NEW YORK (AP) — Laboring throughout the game and perhaps lucky to not have been ejected for kicking a Nets player in the groin area, Joel Embiid told himself he had to stay on the floor.
Even if the Nets kept hitting him or trying to make him lose his cool, he needed to be there for his Philadelphia 76ers.
“You could see what the game plan was. Got to hit him, try to make me frustrated so I could get ejected,” Embiid said. “So, I’m too mature to put myself in a position where I’m going to be ejected, so I just went about my business and we got the win.”
Thanks in part to his huge block at the end.
Embiid blocked a potential tying basket with 8.8 seconds left and the 76ers beat Brooklyn 102-97 on Thursday night to take a 3-0 lead in the first-round series.
Tyrese Maxey made the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 44 seconds left for the 76ers, who can sweep their way into the second round with a victory Saturday in Brooklyn.
With James Harden having been ejected in the third quarter for another groin shot and Embiid not looking like his usual dominant self, Maxey took over the offense and scored eight straight points, turning a five-point deficit into a 99-96 lead on his 3-pointer.
“Tonight, when our ballhandler, our leader went out, take that role in the fourth quarter and help us get into our stuff, help us win the game,” Maxey said.
Spencer Dinwiddie made one free throw, then appeared to have a path to the basket for a tying layup before Embiid rose up and swatted it. P.J. Tucker made a free throw to make it 100-97, and the Nets turned it over on their next possession.
Maxey scored 25 points and Harden had 21 for the 76ers. Embiid shot just 5 for 13 but had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Mikal Bridges scored 26 points and Dinwiddie had 20 for the Nets, who have lost nine straight playoff games and are on the verge of being swept for the second straight year. Cam Johnson scored 17 points.
“I told the group they didn’t give up, they grew up tonight,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said.
Embiid went to the locker room for treatment after checking out in the first quarter, then was limping multiple times later.
The 76ers might’ve been lucky he was still in the game at that point.
Nets fans loudly booed the decision not to eject him for kicking his leg up toward Nic Claxton’s groin in the first quarter, after the Nets center stepped over him after he dunked and Embiid fouled him and fell to the court. Those not in the arena took to social media to ask why he wasn’t tossed, as Golden State’s Draymond Green was for stepping on Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis in Game 2 of their series. Green was then suspended by the NBA for Game 3.
Claxton ended up called for a technical foul — and was ejected in the fourth quarter when he picked up a second one.
But the ruling went against the 76ers in the third quarter when Harden, while closely guarded by Royce O’Neale, swung out his arm and struck the swingman, who fell to the court in pain.
Crew chief Tony Brothers said Harden’s direct contact to the groin made his penalty a flagrant 2, while Embiid’s wasn’t because of his area of contact.
The Nets raced to a 19-11, riding an emotional boost after Embiid’s flagrant foul. But Philadelphia would recover to lead 32-28 after one, extended the lead to 51-40 on Maxey’s 3-pointer with 3:52 left in the half and the lead remained 11 at the break.
But Bridges got the Nets off to a quick start in the third and Johnson scored 13 points, helping the Nets outscore the 76ers 35-18 in the third to bring an 82-76 edge to the fourth.
76ers: Tobias Harris scored 15 points.
Nets: Brooklyn’s last playoff victory was Game 5 of the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals, before Milwaukee rallied to win that series and eventually the NBA title. ... The Nets fell to 0-6 vs. the 76ers at home in the playoffs. They are 4-5 on the road, with one win in 2019 and three in 1984, when they stunned the defending NBA champions 3-2 in the first round.
76ers coach Doc Rivers was answering a question about how the Nets were defending Harden when he revealed something that created some puzzled looks in the room.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m campaigning, but I am,” Rivers said. “James and Joel do lead the league in missed calls, as far as fouls. They got fouled the most, and that’s not a Sixers stat by the way. I’m just saying.”
Asked for more details about this stat, Rivers would only reply: “I will just say that it’s a stat that we know that it’s there.”