PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid pumped his fist in the air and exhorted the Philly crowd to get louder as Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey hit game-changing 3s and stymied Brooklyn runs with clutch boards.
“It’s as happy as I’ve ever seen him since I’ve been here with other guys making shots,” third-year coach Doc Rivers said. “He was really celebrating his teammates tonight.”
With good reason. For a franchise player who was raised in the organization to Trust the Process, Embiid has finally come around to learning how to trust his teammates.
Maxey hit six 3-pointers and scored 33 points, Embiid and Harris had 20 apiece, and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Brooklyn Nets 96-84 on Monday night to take a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference playoff series.
A HUGE 3rd quarter run spurred the Sixers' massive comeback win in Game 2!
Check out all the highlights in our latest game story 👀🎥 | @Toyota pic.twitter.com/jlaosRmK1z
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) April 18, 2023
Embiid, the two-time NBA scoring champion, was quiet offensively, going 6 of 11 from the floor, but he did just about everything else. The MVP finalist had 19 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks.
“A lot of people think I just love scoring the basketball,” Embiid said. “I don’t think it’s true. I enjoy winning.”
Embiid’s increased faith in his teammates is one reason the third-seeded Sixers expect a deep run in the playoffs.
“Better teammates help,” Rivers said with a laugh. “Maturity and preparation. We work on it every day.”
Harris had 12 rebounds. James Harden scored only eight points on 3-of-13 shooting for the Sixers after a sensational Game 1 effort.
Game 3 is Thursday in New York.
Cam Johnson led the Nets with 28 points. Johnson sent Embiid stumbling on a one-handed dunk down the right side that posterized the 7-footer. Johnson stared down Embiid as the Nets forward backpedaled on defense in the first half.
“I don’t remember getting dunked on,” Embiid tried to say with a straight face.
The slam was Brooklyn’s last GIF-worthy highlight.
Maybe the 76ers just needed to listen to their coach more as they chase their first NBA championship since 1983.
After Brooklyn scored the first bucket of the second half, Rivers called a quick timeout.
“C’mon, guys! C’mon!” Rivers implored in the huddle. “Listen, it’s up to y’all what you all want to do.“
How about finally decide the game.
“It was time for us to realize we need to be ready,” Harris said of the timeout speech. “We need to pick our energy up. We need to pick our body language up. This is our arena. This is our home floor. This is our win that we need to get.”
Maxey, who kept the Sixers alive with 15 points in the first half, was stuffed by the rim on a fast break but Harris followed for the bucket and the 76ers finally tied the game at 55-all. Maxey didn’t miss on the next possession – a corner 3 that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Then PJ Tucker missed a 3, grabbed his own rebound, dished to Harden and the Beard buried his first 3 of the game. Harris came right back and connected on a 3 that had him hopping and waving his arms off the court headed into a timeout.
Embiid then erupted in celebration with the Sixers ahead 64-56.
“We didn’t play our best basketball but in the second half we just figured out what worked and we kept doing it over and over and over,” Embiid said.
Philly’s scoring spurt was about it for the Nets, who shot 35% in the second half.
“The only adjustment made was that ball didn’t go in the hole for us,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We got open looks, they tried to go zone, we had enough shooting out there. The ball just didn’t go in.”
The Sixers needed the spark after they spiraled from Game 1 dominance to Game 2 disaster in the first half.
No Sixer represented that fall more than Harden. His seven 3s steadied the Sixers in the opener but the aging vet – who battled left Achilles tendon soreness down the stretch of the regular season – was overwhelmed in Game 2. He missed 6 of 7 shots in the first half and all four 3-point attempts. Throw in two fouls and five turnovers and it was a marvel the Sixers only trailed 49-44 at the break.
“As bad as we played offensively we were only down five points,” Maxey said. “We knew if we could get our offense to catch up to our defense, and continue to be stingy on defense, we knew we had a shot.”
Holding only a slim lead had to distress the Nets. Johnson scored 22 points in the half but – much like in Game 1 – the Nets got crushed on the boards and in the paint. Embiid scored eight points but grabbed 15 boards, 13 defensive.
Embiid, who wore a “Best Dad Ever” sweatshirt at the podium after his young son tagged along with him after Game 1, made up for some offensive frustration with a two-handed jam late in the game that brought the crowd to its feet.
“We held Embiid under his average,” Nets forward Dorian Finney-Smith said. “They were just the best team tonight. They found a way to pull it out.”