooting and the Trail Blazers shot 37.5% in the half.

George hit a 3-pointer, was fouled and made the free throw in the opening minutes of the second half to push Oklahoma City’s lead to 55-43. Westbrook backed down Lillard, hit a bank shot and was fouled. Westbrook brought out his “rock the baby” celebration, then made the free throw to put Oklahoma City up by 15.

Lillard scored 23 points the rest of the quarter to help cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 86-82 at the end of the period. McCollum hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 89 early in the fourth.

Oklahoma City regained control, then kept it. Westbrook’s jumper with just over two minutes remaining put the Thunder up 10.

 

Celtics beat Pacers 104-96 to take 3-0 series lead

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jaylen Brown scored 23 points and Kyrie Irving added 19 to help the Boston Celtics beat the Indiana Pacers 104-96 on Friday night for a 3-0 lead in the first-round series.

The Celtics can close out the Eastern Conference series Sunday in Indianapolis.

Irving also had 10 assists and five rebounds.

Tyreke Evans matched his career playoff high with 19 points for the Pacers. Bojan Bogdanovic had 15, not enough to prevent Indiana from losing its sixth straight to Boston in the regular season and playoff.

Indiana desperately needed a win to avoid facing its second sweep in three years, but Boston started fast and closed it with a 10-4 spurt late in the fourth quarter.

And once again, Boston’s defense turned the game by allowing just 12 points in the third quarter.

It’s been that kind of series for Indiana, which erased a 15-point first half deficit to take a 61-59 halftime lead. Myles Turner opened the third with a 3-pointer to make it a five-point game.

But Boston charged back with eight straight points to retake the lead, closed the quarter on a 9-2 run to make it 80-73 and pulled away late.

The Celtics took control quickly by going 8 of 10 on 3s in the first quarter to build a 37-22 lead.

Evans finally got the Pacers righted with 12 second-quarter points including bookend 3s to start and finish the 17-3 spurt that allowed Indiana to tie it at 52. The Pacers closed the half on a 9-2 run to take the lead.

 

Pascal Siakam scores 30, leads Raptors past Magic for 2-1 series lead

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Toronto Raptors think Pascal Siakam should be selected the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

He was their MVP on Friday night.

And the East’s No. 2 seed has the home-court edge back again.

Siakam had 30 points and 11 rebounds, hitting a floater with 1:33 left to help snuff out a big Orlando rally and the Raptors held off the Magic 98-93 to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series.

“He’s unbelievable,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “He’s the most improved basketball player in the NBA this year and he’s only going to get better.”

Siakam was 13 for 20 from the floor and the Raptors held Orlando to 36% shooting.

“It’s just taking what a defense gives us and going with it,” Siakam said.

Kawhi Leonard — battling illness this week — had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Danny Green had 13 points and Lowry finished with 12 points and 10 assists, plus ran down a huge offensive rebound with about 15 seconds left to extend a critical possession and spoil Orlando’s first home playoff game since 2012.

“It was really what I thought it was going to be tonight,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I really thought this was going to be a tough atmosphere to play in.”

Terrence Ross led Orlando with 24 points, and Nikola Vucevic shook off a slow start to finish with 22 points and 14 rebounds.

Game 4 is Sunday night in Orlando.

“Our turnovers hurt us again,” Vucevic said, lamenting Orlando’s 16 giveaways. “We had too many of those. Empty possessions for us and against a team like that you can’t have that.”

The Raptors trailed 61-60 midway through the third after a brief Orlando spurt, then went on a 16-0 run over the next four minutes to take the lead for good. Siakam and Green were both 3 for 3 during the run, the Magic missed 10 consecutive shots over a span of 6 1/2 minutes and had to play uphill the rest of the way.

That being said, they went down swinging.

Lowry’s 3-pointer with 7:48 left gave Toronto its biggest lead at 86-69. The Magic came flying back, and Ross’ 3-pointer with 41 seconds left got Orlando to 96-93.

Leonard was short with a jumper on the next possession — but the Magic couldn’t control the rebound, Lowry ran it down and Leonard made a pair of free throws with 12.9 seconds remaining to clinch the win.

“Critical,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said.

Orlando, which finished the regular season by winning 13 of its final 14 home games, was 13 of 44 from 3-point range.

Toronto scored the first 10 points — the last five by Siakam, who was a problem from the outset for the Magic — and led by as many as 11 in the first half. The Magic got within 48-45 at the break after Ross beat the clock from midcourt at the buzzer.

The Magic got the lead twice in the second half, once by one point, the other by two points. And both leads lasted exactly 15 seconds, getting taken away on 3-pointers by Siakam and Green.

And now it’s up to Orlando to regroup, the same way Toronto did after dropping Game 1.

“It’s 2-1,” Clifford said. “It’s not like it’s 3-0. It’s 2-1…. Handling disappointment is a huge part of NBA basketball and it’s a bigger part of playoff basketball.”

Watch Orlando’s Terrence Ross drain halfcourt buzzer beater just before half

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Back on their home court, the Orlando Magic are hanging right with the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the 1-1 series.

This helped.

It looked like the Magic would go into halftime down by at least six, and then Terrence Ross did this.

Ross’ name came up a lot just before the trade deadline when other teams thought the Magic would decide to tank and move on from their players who could bring back assets to help the rebuild. The Magic were 10 games below .500 and four games out of the eight seed. Orlando decided instead to push for the postseason, and they made their first playoffs since the Dwight Howard era, climbing all the way to the seven seed. That would not have happened without Ross.

Now they are making the most of their opportunity.