Sixers walk away with wild win in Brooklyn to take 3-0 lead

Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden, left, and Brooklyn Nets’ Mikal Bridges scramble for the ball during the second half in Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Thursday, April 20, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

With a 2-0 lead, the Philadelphia 76ers looked to absorb a counterpunch from the Nets on Brooklyn’s home court. It would not be easy, as Jacque Vaughn’s team would play with urgency and tenacity.

Coming into the game, Brooklyn attacked Joel Embiid whenever he touched the ball. The strategy continued in game three. Whether he was at the nail or in the post, the Nets double-teamed the Sixers’ star center constantly. His defender, Nic Claxton, received help and forced Embiid to pass on several early plays. 

With the score 4-4, Claxton dunked an alley-oop pass with Embiid guarding him. Because Claxton stepped over Embiid as a taunt, a tussle ensued. Embiid kicked Claxton near the groin, and he received a flagrant one foul.

If Vaughn wanted to apply a new strategy, it would come in the form of putting pressure on the rim. The result was Brooklyn scoring layups and getting Maxey his second foul in the initial quarter. Yet, that couldn’t erase the damage Maxey did before he sat.

After an impressive Game 2 performance, Maxey kept producing points for Philly. He knocked down several 3-pointers and scored on acrobatic finishes in the lane. His backcourt mate, James Harden, was facilitating the offense, dishing some nifty behind-the-back passes for scores.

Embiid went back to the locker room to get treatment for his back but then came back out in the second quarter. Around the same time he returned, another scary moment came for another Sixer. James Harden bumped knees with Mikal Bridges on a drive. Harden continued to play with no issues.

The Nets got better scoring from Cam Thomas, who helped keep the score close. Claxton kept scoring in the paint as well while making multiple trips to the free-throw line. 

With so much emphasis on Embiid, his teammates needed to step up, and they did. Tobias Harris was getting favorable matchups, where he scored on smaller players like Spencer Dinwiddie. Harden kept distributing the ball, but he also scored on midrange pull-ups and 3-pointers. 

Going into the half, Philly was up in Brooklyn, 58-47.

Sixers stave off Net’s second-half rally

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid fouls Brooklyn Nets’ Nic Claxton (33) during the second half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Thursday, April 20, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Coming out after intermission, Embiid scored in the post as he split a double team. Then, Brooklyn went on a run. Because of careless passing by the Sixers and an offensively aggressive Bridges, Brooklyn forced a Sixers timeout. 

The Sixers still kept turning the ball over, and Brooklyn kept making shots. Cam Johnson crossed over Jalen McDaniels and drilled a pull-up jumper. On the other end, frustration set in with more turnovers from Philly.

The energy shifted in favor of the Nets. Dinwiddie and Royce O’Neale nailed 3-pointers and kept pressuring the ball on defense. Harden carried Philly for a stretch, driving and hitting several layups in traffic. Then, the physical nature of playoff basketball took over.

When James Harden drove to the rim, he hit O’Neale in the groin, and the officials went into review mode. After evaluating the play, a flagrant 2 was called. Harden was ejected from the game. By the end of the third quarter, Brooklyn had put up 35 points and took a six-point lead. 

The bench responded as soon as play resumed. A Melton dunk and Niang 3-pointer cut the Nets’ lead to a single basket. As if the game couldn’t get any stranger, Claxton was ejected after being assessed his second technical foul after taunting Embiid.

A corner three from Harris and an Embiid step-through layup pulled Philly within three points. Brooklyn kept coming, knocking down long-range bombs and swarming Embiid. Then, a fifth foul was called on Embiid after driving into O’Neale’s chest.

Doc Rivers declined to challenge the offensive charge.

Embiid, clearly limping between possessions, contested shots on defense and scored tough baskets for Philly as Brooklyn clung to their small lead.  A Maxey floater, 3-pointer, and a fastbreak layup tied the game up.

Solid Philly defense gave them a chance to take the lead under a minute. Out of the time out, a step-back 3-pointer by Maxey gave Philly the lead for the first time since the second quarter. 

The drama intensified as Doc Rivers challenged a P.J. Tucker foul. The challenge was unsuccessful, and Dinwiddie cut the Sixers’ lead to two points at the foul line. On the next play, Dinwiddie drove the lane and had an open layup for a split second. Coming to help off his man, Embiid leaped at the shot and blocked it at the last second.

With hopes to send the game into overtime, Brooklyn had the final possession. Inbounding at halfcourt, Bridges cut one way, and the pass went the other, giving Melton a breakaway layup to seal the win for the Sixers.

Game 4 will take place on Saturday, April 22nd, as the Sixers look to sweep the Brooklyn Nets on their home court.