NEW YORK — You had to know Joel Embiid would miss a playoff game sooner or later.
The 76ers center had missed 14 of the final 24 regular-season games with tendinitis in his left knee. So it wasn’t surprising that he missed Game 3 of the Sixers’ opening-round series against the Brooklyn Nets.
How the team would respond was the major question.
It turns out the Sixers were just fine in a 131-115 victory Thursday night at the Barclays Center. The Sixers have a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 will be 3 p.m. Saturday.
“We have the pieces to complete games,” Ben Simmons said of playing without their best player. “I think everybody in the organization knows that. It is everybody stepping up and following the play. Just locking in and buying in to what we have to do, the foundation.”
Greg Monroe got the start at center in what was just his fifth game a Sixer. Philly signed the 6-foot-11, 265-pounder on April 4. At the time, team officials said the move had nothing to do with Embiid’s health problems. They said it was to add another veteran in the frontcourt.
However, Monroe was sure used Thursday like an insurance policy.
“I thought that once Joel, you realized, wasn’t going to play, you feel comfortable if you’re confident in your defensive schemes with bigs being back,” coach Brett Brown said. "So Boban [Marjanovic] and Greg being back, we were confident in that.
“So having Greg available was quite handy.”
The Sixers went with Monroe in the starting lineup so Marjanovic could remain in his sixth-man role.
Monroe, a ninth-year veteran finished with nine points and 13 rebounds in 24 minutes, 33 seconds. He had a subpar shooting performance, making just 4 of 13 shots.
But the Sixers didn’t need him or Embiid on this night.
JJ Redick and Tobias Harris put on a three-point-shooting clinic, while Simmons starred as the villain.
Simmons apparently wasn’t bothered by being booed every time he touched the ball. The All-Star point guard responded with a playoff-career-high 31 points on 11-for-13 shooting to go with nine assists and four rebounds.
The Nets fans booed Simmons because of his response to Brooklyn reserve forward Jared Dudley’s calling him an “average” player in the halfcourt.
“That’s coming from Jared Dudley. Come on,” the 22-year-old said dismissively when a reporter asked his thoughts Thursday.
Asked if his performance had something extra because of Dudley’s comments, Simmons didn’t take the bait.
“I don’t really have energy for it man,” he said of the back-and-forth. “Honestly. It’s done. People are going to say what they want to say. It is what it is. I just got to play.”
But while the crowd booed, Simmons dominated. It was as if he didn’t even hear them.
“I try not to pay attention to what is going on in social media and what people are saying, because people will say what they want to say and I can’t let that affect time on the floor,” Simmons said. “So I was trying to do my job and step on the floor and run the point guard position as best I can.”
Harris has a knack for excelling on nights when Embiid doesn’t play. This was one of those nights. The power forward finished with playoff-career highs of 29 points and 16 rebounds. He made all six of his three-pointers.
Redick made 5 of 9 three-pointers to finish with 26 points. Sixteen of his points came in the third quarter, when he made 4 of 6 three-pointers. Redick and Harris combined to make all 11 of the Sixers’ three-pointers in 27 attempts. Harris was the team’s bell ringer.
Jimmy Butler (16 points) and Marjanovic (14 points, 8 rebounds) were the Sixers’ other double-digit scorers.
“We really didn’t play that well without Joel,” Harris said of the previous games that Embiid missed. “Hearing he wasn’t playing added a little motivation for us as a group that we all had to pick it up and step it up. Stick to the game plan and focus.”
Harris added that Monroe gave the Sixers a great push and Marjanovic played “really well.”
Brown even played power forward Mike Scott, who closed out the game at center.
“We got a different piece to come along and kind of fill that void for us,” Harris said.
Caris LeVert and D’Angelo Russell led the Nets with 26 points each.
Embiid was ruled out 15 minutes before the start of the game. He had been a game-time decision in the first two games of the series.
The Cameroonian said his knee was getting better, slowly but surely.