N.B.A. Playoffs: D’Angelo Russell Scores 26 in Nets’ Game 1 Win Over 76ers
D’Angelo Russell flashed some postseason magic, playing like the All-Star leader the Nets needed with 26 points, and Caris LeVert scored 23 to lead the visiting Nets to a 111-102 win on Saturday against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.
Jimmy Butler scored 36 points and saved the Sixers, favored by many to at least reach the East semifinals, from losing by 25. Joel Embiid slogged his way through 24 forgettable minutes on a bum left knee. Ben Simmons came up small against Russell, his high school teammate, who scored 19 second-half points.
Russell, LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie gave the Sixers fits off the dribble, buried open looks from 3-point range, and a team that got hot late just to make the playoffs suddenly has the upper hand on the road over a 51-win team stocked with stars.
“I think earlier in the season, especially when we were struggling, we’d lose games like that,” Nets Coach Kenny Atkinson said.
Not in April.
With Philadelphia behind by 16 in the fourth quarter, Amir Johnson appeared to show Embiid a text when they sat on the bench. Johnson then slid the phone into his warm-up pants pocket.
“I just looked down because he said his daughter was extremely sick and he was checking on her,” Embiid said.
Sixers Coach Brett Brown called Johnson’s actions “completely unacceptable.”
Brown said only that he would deal with Johnson, who was inactive for the game.
It was a fitting episode in a game that the Sixers seemed to phone in.
Poised for a postseason breakthrough, Russell flourished and hit a string of jumpers in the third that never let the Sixers seriously chip away at the lead. LeVert’s third 3-pointer in the fourth made it a 16-point game, and there was no looking back for one of the biggest wins since the Nets moved to Brooklyn. Russell raised his arms in celebration as he headed down the tunnel into the locker room.
“I trust our offense; we got great minds behind it,” Russell said. “Coach set us up earlier this season with a routine and recipe for the offense, and it’s been flowing ever since.”
Embiid was introduced to a roaring standing ovation and heard chants of “M.V.P.” and “Trust the Process” when he opened the game with two free throws. But he did not seem ready to play at an All-Star level for any substantial length of time. He was hit with a technical when he shoved Jared Dudley to the ground, and he went back to the locker room for more treatment with about three minutes left in the first half. He scored 22 points, 12 on free throws, and had 15 rebounds.
The Nets were all but unstoppable for much of the half. Dinwiddie and DeMarre Carroll made consecutive 3-pointers during a 12-0 run. LeVert hit two straight 3s for a 14-point lead, and the Sixers — who had been the darlings of the city during their rise from the depths of the standings — were soundly booed off the court by 20,000 fans at Wells Fargo Center.
“We all got to do a better job,” Embiid said. “Us. The fans. We have to bring the fun.”
WALTON TO COACH KINGS One day after parting ways with the Los Angeles Lakers, Luke Walton reached agreement on a four-year deal to coach the Sacramento Kings, according to a person familiar with the deal who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Magic Johnson abruptly resigned as Lakers president earlier this week in part because he did not want to go through with firing Walton, as had been expected around the N.B.A. for weeks. On Friday, Walton and the Lakers mutually agreed to part ways with two seasons left on his contract — with Walton knowing that the Kings, after firing Coach Dave Joerger on Thursday, were eager to hire him.
The Lakers have the former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue and the Philadelphia 76ers assistant Monty Williams at their top of their list to succeed Walton. Lue coached the Lakers’ LeBron James for two and a half seasons in Cleveland.
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