Sixers face, conquer late-game demons

Sixers face, conquer late-game demons


The Sixers on Monday exorcised two demons.

After nearly blowing a 21-point lead, the Sixers managed to take down one of the East's elite, holding on for dear life in a 117-111 win (see observations) over the Raptors during a Martin Luther King Day matinee game at the Wells Fargo Center.

Coming into today, they were 0-8 against the likes of Boston, Cleveland and Toronto — the top three teams in the Eastern Conference. They had managed just one against the Raptors in the last five seasons combined before today's win.

It took a strong defensive effort against Toronto's dynamic backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Philly native Kyle Lowry.

"We tried to keep fresh bodies on them and we ended up doing quite a bit of switching," head coach Brett Brown said. "I think that the rules, by and large, of what we were doing in pick-and-roll were solid, I thought we executed them well. But I think that individually we understood that those two, when they get going, generate most of their wins and we understood that and I give credit to our guys, a collective group of guarding them."

As a team, Toronto shot 40 percent from the field and just 28 percent from three. A big part of that, as Brown alluded to, was the Sixers' ability to stifle DeRozan and Lowry. The duo combined to score 37 points on 11 of 34 (32 percent) from the field.

Other than giving a stellar effort against Toronto's All-Star guards, the Sixers didn't help themselves out too much. They turned the ball over 21 times against the second-best team in the conference and lived to tell about it.

There were some anxious moments down the stretch, but the Sixers held on.

"I think it shows how good we can be," backup point guard T.J. McConnell said of the win. "Twenty-one turnovers is ridiculously bad. Obviously blowing that lead ... we just got to be more mature with leads like that and continue to execute and lock up on defense and limit turnovers."

McConnell was nothing short of spectacular. The third-year guard scored a career-high 18 points on 8 of 13 from the field. He also added eight assists, six rebounds, three steals and a dustup with DeRozan in the second quarter, which resulted in double technicals (see video).

Big man Joel Embiid, who was spectacular in his own right with 34 points and 11 boards (see video), was effusive in his praise for McConnell. 

"He was great the whole game," Embiid said. "He brought some energy. We moved the ball with him on the court and he found me. He's a great piece for us and he helped us a lot."

The Sixers had been in this situation before and they're likely to see it a lot more as the season goes on. There was a particularly odd sequence with the Sixers holding a 113-108 lead with 25.3 seconds remaining in the game. 

McConnell stole an inbounds pass, which led to a Robert Covington missed layup. After Lowry turned the ball over again, Ben Simmons came up with another steal. He proceeded to miss a dunk which Embiid rebounded and then missed a layup of his own before eventually getting fouled.

All of this could've been avoided if the Sixers just took the rebound and dribbled the ball out.

"All we've got to do is dribble it out and instead we're playing volleyball," Brown said. "Just dribble it out and spread it out and just win the game. 

"That's the stuff that keeps me up late — really, really late — at night, but we found a way to win. To our team's credit, we went on a 7-0 run when the game was in the balance. 

"It's not a mystery to me why this stuff happens. And it's not as simple as, 'OK, now you know why you're sick, here's the medicine to fix it.' It's growing a bunch of young guys. It's part of the challenge."

A second-half collapse avoided with a win over an Eastern Conference giant will hopefully provide the Sixers a remedy going forward. 

Rockets extend streak as Butler exits with injury

USA Today Images

Rockets extend streak as Butler exits with injury

HOUSTON -- James Harden scored 31 points and the Houston Rockets won their 11th straight game with a 120-102 victory Friday night over the Minnesota Timberwolves, who lost All-Star Jimmy Butler to an apparent right knee injury.

Butler left the game late in the third quarter. After grabbing a rebound late in the third quarter, he pivoted and planted hard on his right foot before collapsing and grabbing his right knee. He was on the floor for at least three minutes before he was carried off the court by two teammates. He appeared to avoid putting weight on his right leg when heading to the locker room.

A Timberwolves official said during the fourth quarter that Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau would provide an update on Butler's injury following the game.

Clint Capela had 25 points and 11 rebounds for Houston, getting his 10th double-double over the past 13 games. Chris Paul added 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

The Rockets trailed for much of the first half before going ahead to maintain the NBA's best record.

Andrew Wiggins led Minnesota with 21 points, and Jeff Teague and Karl-Anthony Towns both had 18 points. Towns added 13 rebounds (see full recap).

