NEW YORK – Philadelphia's Joel Embiid returned from injury to score a game-high 31 points and grab 16 rebounds, powering the 76ers to a 112-108 NBA playoff victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday (Sunday Manila time).
Despite a third-quarter incident that saw two players ejected, the 76ers seized a 3-1 lead in the first-round series against the Nets and could advance in the Eastern Conference best-of-seven matchup with a home victory Tuesday.
In the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets — led by game highs of 29 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists from Serbian playmaker Nikola Jokic — pulled level with San Antonio at 2-2 in their opening series with a 117-103 road triumph over the Spurs.
Philadelphia, down by 10 points early in the third quarter, battled back most of the second half before taking the lead on a run of eight points by Embiid, who missed game three with a sore left knee.
A slam dunk and layup by Embiid gave the 76ers their first late lead at 102-101 but, after an exchange of layups and 3-pointers as well as turnovers, fell behind 108-107 on a basket by Brooklyn's Joe Harris with 25 seconds remaining.
On the next 76er possession, Embiid flipped the last of his seven assists to Mike Scott, whose corner 3-pointer put Philadelphia ahead to stay 110-108 with 19 seconds remaining.
Australian Ben Simmons — who added 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the 76ers — stole the ball from Brooklyn's Jarett Allen and Tobias Harris sank two free throws for the last of his 24 points to clinch the triumph.
Caris LeVert led the Nets with 25 points while Brooklyn had 21 points each from Allen and D'Angelo Russell.
Cameroon star center Embiid was issued a flagrant foul in touching off an altercation 4:18 into the third quarter that saw Philadelphia's Jimmy Butler Brooklyn's Jared Dudley ejected.
Embiid, who had elbowed Allen in the face in game two, was whistled for a hard foul on Allen that prompted Dudley to rush at Embiid, taking down the Sixers big man.
Butler swung his left arm at Dudley, who wound up in the front row seats with Simmons at one stage, to earn his ejection.
After the game, Embiid called Dudley "a nobody."
Nuggets defeat Spurs
Denver posted the second-best regular-season record in the West this season but it was Spurs that could have pushed the Nuggets to the brink of elimination with a victory.
Instead, the Nuggets hit 15-of-31 points from 3-point range and snapped a 14-game losing streak in San Antonio dating to March 2012, with Jokic and Jamal Murray's 24 points leading the way.
"We haven't won here in a while. That was on our minds," Murray said. "Now we go back home 2-2. We'll bring the same defensive energy and get the job done."
Deadlocked with the host Spurs 54-54 at half-time after erasing a 12-point deficit, the Nuggets surged ahead in the third quarter, thanks in part to a total run of 28 minutes without a turnover.
Murray began a 12-3 Denver run with a 3-pointer and a slam dunk and Jokic added four free throws as the Nuggets opened an 83-72 lead and stretched the margin to 91-79 entering the fourth quarter.
The Spurs came no closer than 10 points the rest of the way, with San Antonio's DeMar DeRozan ejected in the closing minutes after forcefully throwing a ball in frustration.
"The team was great. The team was amazing," Murray said. "A must win tonight and we did it. We all believe in each other."
The series continues with game five Tuesday in Denver.
Later games Saturday find Milwaukee at Detroit and Houston at Utah with each visiting club leading its series 2-0.
The NBA also announced a $15,000 fine on Saturday against Portland forward Maurice Harkless for tossing his headband into the stands in the final seconds of a 120-108 loss Friday at Oklahoma City. Harkless was given a technical foul and ejected for the move.
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