After the Philadelphia 76ers were booed off their home court in the opener of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series, Nets Coach Kenny Atkinson had a feeling that they would punch back hard in Game 2.
“We expect a haymaker,” Atkinson said. “They’re too good, too well-coached. How are we going to react to it?” Atkinson said. As it turned out, not very well.
Propelled by a 51-point third quarter that tied an N.B.A. playoff record set by the Los Angeles Lakers back in 1962, the 76ers flattened the Nets, 145-123, on Monday night to even their series at a game apiece. The 145 points by the Sixers also set a playoff franchise record; likewise it was the most points the Nets have allowed in a playoff game.
It was that kind of night.
The Nets had looked strong early in the game, trailing by just a point at halftime — 65-64 — but then came the 51-point onslaught in the third quarter. “I thought we did a good job holding the fort in the first half,” Atkinson said. “The third quarter was the story of the game.”
Philadelphia Coach Brett Brown said he thought the 76ers’ defense was the difference in the game, although the final score would suggest otherwise. Still, he cited guard Ben Simmons’s play against Nets star D’Angelo Russell, who was held scoreless in the second half.
Simmons finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists after struggling in Game 1. Meanwhile, Joel Embiid had 23 points and 10 points for the Sixers after being limited to 24 minutes in Game 1.
In Game 2, he looked more comfortable, bullying Nets center Jarrett Allen with his big body and sharp elbows, though one of those elbows led to him being charged with a flagrant foul.
In any case, there was no booing by the Philadelphia fans on Monday. By the fourth quarter, with the game in hand for their team, the stands began to empty. With the series now tied at 1-1, the 76ers head to Brooklyn for games on Thursday and Saturday. And they would seem to have the momentum.
Indeed, with their dominating win on Monday, the 76ers distanced themselves from their playoff-opening flop and looked more like a team with the East’s most talented starting lineup — Embiid, Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick.
Philadelphia also distanced itself from the criticism that erupted when 76ers center Amir Johnson was caught by TV cameras scrolling through his phone late in the fourth quarter of Game 1 with his team trailing. Johnson turned to Embiid on the bench and showed him the message on his phone. Johnson was subsequently fined for “conduct detrimental to the team” and he apologized in a statement.
Simmons also faced criticism after the series opener for his comments about the boos that filled Wells Fargo Center as the Nets pulled away. “If you’re going to boo, then stay on that side,” Simmons said. “That’s how I feel. If you’re a Sixers fan and you’re going to boo, stay on that side.”
On Monday, those boos were replaced by cheers. And by a lot of Sixers baskets.
And for the Nets, it was a humbling experience. Certainly, the third quarter was. “We can’t have another third quarter like we did,” Allen said. “We just let it blow open.”