Poise? Young Sixers have it, out execute Celtics down stretch to even series

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In Game 1, the Boston Celtics turned up the defensive pressure late, the young 76ers wilted and Boston escaped with a tight win.

Lesson learned.

The Sixers were the poised team down the stretch Monday, with Jrue Holiday hitting a three, Evan Turner making a difficult scoop shot, all the Sixers playing good defense and Turner hitting free throws. Meanwhile Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen missed key jumpers and Kevin Garnett got called for a moving screen.

Philly won 82-81 and has evened the series at 1-1 heading back to the City of Brotherly Love.

Between now and Game 3, the Celtics are going to have to find a way to get consistent offense. They are going to have to find some fire and fight, they have played it cool so far. Their veteran depth was supposed to be their advantage coming in — that and the veteran poise at the end of the game — but it has been hit and miss. While their small-ball offense got them back in it Monday it was not enough at the end.

Unlike Game 1 Boston came out playing hard from the opening tip and jumped out to 9-0 lead as the started 5-5 shooting from the field. But that was the first bit of poise we saw from the 76ers all night as they settled down and fought back to be down 25-21 after first quarter, then took lead early in second quarter.

The Sixers did a good job defensively on Boston all game (really, for two games now) — the Celtics scored 24 points in the second and third quarter combined. Rajon Rondo was 4-12 shooting on the night, Brandon Bass 5-15 (12 points for him) and Paul Pierce 2-9.

For the second game in a row Garnett led the Celtics, this time with 15 points on 7-12 shooting. But Boston has to get more production from other guys, and Pierce just does not look himself with that sprained knee. Allen is not himself with ankle issues. But the points need to come from somewhere.

The Sixers led by 8 entering the fourth quarter but they were struggling to score all game as well against the Boston defense. Well, except for Holiday, he bounced back from his 3-13 shooting in Game 1 to score 18 points on 7-15, including going 4-6 from three. He was the guy that had the offense.

But at home, you knew Boston would make a run and sure enough a Garnett turnaround in the lane tied the game with 4:30 to go. It felt like Game 1 — Philly would play them close but the veteran Celtics would make the plays.

Not this time. Philly had the lucky — a Lavoy Allen turnaround 17-footer with 0.9 on the shot clock that banked in — and just the plane good (the ridiculous scoop shot by Turner in the paint). Avery Bradley (who had been out after separating his shoulder again) returned and hit a key three, but Jrue Holiday answered right back. Then Ray Allen answered back again.

The key plays down the stretch for Boston came next — Rondo missed a wide-open shot from the top of the key. Turner scored then Ray Allen missed a contested 15-foot baseline leaner. Turner made his free throws and the Celtics were down three.

That’s when Kevin Garnett got called for a moving screen that freed up Paul Pierce for a three-point attempt. It was a moving screen, KG holds and leans out into Andre Iguodala, but you almost never see that call at that point. Against the home team. Against Garnett. Boston was in disbelief.

But Philly made the plays and now will have the chance to take the lead in this series at home.

If one team can figure out how to put up consistent offense in this series, they will pull away. For 45 minutes this game was hard to watch, it felt like a 1990s Knicks game. Without the flair. We were lucky that the final three minutes had big shots and plenty of entertainment.

If at home Philly can get some more transition baskets they can make things hard on Boston. For the Celtics, the points are going to have to come from Rondo or one of the aging bodies on this team. These are two good defensive teams but we are also seeing just a lot of missed good looks.

That’s fine with Philly for a night. They won. They grew up and showed poise and now we have a real series on our hands.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.

After two lopsided losses to OKC, Kevin Durant leads Warriors rout

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Golden State while avenging an embarrassing home loss to his former Oklahoma City team earlier this month and another on the road in November, leading the Warriors past the Thunder 112-80 on Saturday night.

Stephen Curry added 21 points with five 3-pointers, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals as Golden State put on the kind of defensive performance coach Steve Kerr has been seeking from the defending champs.

Russell Westbrook had 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, which failed to reach 100 points for the first time in the last five games. The Thunder had scored at least 100 in 14 of their last 16.

Durant’s pretty layup off a perfect pass by Curry with 3:06 left in the third put the Warriors up 75-66. That was part of a 37-11 Golden State run that included 30 points over the final 8:48 of the third – when Zaza Pachulia subbed in to relieve JaVale McGee.

The Warriors held Paul George to five points. George’s 3-pointer at the 7:52 mark of the third with Durant’s hand in his face was his first basket after going 0 for 9 to begin the game. He finished 1 for 14 after going off for 38 points in the last meeting when Oklahoma City left Oracle Arena with a 125-105 rout on Feb. 6.

Golden State also lost at OKC by 17 on Nov. 22.

