PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid stood in the course of the court docket, his arms outstretched, preening after a straightforward basket.
Following a rim-rattling slam, the 76ers star pointed on the Nets’ Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, whom he had embarrassed on the play.
Near the highest of the Three-point arc, he paused, as if for impact, earlier than drilling baskets like a sharpshooter a fraction of his dimension.
Through 48 brutal minutes for the Nets, Embiid discovered artistic methods to humiliate them.
After 4 intensely aggressive first-round playoff video games between these two rivals, the Nets performed arguably their worst recreation of the season on Tuesday.
Facing elimination in Game 5 of the best-of-seven collection, the Nets deflated like a balloon exhaling all its helium, shedding by 122-100.
Embiid scored 23 factors in 20 minutes, ending off one of many extra memorable Nets seasons in forgettable trend. The Sixers superior to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second consecutive season and can face the Toronto Raptors.
The Nets, shocked by a 14-Zero Sixers run within the opening minutes, ended their season with out the battle and coronary heart that had outlined their unbelievable 12 months.
“Only game of the season where I feel we never made a push back. I’m surprised we didn’t come out with more grit or more fight,” Nets Coach Kenny Atkinson mentioned. “We tried everything. Different lineup. Small. Big. Three guard. One guard. But nothing worked.”
At the season’s begin, few anticipated the Nets to have a profitable file, not to mention attain the playoffs. They have been thought of a rebuilding workforce with out a star. A franchise nonetheless working to get better from a grievous deal in 2013, when the Nets traded their future for the Celtics’ past — acquiring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and two other players (along with a second-round pick) while giving up, in addition to some underwhelming veterans, three first-round picks and agreeing to a devastating draft swap in 2017 in which the Nets lost the rights to the No. 1 overall pick.
The deal resulted in the Nets having the bloated payroll of a superteam without a superteam to show for it.
In the first dozen games of this season it looked as if Caris LeVert, a first-round pick in 2016, could be emerging as the team’s long-awaited star, and then a devastating ankle injury sidelined him for three months. But the Nets found the star they had been waiting for in a player another franchise had discarded.
The fall from grace in Los Angeles had been swift for D’Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, who went from being hailed as part of the Lakers’ young core to being sent to Brooklyn in June 2017 to facilitate a salary dump and to clear a spot for the team’s latest addition, Lonzo Ball. And the Lakers took shots at Russell on his way out the door.
“D’Angelo is an excellent player,” Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ president at the time, told reporters after drafting Ball. “He has the talent to be an All-Star. We want to thank him for what he did for us. But what I needed was a leader. I needed somebody also that can make the other players better and also that players want to play with.”
“I think he’s grown so much this year,” Atkinson said before Game 5.
“A lot of positive vibes to look forward to,” Russell said when it was over. “Guys came into their own.”
For the Nets to continue their upward climb would probably involve Russell, who is a free agent this summer, deciding to stay, as well as the team persuading one of the league’s top free agents — Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Tobias Harris, etc. — to join him in Brooklyn.
A selling point, for both Russell and any other player kicking the Nets’ tires in free agency, could be the way General Manager Sean Marks handled himself after a tense Game 4 loss that produced a fight, two ejections and multiple fines.
Marks entered the referees’ locker room after the game, earning himself a $25,000 fine, and was suspended without pay for Game 5.
In a series that had grown testy because of physical play between Embiid and the Nets’ Jarrett Allen — as well as some poorly received comments about the Sixers’ Ben Simmons from Jared Dudley — Marks’s severe breach of protocol sent a message to his players.
(In the final two minutes of Game 5, the series regained some of its feistiness, with shoving matches after a foul by the Sixers’ Jonah Bolden on Rodions Kurucs. The Sixers’ Greg Monroe and the Nets’ Dzanan Musa joined in. All four players were ejected.)
Marks has not addressed the specifics of what went on between himself and the officials, but it is likely that he was taking exception to a play in the final seconds of Game 4 in which Philadelphia’s Harris smothered Allen, forcing him to turn the ball over, which sealed the Nets’ loss. No foul was called on the court, but the league’s Last Two Minute report confirmed the next day that Harris had committed a foul.
That was not the end of the protest, however. The Nets co-owner Joseph Tsai received a $35,000 fine for posting criticism of the officiating on Twitter.
To Dudley, the show of support from the team’s front office was meaningful. “Players see it. Players in any organization, not just this one, want to play for a stable organization where the owner, general manager and coach are all aboard,” he told reporters.
“They want to see young talent, which this team has young talent. Then, obviously, financially: Most people want to get paid and just want to play basketball. Me being from California, I always wanted to live in New York. Living in New York has probably been my best experience, just living in the city. It’s bright for the future for Brooklyn.”
His words still ring true, even if Tuesday was a dismal end.
“We have a long way to go,” Atkinson said. “Yes, we’re pleased with improving, but we understand that the level where the Sixers are is a long ways away.”