All Joel Embiid could give the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday was encouragement.
The NBA’s top scorer and MVP finalist could not play due to a sprained right knee, but still provided his team’s presence.
“Start with Joel,” said Tyreese Maxey, security guard. “He is the captain of this team and for him, he leads the players before the game and he tells us good luck and we appreciate him for it. And we need him to be healthy.”
The 76ers gave him a lot of time to do it.
Tobias Harris had 25 points and 12 rebounds, and the 76ers beat Brooklyn Networks 96-88 to complete a sweep and become the first team to make it to the second round of the playoffs.
James Harden added 17 points, 11 rebounds, and eight rebounds for the third-seeded 76ers, who will be waiting for the winner of the series between the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks. The defending Eastern Conference Celtics champion is leading 2-1.
By sweeping a series of seven games for the first time since beating Milwaukee in 1985, 76ers ensured that Embiid would have at least a week to recover before they played again.
“Obviously, we’re very important today so we can make Big Fella healthy,” Harden said. “That’s priority number one.”
Spencer Dinwiddie scored 20 points and Nick Claxton scored 19 points and 12 rebounds for Networks, who were swept for the second consecutive year and lost 10 games in a row after the season. They lost 0-8 this season to the 76ers.
Embiid went to the locker room at the beginning of Game 3 and relaxed a couple of times later in the game, but had a blocked option to maintain a two-point lead with 8.8 seconds and said he later agreed. But coach Doc Rivers said that Embiid was complaining about being sick behind his knee and was already swollen shortly after the game. An MRI scan revealed the dorsal spin.
Dorian Finney-Smith’s tripod, two minutes after the third quarter, reached 53-42, in line with Nets’ greatest leadership. But Harden and P.J. Tucker beat the Sixers three seconds in a row about what turned into a 14-0, 56-53 on Reed’s basket.
Maxey’s tripod extended it to 63-57 with 1:49 remaining in the period, limiting the long drought of the Nets that would have seemed unimaginable when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were in Brooklyn.
Both were treated in mid-season, and this team fell just as fast as they did last season, when Brooklyn was also the first group to be eliminated after being bounced out of Boston.
Embiid averaged only 20 points in the series, 13 below his average NBA leader of 33.1, as the Nets have heavily double-teached him.
But those double-edged teams were leaving their eyes open for their guards who weren’t available on Saturday, and the Sixers were only 2 for 11 from the 3-point gang in the first half, while the Nets were 48-40.
But the 76ers limited them to 40 points in the second half and eventually withdrew to 14 points, while the applause of the Sixers fans in the building lit up.
Rivers said he doesn’t care when he sees that Embiid seems to be painful, as he was sometimes during Game 3. His concerns begin when he is told that the medical staff wants to take an MRI examination.
“As coach I hate this word, I hate these three letters. That’s right, because it never goes well,” Rivers said. “It feels like every time they tell a coach, “Hey, there’s going to be an MRl,” most of the time it doesn’t work out well, and this one didn’t work out.”