By Michael Donovan
Sixers coach Brett Brown had seen this movie before:
His young team was making mistakes and letting the Nets back into a game that had been in hand.
So he called for a pair of timeouts during a key 3 ½-minute stretch midway through the third quarter, and reset the team that is bound for the playoffs for the first time in six years.
Joel Embiid scored 21 points, Robert Covington added 19, and the 76ers went on to rout the Brooklyn Nets 120-97.
“I think we’re learning,” Brown said. “I feel these games, as much as we want to win and we do, we’re trying to move up the food chain, we’re trying to move up as far as we can.”
Dario Saric scored 18 points and Ben Simmons had 11 points, six assists and six rebounds for the 76ers, who were able to avenge a disappointing loss to the Nets at Barclays Center in January.
Philly closed out its road trip at 2-2.
D’Angelo Russell had 26 points for the Nets, who have lost 13 of their last 15 games.
The Sixers had led by as many as 19 points in the first half before the Nets cut it to six on consecutive baskets by Russell early in the third quarter to make it 74-68 with 8:20 remaining.
Brown then called a timeout and the 76ers responded with a 6-0 run and two key steals to go up 80-68 with 6:40 left in the period.
A 3-pointer by Brooklyn’s Allen Crabbe cut the lead to 86-77 and forced Brown to take another timeout with 4:45 to go.
Something then clicked, although both teams trading baskets, with the last one in the quarter coming from Nets reserve forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s dunk with 1:22 remaining, cutting the deficit to 96-83. With a strong contingent of fans that started a chant for the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, it was as close at the Nets would get.
The 76ers’ defense tightened up in the fourth quarter and didn’t allow a Brooklyn basket until 2:22 left in regulation. Its offense went on to blitz the Nets off the floor in the opening moments of the final period with a 7-0 run that pushed the lead to 103-83.
After a pair of free throws from DeMarre Carroll ended a scoring drought of almost seven minutes, Marco Belinelli answered by making back-to-back baskets to put the Sixers up by 109-85.
“Energy. We were on lockdown,” Embiid said. “We locked in and we did a better job. We were aggressive rebounding the ball. We gave up less offensive rebounds.”