Draymond Green added 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He picked up his 15th technical of the season with 1:04 left in the first half, moving him within one of an automatic suspension. That came after Durant and Carmelo Anthony pushed, shoved, yelled from close range and had to be separated, receiving double technicals.

It was a testy rematch after the Warriors received five technical fouls in the previous meeting. That prompted general manager Bob Myers to address the importance of keeping poised.

Durant announced his decision to join the Warriors and leave OKC on July 4, 2016, making him an instant villain in his former city.

He scored 33 in the Feb. 6 meeting but got plenty of help this time.

Earlier this month against the Thunder, Curry and Klay Thompson were a combined 11 of 27 from the floor and 4 for 15 on 3-pointers as the Warriors lost for the third time in four games. Thompson had 11 points Saturday, shooting just 1 for 11 from deep.

The Warriors on Saturday improved to 8-1 this season in the next game against an opponent after losing the previous meeting.

After Shaun Livingston‘s jumper at the 8:47 mark of the second quarter, Golden State went nearly five minutes without scoring before Curry’s basket at 4:51 started a 7-0 burst.

The Thunder grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the opening quarter to score 10 second-chance points, with Westbrook getting eight boards and George five. But Oklahoma City went 2 for 11 on 3s in the initial 12 minutes – Anthony, George and Westbrook a combined 1 of 8.

 

Steve Kerr “disappointed” in alma mater Arizona; wants to see NCAA follow new model

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Before he was the coach of the Golden State Warriors, before he was a five-time NBA Champion playing next to Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, Steve Kerr was one of the great players the University of Arizona ever produced. The crowd would echo the announcer after ever made three — “Steeeve Keerrr” — where he was an All-American and helped lead a team (with future NBA players Sean Elliott and Tom Tolbert) to the Final Four.

There is a crisis around Arizona basketball right now. Coach Sean Miller was caught on a federal wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for star recruit Deandre Ayton (expected to be a high lottery pick in June, possibly the No. 1 pick). Miller did not coach Saturday and changes are coming to Arizona.

Kerr was asked about it before the Warriors took on the Thunder Saturday.

Kerr said he was “disappointed” in his alma mater over the incident. Which is understandable.

Not to completely excuse it, but what Miller got caught doing is commonplace — money is funneled to families or the players of top recruits on a regular basis. What is more troubling (in my mind) is the money paid under the table to AAU coaches, family members, and others close to elite recruits to funnel them to a specific “financial planner” or agent, or a specific university. People in positions of trust with the player are bought and paid for.

Kerr put out one solution that would certainly be a big step forward: follow the Olympics model and let elite players get sponsorships that don’t end their college eligibility.

This system has its flaws as well, but it gets some of the dirty money out in the open. It would be better than the hypocritical facade of amateurism the NCAA has hit behind for years.

Joel Embiid has 28 points, 14 rebounds leads Sixers to Seventh straight win

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid had 28 points and 14 rebounds, and the Philadelphia 76ers extended their season-high win streak to seven with a 116-105 victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday.

Six 76ers scored in double figures. Ben Simmons had 17 points and seven assists, and 3-point specialist J.J. Redick added 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting – and just one 3-pointer. Marco Belinelli had 15 points, Robert Covington had 12 and Dario Saric scored 11.

Aaron Gordon led Orlando with 20 points, including four 3s, to go with seven rebounds and seven assists. Evan Fournier scored 16 points, and former Sixer Nik Vucevic had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Magic, who have lost five straight.

Philadelphia led 58-40 at halftime and 71-49 in the third when Orlando used an 11-2 burst, capped by Aaron Gordon’s 3-pointer, to close within 13.

But the Sixers put on a show to finish the quarter.

Embiid overpowered a few Magic defenders for a slam, and then gestured to the crowd after being fouled while soaring to the hoop on a dunk attempt. After Embiid and Trevor Booker swatted consecutive shots in the final seconds, T.J. McConnell used a crossover move to finish a drive at the buzzer and give the Sixers an 87-71 lead entering the fourth.

Orlando used a late 15-2 run to get within nine and nearly cut it to six with 1:21 left, but a 3-point attempt by Mario Hezonja spilled out.

Midway through the first quarter, Philadelphia had more turnovers (three) than field goals (two) and trailed 15-6. The Sixers then erupted for a 21-3 run and ended the quarter up 27-18.

E-A-G-L-E-S

Orlando head coach Frank Vogel wore an Eagles Super Bowl champions T-shirt during his pregame media availability. A native of Wildwood, New Jersey, Vogel makes sure to get a taste of home when he returns to the Philadelphia area.

“Cheesesteaks, Tastykakes, Yuengling beer if we beat the Sixers,” Vogel said. “Wawa coffee, but I get Wawa in Orlando now. I did get a cheesesteak today.”

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz rang the ceremonial Liberty Bell before the game.

“I think it’s awesome,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “He can come over and ring as many bells as he chooses.”