NEW YORK — Kenny Atkinson walked into the press conference room inside Barclays Center, looked at the crowd of media waiting for him to speak before Game 3 against the Philadelphia 76ers and leaned into the microphone.
"Welcome to Brooklyn," Atkinson said.
It had been four years since the Nets hosted a playoff game at this arena, a time span that's far shorter than what was expected. Brooklyn had fallen to the bottom of the NBA and piled up three straight losing seasons, set back by the disastrous trade with the Boston Celtics that stripped the Nets of a bevy of draft picks.
That the Nets are here, in the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, is one of the biggest surprises in the NBA this season. A rebuild expected to take far longer suddenly sped up.
"The fact that we’re involved in this, in every sense, I think it’ll speed up our process of getting better," Atkinson said before the game. "There’s nothing like it. There’s nothing like experiencing this."
But now Atkinson's Nets are in a hole after losing 131-115 to the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night inside an electric Barclays Center.
? @BenSimmons25 scores a #NBAPlayoffs career-high 31 PTS (11-13 FGM), and dishes out 9 AST, leading the @sixers to a 2-1 series advantage! #PhilaUnitepic.twitter.com/TcFMHcWpoL
Playing without Joel Embiid, who was ruled out about 15 minutes before tip-off because of the knee tendinitis that's hindered him for weeks, the Sixers showed off the rest of their weapons.
Weapons that were just too much for Brooklyn to handle.
Ben Simmons finished with 31 points and nine assists, Tobias Harris had 29 points and 16 boards while J.J. Redick finished with 26 points.
Caris LeVert was tremendous for the Nets to finish with 26 points while D'Angelo Russell also had 26.
The Nets need a victory in Game 4 on Saturday to avoid falling into a two-game deficit before the series moves back to Philadelphia.
"I think we have to look at everything," Atkinson said. "It starts defensively in terms of what we have to do. I think we look at lineups. It's only 1-2. We come back here Saturday and if we win, it's a different series."
And it remains to be seen if Embiid will be available.
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The Nets had no answer for the center in the first two games. Embiid recorded a double-double in Game 2 while throwing an elbow at Nets center Jarrett Allen's mouth that drew a flagrant foul.
Greg Monroe started in place of Embiid on Thursday and had trouble slowing down Allen early. The Nets got off to a quick start, but it didn't last long before the Sixers took control and went up by 10 in the second quarter.
Then LeVert went off, scoring three straight baskets to cut the Nets' deficit to four, prompting Sixers coach Brett Brown to call a timeout.
That was only the start. LeVert finished the second with 19 points to keep the Nets close.
But Brooklyn's defense was just too porous. The Sixers aggressively went to the basket and Harris drained three triples in the quarter to keep Philly on top.
The Sixers carried a six-point lead into halftime, and then expanded it to 15 midway through the third quarter.
Brooklyn still hung around.
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