By Mike Grimm

The Nets had two chances to upset the third-seeded Sixers and get a playoff victory:

First when officials ejected James Harden at the bottom of the third quarter in Game 3 for “excessive” contact with Royce O’Neale; and second, when the Sixers ruled MVP frontrunner Joel Embiid out for Game 4 on Saturday due to a sprained right knee.

They lost both games, including the 96-88 Game 4 loss and the Nets have been swept out of the playoffs for the second season in a row.

Meanwhile, the Sixers are likely headed to Boston for a date with the second-seeded Celtics, provided the C’s escape their first-round playoff series against Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks.

“Arguable MVP, he’s not playing,” said starting forward Cam Johnson. “That’s the frustrating thing about it. This is definitely one that we should have had.”

The Nets weren’t the better team. They couldn’t have been. Not against a Sixers team with as many weapons, with as seasoned a head coach, with this much cohesion, with as lofty aspirations.

The Nets never stood a chance. They limited James Harden to just 17 points on 18 shot attempts and kept series hero Tyrese Maxey in check. After 58 combined points in Games 2 and 3, Maxey scored just 16 points on 20 shot attempts in Game 4.

And yet the Sixers found a way to win: De’Anthony Melton came off the bench and scored 15, and Long Island native Tobias Harris scored a game-high 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field. Starting in place of the injured Embiid (right knee sprain), reserve big man Paul Reed added 10 points and 15 rebounds. Reed had already been responsible for a momentum-swinging set of plays that resulted in a 20-point Game 1 loss for the Nets in Philadelphia.

“Obviously I’m confident in our team and what not, but let’s not get it twisted,” said Nets star Mikal Bridges postgame.

“They’re a really good team. That’s something that you can’t shy away from.”

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