76ers’ offense goes from 0 to 60 (more accurately, 102 to 145) in a hurry

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Ben Simmons seethed about 76ers fans booing the team Saturday.

Yesterday, Simmons held his hand to his ear calling for more noise from the Philadelphia crowd.

After scoring a pedestrian 102 points in their Game 1 loss, the 76ers got their offense on track in a 145-123 win over the Nets last night. That 43-point regulation scoring increase between games of a playoff series is the largest in the last three postseasons and tied for 14th-largest of the shot-clock era.

Here are the biggest regulation scoring increases between games of a playoff series in the shot-clock era:

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Philadelphia had six more possessions in Game 2 than Game 1, but pace doesn’t cloud the picture here. The 76ers are better when they play faster.

Even considering pace, the picture is rosy. Philadelphia’s offensive rating went from 103.0 to 138.1. Based on regular-season team rankings, that’s the equivalent of going from worst than last place to far better than first place.

Here’s the 76ers Game 1 and 2 offensive ratings on the scale of each team’s regular-season offensive rating. Scroll wayyyy down for Game 2:

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Simmons keyed Philadelphia’s turnaround. At his best, he attacks the basket in transition and semi-transition. That either creates easy looks for him or, if the defense collapses to stop him, he has the passing skills to find open teammates. There are still questions whether that style works against better defenses, but it sure did yesterday. Simmons finished with 18 points and 12 assists.

Joel Embiid still looks hobbled, but he was no longer limited to hanging on the perimeter. After shooting 0-for-5 on 3-pointers in Game 1, Embiid scored 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting (all inside the arc).

J.J. Redick and Mike Scott got on track with their distance shooting. After continuing his slow start to the series, Tobias Harris eventually found a rhythm within Game 2. Boban Marjanovic was sinking short jumper after short jumper. Offensive minus Jonathon Simmons got pulled from the rotation.

Jimmy Butler, the lone impressive 76er in Game 1, faded. (Nobody should overreact to a single game, but performances like these could give Philadelphia pause when Butler hits free agency this summer).

But this was a grand display of offensive execution.

The 76ers shot 61% on 2-pointers, 39% on 3-pointers and 81% on free throws. They grabbed 15 offensive rebounds to Brooklyn’s just 20 defensive rebounds. And they limited their turnovers to a reasonable 12.

Philadelphia’s 145 points were the most in a playoff game since 1992 (Trail Blazers 153, Suns 151 in 2OT) and most in a playoff regulation since 1990 (Celtics 157, Knicks 128).

That output is not a total shock. The 76ers projected to have one of the postseason’s best offenses, and the Nets projected to have one of the postseason’s worst defenses.

But after Game 1, it was sure tough to see this coming.

Aggressive, attacking Philadelphia has 51-point third, pulls away to even series 1-1

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For the first half of Game 2, it felt a little too much like Game 1 — a Brooklyn win — for Philadelphia’s liking. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were being aggressive, but the Nets’ bench was dominating the Sixers reserves, plus Philadelphia could not string together stops. It was a one-point game.

A 51 point quarter will solve those problems.

Philadelphia tied the NBA record for most points in a playoff quarter with 51, pulling away from Brooklyn (which had just 23 points in the third) and never looking back in a 145-123 win.

The first-round series is tied 1-1 headed to Brooklyn for Game 3.

Simmons set the tone early — Joel Embiid won the opening tip, Simmons took it and went straight to the rim (a shot he missed). From there on he was in attack mode and he finished the night with his second career playoff triple-double, with 18 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. How aggressive was he? Look at this shot chart.

Joel Embiid was pounding his way inside at the same time… and at one point pounding a little too hard on Jarrett Allen and picking up a Flagrant 1 (it could have been a Flagrant 2 and an ejection).

Still, thanks to strong bench play and knocking down their threes (it was a 24-3 point differential from deep at one point), Brooklyn would not go away. Philadelphia could not figure out how to get stops.

Then the third quarter came and it didn’t matter.

Philly scored on its first nine possessions of the second half, jumping out on a 20-2 rum that just kept going and going. Philly finished the quarter with 51 points on just 26 possessions. Philly also scored on 12 of their final 14 possessions of the half.

