It’s not a stretch to say the season was on the line when the Sixers left the locker room at halftime leading just 65-64 against a Brooklyn Nets team that didn’t appear interested in going away.
After a disastrous Game 1 loss, the Sixers were in a must-win situation, especially since the franchise has never overcome a 2-0 playoff deficit.
And then the Nets did the most surprising of things: They faded away during the third quarter, and the Sixers outscored them, 51-23.
That likely saved the Sixers season.
The Sixers scored the first 14 points, riding the backs of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Embiid scored the first seven: a 10-foot jumper; a three-point play set up by a Simmons feed; a cutting dunk, courtesy of another Simmons assist.
The Wells Fargo Center crowd was in a frenzy, and Embiid was feeding off its emotion.
The Nets had no answers.
“They got multiple stops in a row and then we couldn’t stop the bleeding,” Nets guard D’Angelo Russell said.
No, after that 14-0 run, the bleeding continued profusely. The Sixers would set a team playoff record by scoring 51 points in the quarter, which also tied the NBA playoff record. The Sixers went on to win, 145-123, to even the best-of-seven series at 1-1.
For the first time in the series, the Nets’ spirit was broken.
Simmons took only one shot in the quarter but couldn’t have been more dominant. He had five assists, no turnovers, three rebounds, and a steal. Embiid had 13 points, shooting 5-for-6 from the field. He had five rebounds, half as many as the Nets in the quarter.
“I feel like my teammates did a great job of finding me and we moved the ball, we shared the ball and were just aggressive,” Embiid said.
Most of all, the quarter might have revived Sixers forward Tobias Harris. In the first six quarters of this series, Harris shot 3-for-14, including 0-for-4 from three-point range. In the third quarter, he scored 12 points, went 3-for-4 from the field, making his only three, and sank all five free throws.
The Sixers shot 18-for-25 (72 percent) in the quarter. They hit 4-of-6 threes and all 11 free throws.
Just as impressive was the Sixers’ play on the defensive end.
In the first six quarters of the series, the Nets were 21-for-49 on three-point shooting (42.8 percent). During the third quarter Monday, they were 0-for-6.
“We didn’t really change stuff schematically," Sixers coach Brett Brown said of the third quarter. "We just did what we wanted to do, better.”
Mostly, that was getting out in transition and not giving the Nets good looks beyond the three-point line.