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The sixth-seeded Brooklyn Nets drew first blood in their first-round matchup against the third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers with a 111-102 victory in Game 1 at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday.
Nets guard D’Angelo Russell led the way for the Nets, posting 26 points and four assists in his playoff debut. Caris LeVert added 23 off the bench.
Jimmy Butler went off for 36 points in a losing effort for the Sixers. Joel Embiid had 22 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks in 24 minutes after being a game-time decision with a knee injury.
Joel Embiid’s Knee Injury Has Sixers’ Promising Season in Jeopardy
Joel Embiid’s status for Game 1 was up in the air because of left knee soreness, but come tipoff time, he was on the court.
And it was clear early on the Nets were having a hard time containing him.
While scoring eight of his team’s first 10 points, Embiid drew a pair of fouls on Brooklyn center Jarrett Allen in the opening 53 seconds. He single-handedly outscored the Nets 8-7 through the first four-and-a-half minutes while drawing three fouls.
And that’s for someone who was originally listed as “doubtful.”
Even though Embiid had little trouble getting to the line early on, he was not his typical dominant self on this day. The two-time All-Star missed eight of his first nine shots in the first half while going 0-of-5 from three-point range.
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Joel Embiid went 1-of-9 from the field including 0-5 from 3-point range in the first half.
Embiid struggled to score against anyone other than Jarrett Allen.
When guarded by Allen, Embiid had 8 points.
However, Embiid scored just 3 points, going 0-6 when guarded by other Nets. https://t.co/x8xJLL5Ud7
The 7-footer logged just 11 minutes in the first half, including just four in the second quarter. He made his way into the locker room with three minutes and change remaining before halftime, a move that had been planned to help keep his knee loose, according to the broadcast.
He finished the game 5-of-15 from the floor.
Embiid’s struggles not only affected his numbers, but they also exposed Philadelphia’s lack of balance on this day. It took Butler going off for 23 points in the first half to keep the halftime deficit under double digits.
When Embiid is healthy, there are few big men in the league who are better—just look at his numbers from Game 1. But per usual with the 25-year-old center, injuries remain an issue. Although he made a career-high 64 appearances during the regular season, he appeared in just 10 games after the All-Star break.
The Sixers may be able to make some noise with Butler leading the way and the likes of Ben Simmons, JJ Redick and Tobias Harris contributing. But without a healthy and effective Embiid, their championship chances take a serious hit.
Nets’ Three-Point Shooting Key to Pulling Off Upset
Entering the series, it seemed as though Russell was going to have to be on top of his game for Brooklyn to pull off the upset.
Well, the first half of Game 1 proved otherwise.
Russell had a hard time finding his shot early on, going just 2-of-11 from the field. And yet, the Nets were still able to be in control for the majority of the opening 24 minutes.
How? They caught fire from beyond the arc.
Joe Harris, who led the NBA at 47.4 percent from three-point range this season, knocked down three triples in the opening quarter to help his team keep pace with the Sixers early on.
9 PTS, 3 3PM for Joe Harris in the opening frame! #WeGoHard #NBAPlayoffs
📺: @ESPNNBA https://t.co/UQLANmKcda
Brooklyn then used a 20-1 run midway through the first half to open up a 16-point lead.
Brooklyn Nets @BrooklynNets
He does *this* #everyday too 💯
@DeMarreCarroll1 | #WeGoHard https://t.co/LoNw6SgpR0
Caris LeVert with 8 PTS to start Q2! @BrooklynNets have knocked down 8 3PM for the game!
#NBAPlayoffs on @ESPNNBA https://t.co/VTvizXp5bN
Russell had just two points by the time the dominant run came to an end.
The Undefeated @TheUndefeated
When D’Angelo Russell goes 0-6 from the field in the first quarter
But the Nets are up nine on the Sixers https://t.co/ALw5sladA8
It’s worth noting that the All-Star point guard entered the game shooting 46.3 percent from the floor and 48.8 percent from the perimeter this month. On this day, though, his teammates had his back.
The Nets made seven of their first 11 three-point attempts in this game and knocked down eight in the first half overall. If not for Butler putting the Sixers on his back, this contest would have been over early.
They wound up hitting 11 for the game. Four different players made at least two, with LeVert going 3-of-3.
Keith Smith @KeithSmithNBA
Remember when it looked like Caris LeVert had a Gordon Hayward-like injury?
He has 23 points and is +21 in Game 1 of the playoffs months later. Unreal.
As a team, Brooklyn was in the middle of the pack from distance this season, tied for 14th at 35.3 percent. It did, however, rank fifth with 12.8 triples per game. The Nets averaged 11 per game against the Sixers during the regular season, helping them earn a split in the season series.
That type of prowess could loom large all series, especially if Russell gets back into his recent rhythm.
The best-of-seven series will remain in the City of Brotherly Love for one more game, as Philadelphia will host Brooklyn on Monday night.