Associated Press

Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis headline NBA All-Defensive teams

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It can be one of the most challenging selections to make on the ballot — NBA All-Defensive Teams.

The reason is all the variables: What kind of system was the player in? What were they asked to do within that system? Were they asked to cover a lot for lesser defenders on the court with them?

The votes are in, and it is Utah’s Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis at the top with the most points. Just as interestingly, six players made All-Defense for the first time.

Here is the voting breakdown. Voters had to choose one center, two forwards, and two guards for each team.

FIRST TEAM (player, team, total points, first team votes)

Rudy Gobert, Utah, 192 (94)
Anthony Davis, New Orleans, 163 (73)
Robert Covington, Philadelphia, 90 (27)
Victor Oladipo, Indiana, 136 (58)
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans, 105 (39)

SECOND TEAM (player, team, total points, first team votes)

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia, 90 (4)
Draymond Green, Golden State, 86 (26)
Al Horford, Boston, 85 (24)
Dejounte Murray, San Antonio, 80 (32)
Jimmy Butler, Minnesota, 79 (20)

Just missing the cut were:
Chris Paul, Houston, 74 (20); Paul George, Oklahoma City, 69 (22); Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee, 43 (15); Kevin Durant, Golden State, 31 (7); Klay Thompson, Golden State, 24 (8); Josh Richardson, Miami, 22 (3); Marcus Smart, Boston, 18 (5); Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City, 17 (3).

The six first-timers on the All-Defensive Teams are Covington, Oladipo, Holiday, Embiid, Murray, and Butler.

The fact that two Pelicans — Holiday and Davis — made All-Defense but the team was just average defensively speaks to what they were trying to cover up on that roster much of the season.

Forward was particularly deep and difficult to choose this season. On my final (official) ballot I had Antetokounmpo on the squad, but that meant leaving off Green (who is unquestionably an elite defender when he wants to be, but was up and down during the regular season with his focus on that end). The injuries to Andre Roberson and Kawhi Leonard took some of the pressure off at forward and let a deserving Horford in the club, but it was still a deep field.

Guard was a challenge as well, with CP3 being deserving (he was on my ballot) and Klay Thompson being the perennial “I wanted to put him on the team but…” guy.

Clint Capela with the Rockets had a fantastic defensive season, but with Gobert and Embiid filling the center spot that’s a tough field to crack.

PBT Podcast: Getting on NBA teams’ draft radar through Professional Basketball Combine

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Most of the NBA Draft focus right now is on the handful of guys at the top of the draft — Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Luka Doncic, and others.

However, at any given time up to 20 percent of the guys in the league were undrafted — guys such as Robert Covington, Jeremy Lin, Seth Curry, Aron Baynes, Wes Mathews, and Kent Bazemore, all went undrafted and had to find another route to the NBA.

How do those guys get the attention of scouts and GMs and get their chance? Jake Kelfer with the Professional Basketball Combine joins me to talk about his event and that path — a May combine-style couple of days where teams can watch players not at the NBA Combine — and how those players can get a foot in the door. Last year, that included Antonio Blakeney, who got a two-way contract with the Bulls, Charles Cooke (who got a two-way contract with the Pelicans) and others who went on to play in the G-League and overseas. The goal at the combine is to play well enough to get invited to work out for teams (from there it’s usually a Summer League invite and maybe the chance to attend a team’s training camp, where they can earn a spot).

This year, the list of players includes LiAngelo Ball, who will be coming to the PBC at the IMG Academy in Florida trying to show to scouts exactly what he can do.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Sixers live to play another day, knock off Celtics 103-92 to force Game 5

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The playoffs are a learning experience, and the young Philadelphia team has figured a few things out.

From the opening tip of Game 4, the Sixers came out much more aggressive on defense, both in terms of effort and plan, trapping and doubling on pick-and-rolls, being faster with help in the post, and generally cranking up their defensive pressure. Boston didn’t handle it well.

It was Philadephia’s best game of the series, and this time the confetti could fly without hesitation. Philly will live to play another day.

The Sixers won Game 4 103-92, 25 points from Dario Saric and a career-high 19 from surprise starter T.J. McConnell. The series heads back to Boston on Wednesday for Game 5, with the Celtics still leading it 3-1.

