The Philadelphia 76ers shook off the absence of Joel Embiid to sweep Brooklyn out of the NBA playoffs on Saturday as the Phoenix Suns closed in on a second-round berth and the Los Angeles Lakers made a statement against Memphis.
The Sixers romped into the next round of the playoffs with a dominant 96-88 victory over the Nets that completed their 4-0 triumph in the best-of-seven series.
Philadelphia trailed by 11 points early in the third quarter but transformed the contest with an 18-4 run to take the lead before closing out victory with a fourth-quarter rally.
The Sixers’ win was all the more impressive given the absence of Most Valuable Player candidate Embiid, who suffered a right knee sprain in Thursday’s 102-97 game three win.
Tobias Harris led the scoring for Philadelphia with 25 points and 12 rebounds, while De’Anthony Melton came off the bench to produce 15 points and lead the fourth-quarter surge.
Harris said the Sixers were determined to use Embiid’s absence as a motivator.
“He’s the MVP. And when we heard he wasn’t playing, I think it was an opportunity for everybody else to really step up and understand that we’ve got to get a win without the big fellow,” Harris told broadcaster TNT.
In the West, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the rest of the Lakers let their play answer the trash-talking of Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks, exploding out of the gate on the way to a playoff record-tying 35-9 first-quarter lead.
They led by as many as 29 in the second quarter as they rolled to a 111-101 victory.
“It’s important for us to play well,” James said. “We wanted to play better than we did in game two and I think we did that. But we still have room for improvement.”
Davis bounced back from a dismal showing in the Lakers’ game two defeat to score 31 points and grab 17 rebounds.
He also had two steals and three blocked shots, while James added 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Brooks, who had mocked NBA all-time scoring leader James as “old” after game two, saying he was happy to “poke bears,” was tossed early in the third quarter after hitting James in the groin with his arm — a blow that sent James to the court in pain.
“There was a lot of game to be played when that incident happened,” James said. “So (I) just tried to get up, protect my crown jewels, and move on to the next play.”
Davis said the Lakers weren’t interested in a war of words with the Grizzlies.
“We just want to take care of our home floor,” he said.”We’re not getting into the back and forth. We let our game speak for itself.”
Brooks, booed every time he touched the ball, finished the night with seven points.
Even a dazzling 45-point display from star guard Ja Morant could save the Grizzlies. Morant, back in action after missing game two with a right-hand injury, scored 22 straight points for Memphis in the fourth quarter.
Suns on the brink
In the first game of a Los Angeles double-header, Kevin Durant finished with 31 points, 11 rebounds and six assists to help Phoenix beat the Clippers 112-100 for a 3-1 series lead.
Devin Booker plundered 30 points and veteran Chris Paul added 19 in a late burst of scoring as Phoenix bagged their second straight win in Los Angeles.
The Suns need just one more win to book their place in the Western Conference semi-finals, with game five set for Phoenix on Tuesday.
The Clippers’ hopes of squaring the series had been dealt a blow by the absence of Kawhi Leonard, who joined Paul George on the injured list.
Russell Westbrook produced one of his best performances for the Clippers with a 37-point display.
In Miami, the eighth-seeded Miami Heat gained a 2-1 series lead over Eastern top seeds Milwaukee, taking full advantage of the absence of the Bucks’ MVP contender Giannis Antetokounmpo in a 121-99 victory.
Jimmy Butler scored 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting for the Heat before departing late in the third quarter after taking a hard fall. After visiting the locker room he returned to the bench but in game in which Miami led by double digits much of the way he did not go back on the floor.
Duncan Robinson scored 20 points and fellow reserve Kyle Lowry added 15 as the Heat bench delivered 59 points.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said the team would continue to “monitor” Antetokounmpo, who suffered a back contusion in game one, missed game two and was a late scratch on Saturday.
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