Simmons and the Sixers were not getting booed this time.

The Sixers had 116 points and a 155 net rating (points scored per 100 possessions. By early in the fourth it was garbage time.

Embiid finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds, and was a +26 on the night. Six Philly players were in double figures, including Tobias Harris (19 points) and J.J. Redick with 17.

Spencer Dinwiddie led the NEts with 19 points off the bench, while D’Angelo Russell added 16.

Joel Embiid, Amir Johnson caught checking phone from bench during Game 1 loss to Nets

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That was everything that could have gone wrong for Philadelphia in Game 1 of the playoffs.

For too much of the game, Philadelphia looked like an AAU team — one loaded with individual talent but no idea how to play together — while the Nets were cohesive and getting the shots they wanted, then hitting them. Brooklyn was 11-of-26 from three for the game, the Sixers 3-of-25.

The result was a 111-102 Nets upset of the Sixers in Game 1 in Philadelphia Saturday. Sixers fans booed their team at points and streamed to the exits early in this one.

Joel Embiid was cleared to play as a game-time decision, but he was not himself on the court. The bigger news was on the bench were Embiid and Amir Johnson were caught texting, or at least checking texts, from a phone during the loss.

Embiid said after the game that Johnson’s daughter is sick and they were just getting an update on her.

At the very least this is going to cost Embiid and/or Johnson a lot of money, and he could be forced to sit for Game 2.

Embiid and Johnson’s use of the phone on the bench spoke to the level of seriousness and focus the Sixers players brought to this game.

The one exception was Jimmy Butler had a playoff career-high 36 in the loss for Philly, and he hit the shot of the game.

Sixers without the name Butler on their back of their jerseys shot just 37.5 percent for the game. The Nets did a good job not letting J.J. Redick or Tobias Harris have space at the three-point line and they never got going (or, in Harris’ case, enough attempts). Embiid finished with 22 points (on 5-of-15 shooting, after starting 1-of-9) plus 15 rebounds, but he was not a dominant force.

Brooklyn played with more passion and cohesion all game. D'Angelo Russell finished with 26 points, and Caris LeVert had 23 points off the bench. The Nets bench had 59 points for the game, and they swung the game with plays like this one from veteran Jared Dudley.

One of the questions about the thrown-together 76ers was how they would respond to adversity. We’re going to find out in Game 2.

Joel Embiid on status for Game 1 of 76ers-Nets: ‘I have no idea’

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Joel Embiid missed 14 of the 76ers’ last 24 games with a knee injury. Philadelphia opens the playoffs tomorrow afternoon against the Nets.

Rich Hoffman of The Athletic:

The 76ers are a totally different team with Embiid in or out. Not only is he an excellent two-way player, Philadelphia’s backup centers are lacking. Boban Marjanovic, Jonah Bolden and Greg Monroe are each flawed.

The Nets might not be good enough to take advantage. Philadelphia still has Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick, after all.

But Embiid missing time in this series definitely opens the door for Brooklyn.

Five teams that can knock off Golden State Warriors

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There’s going to be a parade this June in Oakland. It’s all but set, city officials quietly have started the planning already. The Golden State Warriors are going to win the NBA title and there is nothing anyone can do about it…

Or can they?

The Warriors are the favorites to with the NBA title. Again. As they should be. However, there are teams that can challenge the Warriors, this is not going to be a cake walk. And unlike the past couple of years, the Warriors biggest challenge will be in the Finals.

Here are the five teams that have a shot at beating the Warriors this season.

Raptors small icon1) The Toronto Raptors.

Don’t get stuck in the “the Raptors are not a playoff team” past, this is by design a very different Toronto roster heading into the playoffs. And it’s a team that matches up well with what Golden State — they are long and switchable on defense, they know how to get buckets, and they now have a clear closer.

Nobody is going to stop Kevin Durant, but Kawhi Leonard can slow him, make KD work, and be left on an island against him (relatively) allowing other defenders to stay home with their guys. While I don’t put much stock in regular season games as postseason predictors, way back in November Leonard and Durant had a back-and-forth showdown that was one of the more entertaining games of the year.