“We have nothing to lose…” McConnell said after the game. “We’re just trying to play our hearts out and be that one team (the first to come back from a 0-3 deficit in the NBA playoffs).”

Philly is a long way from being in a serious conversation about shattering the 129-0 record of 3-0 teams in an NBA playoff series. What matters more is the steps forward, and those were evident on Monday night.

It’s strange to say sitting Robert Covington — an All-Defensive Team level wing for the 76ers — and starting McConnell was a defensive move, but it was. All series long McConnell has been the best defender for Philly on Terry Rozier, the Boston point guard who has been so hot. Not coincidentally, Rozier struggled going 4-of-11 overall and 1-of-6 from three. With the point guard out of sorts, the entire Boston offense became defendable.

Especially with the energy the Sixers showed on defense, which led to things getting a bit chippy at points.

On the other end, the Sixers emphasized getting the ball inside — 51 of their 94 shot attempts came in the paint. Boston had emphasized taking away the Philadelphia three ball, so the Sixers pounded them in the paint and also on the boards — the Sixers grabbed the offensive rebound on 30.2 percent of their missed shots in this game.

“It just shows when they take something away, we’re mature enough to go to something else. Even though we were a little immature on our home floor in our last game, we showed a lot of maturity today and came up with the win.”

McConnell was getting buckets with his 19 points, same as Ben Simmons. Joel Embiid had 15. The Sixers were racking up assists with good ball movement, but more importantly they only turned the ball over on 10 percent of their possessions (turnovers have been a weakness all season)

That said, neither team was terribly efficient — Boston scored less than a point per possession in Game 4, Philadelphia had a net rating of 103.6 (points per 100 possessions, more than 4 points per 100 off their regular season average).

Boston’s defense seemed to slip in the second half, and they couldn’t get the buckets needed to close the gap after a third-quarter Philly run pushed the lead to double digits.

The Celtics were led by Jayson Tatum who had 20 points, followed by Marcus Morris who had 17 off the bench. Marcus Smart added 14, but when your defensive specialist is your third leading scorer it can be a sign of trouble.

It was for Boston on this night, but now the Celtics head home looking to end this series. Boston didn’t have the answers for Philly’s intensity on Monday, expect things to feel different on Wednesday in The Garden.

Marco Belinelli forces overtime, but Al Horford too much as Celtics win, go up 3-0

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Ben Simmons was more involved. Joel Embiid had 22 points and 19 rebounds. The Sixers were home and their defense was more engaged.

But lessons about winning come hard in the NBA playoffs.

Al Horford learned those lessons and brought them to Boston, and unleashed them in overtime, giving the Celtics a 101-98 win and a dominant 3-0 series lead.

First, in OT Horford hit what proved to be the game-winner on a brilliantly designed inbounds play that forced Embiid to switch and left the smaller Robert Covington to handle Horford in the post on a clear out. He couldn’t.

The Sixers still had time to get the win, but Horford showed his defensive anticipation with a steal that essentially ended the game, one of three critical turnovers for the Sixers at the end of regulation and then in overtime.

A couple of free throws later, the Celtics had the win.

“I was just trying to press up on Joell, he’s such a tough cover,” Horford said of the steal. “I just tried to press up, the pass was there, so I just tipped it and got the ball.”

As for the game-winner, getting the switch then clear out was the design. Brad Stevens is the out of time out king in the NBA for a reason.

“Totally. Brad is a genius, man,” Horford said.

It was a dramatic end to a dramatic game — one where the Celtics almost won it in regulation with a steal and bucket with 1.7 seconds left, when Simmons and J.J. Redick got on different pages and Terry Rozier made the play to Jaylen Brown.

But it wasn’t over, and the reason made GM Bryan Colangelo look smart. When it came time for buyouts, the Sixers stepped up and got two guys: Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova. Both waived by Atlanta, and both made the play that kept the Sixers’ hopes alive.

We’re headed to OT thanks to @mbeli21!

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After that shot a Sixers fan threw confetti in the air and on the court, celebrating like the rest of the building thinking it was a three for the win. However, Belinelli’s foot was clearly on the line.

At home, the Sixers were energized and had runs, but once again the Celtics controlled the tempo and ground the game down to a halt, reducing Philly’s athletic advantage — this game had 94 possessions including overtime (the average NBA game this year was at 100 possessions in regulation). The young Sixers are just learning how to adapt and adjust to the NBA game that way, and Embiid and Simmons are learning just how hard and smart you have to play to win in the postseason.

