Scott Brooks switched the Washington Wizards’ starting lineup for Game 3 of their first-round playoff series with the Philadelphia 76ers, abandoning the three-guard offense by replacing the 6-1 Raul Neto with the 6-10 Davis Bertans.
The way the Sixers’ starters are playing, it doesn’t matter who starts for the Wizards.
With the starters dominating, the Sixers took a 3-0 series lead with Saturday night’s 132-103 victory in Washington after winning the first two games at home.
The top-seeded Sixers can sweep the No. 8 Wizards on Monday night by taking Game 4 in Washington (7 p.m. ET, TNT). Game 5, if necessary, would be Wednesday evening at the Wells Fargo Center.
The last time the Sixers swept a best-of-seven series was in the 1984-85 conference semifinals over the Milwaukee Bucks — Charles Barkley’s rookie season.
The difference between 3-0 and 2-1 in the postseason is massive.
No team in NBA history has overcome a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series, while 19.3% have advanced after being down 2-1.
While the Sixers are pleased to be in control of the matchup and on the verge of a sweep, their goal involves winning 13 more games to secure an NBA championship. With home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Sixers would face the victor of the Atlanta Hawks-New York Knicks series in the second round with a spot in the conference finals on the line.
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“I didn’t say much after this, except ‘great job,’ ” said Sixers coach Doc Rivers. “We’ve done nothing.”
For the second straight game, the Wizards couldn’t stop the Sixers’ starters, who combined for 100 points on 40-of-62 shooting with a combined plus-minus of +147.
MVP finalist Joel Embiid was the most dominant, tallying a playoff career-high 36 points on 14-for-18 shooting despite only playing 28 minutes. Tobias Harris (20 points, 13 rebounds), Seth Curry (15 points, six assists), Danny Green (15 points, 5-for-9 on 3-pointers) and Ben Simmons (14 points, nine assists) excelled. Each shot at least 50% from the field and went a collective 13-for-22 (59.1%) from 3-point land.
“Danny caught fire, had a lot of great (early) looks,” Simmons said. “Then Seth started getting his shots and (that helped) get Joel open. Joel caught fire and started doing his thing and Tobias started doing his thing. It’s hard to stop everybody.”
“We know who we are as a team,” Curry said. “Our starting lineup has a lot of confidence playing together. We have all year long.”
The Wizards’ starters were 26-of-61 with 71 points and a combined -116.
“I think (our chemistry) is really good,” said Harris, who noted the group’s success begins at the defensive end. “It’s extremely balanced. … That’s a real team playing and figuring out how to be great out there.”
Rivers admitted to being surprised at how well his starters performed.
“You like some of the (starting) matchups and some of the matchups may favor them,” Rivers said. “But overall, I think that group is really clicking together (and) playing together. … I would never have imagined (the starters’ disparity).”
Brooks was hoping Bertans would bolster the Wizards’ 3-point shooting — Washington was 2-for-22 behind the arc in Game 2, with Bertans going 0-for-4 off the bench before fouling out — and create better matchups after the bigger Sixers exploited Washington’s undersized lineup in its first two losses.
It didn’t seem to make much of a difference, as the Sixers accumulated a 14-point halftime advantage (72-58) after also being ahead by 14 (71-57) at intermission of Game 2 en route to a 25-point win.
The Wizards ended up 8-for-35 on 3-pointers Saturday, compared to the Sixers’ 17-of-33 evening. Bertans was 1-for-5 from 3-point range.
Washington guard Russell Westbrook, listed as questionable after injuring his right ankle in the fourth period of Game 2, contributed 26 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Backcourt mate Bradley Beal chipped in 25 points.
Meanwhile, the confident Sixers’ starters continued to roll, with Embiid insisting they can play even better. That’s a scary thought.
In the short term, though, all that remains is to see how much rest Rivers’ team will have before beginning the second round and if the Wizards can find a way to avoid being swept.
Follow Tom Moore on Twitter @TomMoorePhilly.