Danny Green is a strong defender who can be put on the hotter of Klay Thompson or Stephen Curry, then Kyle Lowry can do a solid job on the other. Pascal Siakam can get Draymond Green and help off him while daring Green to shoot jumpers, and Siakam can be the five when the Warriors go small with Green at center. Marc Gasol will likely start on DeMarcus Cousins, but Serge Ibaka can get time, too. Then the Rockets bring Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, and Fred VanVleet as needed.

Toronto’s fifth-ranked offense this season is still going to score points against the Warriors. They can score inside and out. And when the game is on the line Leonard will get the chance to show why he was once Finals MVP.

The Warriors would and should still be favorites in this potential Finals matchup, but the Raptors are poised to make it work.

Bucks small icon2) The Milwaukee Bucks.

A team needs long, switchable defenders and an elite offense to beat the Warriors. The Bucks had the fourth best offense in the NBA this past season, led by MVP frontrunner Giannis Antetokounmpo. So check that box. As for long, switchable defenders, the Bucks are built around the Greek Freak, Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, and the physical at the point Eric Bledsoe. Check.

The Bucks are one of the few teams that can take and make threes at the pace of the Warriors and they may be willing to play that way. If Warriors defenders have to slide out to arc to stop shooters — especially Cousins chasing Brook Lopez out of the paint — it opens up the lane for Antetokounmpo’s drives, and nobody is stopping those.

What the Bucks need is Brogdon back and healthy to put on Klay Thompson. Also, Milwaukee would need to find a way to keep playing their base defense, which has Lopez dropping off picks to clog the paint, without giving up too many threes to the Warriors. Finally, when the Warriors go small the Bucks can go with Antetokounmpo at center lineups.

It would be a big step for the Bucks to challenge the Warriors, but on paper they have the tools.

Rockets small icon3) The Houston Rockets.

This is the same team that was ahead at halftime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals on their home court less than a year ago….

Well, they’re not the same team exactly. But they are playing closer to that level than they have all season — Chris Paul looks more like his old self, Clint Capela looks in shape, Danuel House Jr. and PJ Tucker have found a groove as role players, and since the All-Star break the Rockets have the second-best defense in the land and the best net rating (+10.7).

The Rockets still have James Harden and nobody — on the Warriors or on the planet — can stop him. If he has other guys knocking down some shots around him and the Rockets keep defending, they are the only team in the West with a chance. The Rockets do not have Trevor Ariza or the same depth that made them a genuine threat to the Warriors, a Rockets team that might have a ring if CP3 had stayed healthy. But the Rockets are still the second best team in the West and the only team with a shot at the Warriors.

If the Rockets and Warriors meet it will be in the second round — and that could be good for Houston. What has slowed the Rockets in recent seasons was Harden just running out of gas from the load he has to carry, or Paul getting injured. Does meeting in the second round make it less likely either of those things happen, meaning the Rockets have a better chance? Maybe. The Rockets will have to fight their way past a very good Jazz team to find out.

Celtics small icon 4) The Boston Celtics.

The preseason favorites in the East have shown flashes this year where you can’t help but think “that’s a contender, they can push the Warriors.” Boston just hasn’t been able to sustain it.

The matchup on paper is interesting. Kyrie Irving has battled Stephen Curry to a standstill in the Finals before. Al Horford can be effective against Golden State whether Cousins is in the paint (Horford is a better post defender than people think, and on offense he could pull Cousins out to the three-point line to defend his shot) or if the Warriors go small and Green is at the five. Horford blows up the mismatches Golden State banks on.

The Celtics would need Marcus Smart back and healthy. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier all need to play as well as they did last playoffs. A lot of things need to go right and the Celtics have not been able to sustain that this year.

But Boston has the pieces to be a potential threat to Golden State.

Sixers small icon 5) The Philadelphia 76ers.

Philly being on this list comes down to one thing: They have the second best starting five in the league. The one starting five that can challenge the Warriors best lineups.

Joel Embiid (who can outplay Cousins, but didn’t play well against the Warriors this season), Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and sharpshooting J.J. Redick have a ton of potential. When on the court together, the unit has been dominant on both ends.

The problem is they haven’t been on the court together that much and there are chemistry questions. Plus, behind this five there is little depth.

Philadelphia has a long way to go to really be a threat to the Warriors, but if they make it out of the East they may be that team by June.