“It’s the thing that I see and feel the most, and internally hear the loudest, that our young guys, at times, look young,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said after the game. “We’re going to have to find places in this experience and learn from it.”

Embiid led the Sixers with 22 points, but he needed 26 shots to get there. J.J. Redick had 18. While Simmons was more active with 16 points, Boston again did an excellent job of trying to force him into jumpers, which he would not take — Simmons only had one shot attempt outside the paint, and he missed it. Simmons was 6-of-10 at the rim, but as Boston tightened its defense it was harder and harder for Simmons to find a lane inside.

Boston had another big night from their rookie, Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points to lead the Celtics. Terry Rozier kept on rolling with 18 points, while Jaylen Brown had 16.

Horford had “just” 13 points on the night, but when the team needed big plays he was there.

Celtics dominate Sixers in Game 2 with their most important trait: consistency

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The Boston Celtics don’t have Kyrie Irving. They don’t have Gordon Hayward. What they do have is perhaps the best coach of these young NBA playoffs in Brad Stevens, and a consistency that their opponents in the Philadelphia 76ers sorely lack. While you can trust the process all you want, the Celtics are trusting their bench players and young rotation guys for even contributions.

To that end, Boston beat Philadelphia, 108-103, to take a 2-0 lead in the semifinal matchup between the two teams on Thursday.

Philadelphia was far more assertive offensively in the first half of Game 2 than they were in Game 1. The Sixers moved the ball, getting double-digit performances in the first two quarters from three starters. Philadelphia shot much better from the 3-point line, amassing more made triples in the first half (7) than they did during the entirety of Game 1 (5).

Meanwhile the Celtics struggled offensively out of the gate, only finally finding a solution to the Sixers’ redoubled efforts on defense late in the second quarter. Down by 21 with five minutes to play in the second, an offensive surge led by Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier saw the Sixers stall defensively, and helped Boston push it to just 56-51 in favor of Philadelphia to end the half.

The Sixers continued their uneven play to start the third quarter. Philadelphia’s offense seemed to slow, particularly after going through first and second reads on set plays. The Sixers stood around, with only the strong side of the floor moving as weak side shooters stood. Boston used Philadelphia’s stagnation to create turnovers, scoring 16 points off changes of possession alone and beating up the Sixers in the transition game, 19-16.

Philadelphia’s poor play apparently didn’t sit with coach Brett Brown, either. Upset with Ben Simmons‘ decision-making, the Sixers coach sat his star point guard for a huge stretch between the third and fourth quarters, more than 12 minutes of game clock. Simmons finished with seven assists and six rebounds, but just one point.

Boston used the stagnant Philly attack to dominate, and the momentum was clearly in favor of the Celtics toward the end of the game. Although the score wasn’t out of reach for the 76ers, the game appeared to be emotionally capped off after Rozier sent an alley-oop to the sky for Jayson Tatum with 2:23 left.

The final chance at a stop for the Sixers was emblematic of Philadelphia’s defensive issues, too. After forcing the Celtics to rotate the ball on offense with less than 15 seconds to go in the game, Al Horford wound up with the ball at the top of the 3-point arc. Embiid jumped out to cover him, giving Horford the open lane for the drive and the easy score with 8.3 seconds left, giving Boston a five-point lead.

Horford could be seen talking to Tatum immediately after the bucket, apparently surprised he was so wide open. The Sixers had happy feet on defense all night, and despite having less active talent, Boston again played a better team game on both sides of the ball as they ground out the win.

For Philly, JJ Redick led the way with 23 points along with three rebounds and two assists. Robert Covington had 22 points, nine rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Embiid contributed 20 points — albeit on 36 percent shooting — with 14 rebounds and five assists.

The Celtics saw a strong performance from Tatum, leading Boston’s scorers with 21 points, two rebounds, and two assists. Rozier continued his playoff hot streak, adding 20 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds. Marcus Smart, wounded thumb and all, scored 19 points with five rebounds, three assists, and two steals.

Game 3 is back in Philadelphia on Saturday. The Sixers will need to play more evenly if they expect to make a series out of this thing.