PHILADELPHIA – The 76ers lost Game 1 of the best-of-seven, first-round series to the Brooklyn Nets.
It might have been the best thing to happen to Philadelphia.
The Sixers used the lessons of that defeat to win four straight and advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs for the second straight season for the first time in 18 years.
Philadelphia dominated defensively and closed out the series with a 122-100 Game 5 victory Tuesday night. The third-seeded Sixers will meet the second-seeded Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals in a best-of-seven series that will start Saturday or Sunday.
Tuesday’s Game 5 win came 10 days after sixth-seeded Brooklyn stunned the NBA world with a 111-102 victory in the series opener.
Others might have panicked after that defeat. Philadelphia did not.
“The first game was a reminder,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said, “that we’d better guard the way we said we wanted to defend them or it’s going to be a long series or one we could lose.”
The Sixers guarded Tuesday night.
The Nets did not score for the game’s first 5 minutes, 51 seconds. Philadelphia jumped to a 14-0 lead.
"I think everybody was kind of on their toes before the game, just making sure we were all locked in," Sixers guard Ben Simmons said, "because we didn’t want to have an upset and go back to Brooklyn."
Brett Brown walked into the 76ers locker room at halftime of Game 2 with Philadelphia up a p…
At one point in the first quarter, the Sixers forced the Nets into a 24-second, shot-clock violation and a backcourt violation on back-to-back possessions.
Things got worse for the Nets from there.
Sixers forward Tobias Harris sank a 3-pointer to put Philadelphia up 23-2 with 3:19 left in the first quarter.
Embiid sank a 3-pointer from the top of the key to make 41-17 Philadelphia with 9:40 left in the first half.
Nets guard D’Angelo Russell typified Brooklyn’s performance. He made just 3 of 16 shots.
“I thought they were locked in. They were swarming us,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We really couldn’t get by them. They really forced us into poor, poor shots. They’re going for big things, and I think they can compete for a championship.”
Embiid finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds for the Sixers. Simmons had 13 points, six assists and five rebounds. Harris sank 2 of 4 3-pointers and scored 12.
The Nets had no answer for the 7-foot Embiid in the series. Despite his playing status for each game being a game-time decision because of an injured left knee, Embiid averaged 24.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in four playoff games. The knee forced him to miss Game 3.
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But at this stage off their development, the Sixers and Embiid are about more than first-round playoff wins.
“We have more to do,” Brown said. “This is good, beating Brooklyn and advancing to the second round is good. We still have more to do.”
The Sixers lost three of four to Toronto during the regular season. But three of those games were played before Christmas and all were played before Philadelphia acquired forward Harris in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers.
“We all understand what the math says with our success in Toronto, and it’s not flattering,” Brown said. “But it’s also not directed to the team we (now) have. We have a new group. We have a new opportunity. We’re excited to go up and try to fix some of what the math says about our lack of success.”