WASHINGTON: Joel Embiid and James Harden sparked a Philadelphia 76ers romp while the Boston Celtics cruised to victory behind Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in NBA playoff openers on Saturday.
NBA scoring champion Embiid scored 26 points while NBA assists champion Harden added 23 points and 13 assists in the Sixers´ 121-101 rout of visiting Brooklyn.
The host Sixers, who led the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage, sank a club playoff record 21 3-pointers in 43 attempts to seize a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference best-of-seven opening series, which continues Monday in Philadelphia.
"(That) was a good win for us," Harden said. "We´ll be watching film. Game two is going to be the toughest game of the series for us. We´ll be ready to go."
The Celtics ripped visiting Atlanta 112-99 behind 29 points and 12 rebounds from Brown and 25 points and 11 rebounds from Tatum.
Brown played with a wrapping on cut fingers and a protective mask he has had for two months due to a facial fracture.
"Got to come out and be ready to go," he said. "My team depends on me. My city depends on me. I don´t make no excuses. I come out and play ball."
The first NBA playoff nail-biter came at Cleveland, where Jalen Brunson scored 21 of his team-high 27 points in the second half to lead New York over Cleveland 101-97.
The host Cavaliers, who had 38 points from Donovan Mitchell in a losing cause, went on a 9-0 run for a 93-92 lead before the Knicks reclaimed the lead.
Brunson´s driving layup boosted the Knicks ahead 99-95 but Jarrett Allen´s dunk tightened the game for Cleveland. A Brunson miss was rebounded by New York´s Julius Randle, who had 19 points and 10 rebounds, and that set up two clinching Knicks free throws by Quentin Grimes.
"They don´t quit. They just kept fighting," Brunson said of the Cavs. "We kept our composure. Made plays down the stretch, made a couple of huge stops. We just kept fighting, kept sticking together and stayed poised."
The Western Conference opener later sends defending champion Golden State to Sacramento, where the host Kings make their first playoff appearance since 2006.
Philadelphia´s Embiid, the NBA season scoring leader with 33.1 points a game, went 7-of-15 from the floor but the Cameroonian star was 11-of-11 from the free throw line.
Harden, who hit 7-of-13 from 3-point range, became the first player in 76ers history with 20 points, 10 assists and five 3-pointers in one contest.
He also helped eight Sixers in all to make 3-pointers.
"Just finding ways to impact the game possession by possession," said Harden, a former Nets backcourt star.
"It´s the playoffs. Things don´t go the way you want as much as you want them to. You´ve got to keep pushing, keeping fighting, and I´m happy we got a win."
In the times the Nets stifled Embiid, Harden picked them apart with inside moves, skilled shotmaking and precision passing.
"I´ve been doing it for a very, very long time at the highest level so it´s pretty easy," Harden said. "As long as I get into the paint and create good shots, I´m doing my job. Most of the time my teammates are making the shots."
Philadelphia made a club one-half playoff record of 13 3-pointers on the way to a 67-58 halftime edge.
Brooklyn´s Mikal Bridges scored a game-high 30 points, but only seven in the second half.
At Boston, Derrick White contributed 24 points for Boston, which used a 20-3 second-quarter run to seize a 74-44 half-time lead.
The Hawks, led by Dejounte Murray´s 24 points, rallied in the second half but could not mount a sustained threat.
"Starts on defense," Brown said. "Coming out and being locked in defensively. That´s a good young team. We´ve got to give them respect and come out and play them tight and stay aggressive."
Brown wants to avoid second-half fades after building big leads.
"That´s the journey for us, to stay and keep that mentality locked in throughout the playoffs, 48 minutes throughout the game," he said.
"Tonight we waned a little bit but we will pick it up as the playoffs go on."