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Harden scores 23 as Sixers cruise past Nets 121-101 in Game 1

Digital Brief: April 15, 2023 (AM)
Digital Brief: April 15, 2023 (AM) 03:25

PHILADELPHIA (AP) —  James Harden hit seven 3-pointers and had 23 points and 13 assists, NBA MVP finalist Joel Embiid scored 26 points and the Philadelphia 76ers pushed back Mikal Bridges and the Brooklyn Nets in a 121-101 Game 1 victory on Saturday.

Tobias Harris added 21 points and the 76ers hit a postseason team-record 21 3s in the opener of this Eastern Conference playoff series. The Sixers are trying to win their first NBA championship since 1983 and advance past the second round for the first time since 2001.

The No. 3-seeded 76ers host Game 2 on Monday.

Bridges scored 30 points and helped the Nets at least hang around in the first half.

But Brooklyn's starless roster was no match for Embiid, Harden and a playoff-tested roster expected to make a deep run in the postseason. The Sixers had a sellout crowd of 20,913 in a frenzy from the opening tip, then blew the game open in the fourth.

Philly got it done even without a vintage effort from Embiid.

Embiid made only 7 of 15 shots (and all 11 free throws) and was flustered at times around the rim. Embiid was smacked in the face on a missed dunk that sent him crashing to the court in an attempt to draw a flagrant foul. Embiid got heated when he had his arm locked up by Royce O'Neale and the two briefly tussled.

No worries. Harden, who topped the league in assists this season, picked up the slack.

Harden's ineffectiveness around the rim in the first half -- he was 1 of 8 on 2s -- was offset by his 5-of-7 shooting on 3s. He buried two 3s late in the second quarter that stretched the lead to double digits.

Embiid, the NBA scoring champion, could not impose his will against Brooklyn as he had this season to become an MVP finalist. He only took seven shots in the first half.

Unlike the regular season, when the Sixers were crushed by the non-Embiid minutes, the reserves came through. De'Anthony Melton, Jalen McDaniels and Georges Niang all hit 3s -- the 76ers made 13 of 21 in the half -- to keep them in control of Game 1.

Bridges kept Game 1 from becoming an early rout in a homecoming effort.

Bridges attended Great Valley High School in Malvern, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, then played three seasons at Villanova. Bridges helped the Wildcats win two national championships -- the 2016 and 2018 national championship banners hang in the Wells Fargo Center rafters. Bridges seemed he would stay in the area when he was drafted by the 76ers with the No. 10 pick in the 2018 draft.

Then came a pair of embarrassments in rapid succession: Bridges celebrated on draft night with his mom, who worked at the time for the 76ers. The feel-good reunion lasted about 15 minutes and Bridges was traded to Phoenix for Zhaire Smith. Bridges is now a bona fide NBA star while Smith flamed out after only 13 career NBA games.

Philly fans can only imagine Bridges in this lineup.

He made 10 of 16 shots for 23 points in the first half and kept the Nets, who opened the season with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and championship aspirations, within nine at halftime.


Nets: Never led in the game.

76ers: Eagles coach Nick Sirianni rang the ceremonial bell. Backup C Paul Reed scored 11 points. The previous high for 3s in a playoff game was 18, which had been done twice.


Brooklyn's Seth Curry scored 10 points in his family reunion against his father-in-law and 76ers coach Doc Rivers.

Rivers said coaching against Curry, who played under his father-in-law with the 76ers before he was traded last season, was "awkward."

"Talking to my daughter this morning, I just thought she was cold," Rivers said, laughing. "I didn't appreciate the conversation."

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