Davis sensational in Pelicans’ OT victory over Heat
NEW ORLEANS -- Anthony Davis had 45 points, 17 rebounds, five blocked shots and five steals, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Miami Heat 124-123 in overtime Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Goran Dragic scored 30 points and Dwyane Wade hit two runners to give the Heat the lead twice in the last 36 seconds of overtime, but Davis responded to the first with a layup as he was fouled, and Jrue Holiday answered the second with a runner in the lane with 7 seconds left.

Wade had one last shot for the win with Holiday defending him closely. It bounced off the rim to Josh Richardson, whose rushed put-back missed the basket as time expired in Miami's third straight loss.

Davis, who has scored no fewer than 38 points in a game during New Orleans' winning streak -- and 42 or more three times -- raised both arms in triumph as he looked up at the jubilant crowd, and then exchanged high fives with fans along the court.

Holiday finished with 29 points and nine assists, connecting with Davis on a couple of alley-oop dunks. Ian Clark scored a season-high 21 points and Nikola Mirotic capped his 10-point, nine-rebound performance with a crucial 3 in overtime.

Hassan Whiteside had 19 points and 16 rebounds before fouling out in overtime when he hacked Davis on a put-back attempt. Davis hit both free throws to tie it at 117, and then gave New Orleans a brief lead with his fifth alley-oop dunk of the game on a fast-break lob from Holiday with 1:10 to go. Wade had 16 points, while Richardson and Tyler Johnson each scored 15 points (see full recap).

Balanced Celtics rout Pistons
DETROIT -- Kyrie Irving scored 18 points and rookie Daniel Theis added a career-high 19 to lift the Boston Celtics to a 110-98 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Friday night.

Jayson Tatum scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half for the Celtics, who went into the All-Star break on a three-game losing streak but returned with a solid win on the road. Boston took control by outscoring the Pistons 38-21 in the second quarter.

Blake Griffin scored 17 points for Detroit but shot just 5 of 19 from the field.

Theis eclipsed his previous career high of 12 points. He played an important role after Aron Baynes, the starting center for the Celtics, went to the locker room in the first half with left elbow soreness. Baynes ended up playing only 2:39, but Theis shot 8 of 10 from the field and had seven rebounds.

Ish Smith made his first eight shots and finished with 20 points for the Pistons. Detroit led 39-37 in the second quarter before a 21-5 run by Boston. The Celtics were ahead 61-49 at halftime.

The lead was only four late in the third before Boston scored seven straight points -- five by Irving. The Celtics broke the game open at the start of the fourth (see full recap).

NBA stars taking notice of Sixers' rise

NBA stars taking notice of Sixers' rise

The Sixers have been rising steadily in the standings and players around the league are taking notice. 

The young squad improved to 31-25 with a victory over the Bulls Thursday. They have won six straight and have not lost at the Wells Fargo Center in 2018. That totals up to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, only two games behind the Wizards for the fourth spot and two games ahead of the Heat for the eighth. 

"I like them," Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler said at the All-Star break. "They've got a lot of great young talent. We do as well. But I think the way that they're going and how they play so hard and play so together, that's how you win basketball games. They're going to be really, really good for a long time."

The Sixers turned heads with a statement win over the Rockets in only their seventh game of the season. From there, they have defeated playoff teams, including a rare sweep of the Spurs, while struggling against sub.-500 opponents. 

They have 26 games remaining to make a postseason push. Of their upcoming opponents, only 10 games are against current top-eight teams in their conferences. Brett Brown has emphasized they can't take any team lightly. This is the time for the Sixers to maximize their schedule and show they learned from previous letdowns.

"They look good," Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard said. "Obviously as a young team, it takes time to learn how to win. ... The mature, really high-level teams, they find a way to get it done. I think for them, that's what their record shows. You play against them and it's hard to play against them. 

"They're really talented, they play hard, they play for a great coach. It's just those nights where you might not have it, having that understanding and that experience that'll lead you to more wins. I think once they get to that point, that's when maybe nine or 10 games that they've let slip, maybe they win those games."

The Sixers wrapped up the majority of their Western Conference schedule prior to the All-Star break. They have only the Timberwolves, Nuggets and Mavericks left to play. Those in the conference still are keeping an eye on the Sixers' progress, even if they may not face off again for months. 

"Everyone definitely sees the talent there," Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. "Any time you've got Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid to build around, they've got a very bright future. I think everyone had very high expectations, but it's hard to have high expectations with a team that's got a lot of first-, second-year guys that have never been in the playoffs. 

"But you can tell that they're going to be in the playoffs for, shoot, the next decade or so, probably be upper echelon pretty soon."