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Sixers-Warriors observations: Defending champs pull away in 2nd half

Sixers-Warriors observations: Defending champs pull away in 2nd half

BOX SCORE 

OAKLAND, Calif.  — The first two quarters were a game of back-and-forth. The third was a Warriors’ takeover.

The Sixers and Warriors swapped leads 16 times in the first half before the Warriors, well, played like the Warriors out of halftime to claim a 135-114 victory Saturday night.

• The Sixers trailed by only four points after one in spite of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons uncharacteristically going scoreless. The Warriors committed eight turnovers in the first quarter, nearly half of their season average 16.6 per game. Those early errors led to nine of the Sixers’ 28 points in the quarter.

• Kevin Durant (29 points) was just getting started, though. Even as the Sixers outscored the Warriors in the second quarter, Durant dropped 20 points in the first half to give his team a 65-64 lead. Durant was supported offensively by Steph Curry (22 points) and Klay Thompson (23 points), while the Sixers were right in the game even though no player had reached double digits. The Warriors outscored the Sixers 15-5 at the line in the first half.

• The Warriors ended the second quarter on a 6-0 run and carried that momentum into the third. They broke a 74-74 tie with 7:29 remaining to go on a 20-5 burst over the next five minutes.

• Golden State outscored the Sixers by a dramatic 15 points in the third while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three. Simmons (0 for 3 from the field) went scoreless again in the quarter. Unlike in the first, the Warriors didn’t give up any points off turnovers; the Sixers committed seven.

• The Sixers' deficit was too deep to overcome in the fourth. They trailed by 26 points at one point with Curry and Durant on the bench the entire final quarter.

• Simmons garnered high praise from Warriors head coach Steve Kerr before the game. “This guy’s a bulldozer, like LeBron (James), Magic (Johnson), just powerful and springy. He’s got one of those sort of strange games because he’s not a shooter. He finds angles. He finds different ways to score the ball that are unorthodox and difficult to guard.”

Still, Simmons struggled offensively in his first game against the Warriors, who focused on limiting him in transition. He went scoreless in two quarters and shot 6 for 17 from the field on the night. Simmons finished with 13 points, eight assists, five rebounds and four turnovers.

• Embiid’s declaration to Draymond Green that he was “going to kick his a--” didn’t happen. Embiid shot 4 for 11 from the field for 12 points, his second-lowest total of the season. He grabbed seven rebounds and committed as many turnovers.

• The Warriors' top scorers were dangerous, as usual. In addition to 29 from Durant, Curry and Thompson combined for 55 points. Draymond Green neared a triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. The team shot 58.2 percent from the field and 96.2 percent from the line overall.

• The Warriors and Sixers entered the game first and second in assists with 31.0 and 25.9, respectively. The Sixers actually had the edge on the Warriors, 30 assists to 28. Simmons, T.J. McConnell (7) and JJ Redick (6) combined for 21.

• Richaun Holmes got the backup center minutes (23), which wasn’t surprising given the Warriors’ uptempo system. Brett Brown has praised Holmes for his “bounce” on the court. Holmes fouled out with 1:45 left in the game. Brown subbed in Justin Anderson instead of turning to Amir Johnson, who had been sitting the entire night.

• Injury updates: Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) was on the bench with the Sixers. He broke a sweat in pregame shooting drills (not long-range jumpers) … I saw Nik Stauskas’ sprained right ankle before the game. Yikes. He suffered the injury after stepping on a teammate’s foot during practice Friday. Stauskas has to wait for the swelling to subside … Jerryd Bayless remains out with a left wrist contusion … Former Sixer Andre Iguodala sat out for rest.

• Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie was in attendance. Hinkie also was at last season’s Sixers game in Oakland.

• Oracle Arena gets loud when one of the Splash Brothers nails a three. Klay Thompson brought the crowd to their feet and they stood for the Sixers’ final possession of the first half.

• The Warriors presented James Michael McAdoo with his 2017 championship ring prior to the game. McAdoo played his first three seasons for the team and was part of two title-winning teams. The Sixers signed McAdoo to a two-way contract this offseason. He is averaging 7.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists in his first four games with the Delaware 87ers.

“I’m thrilled that he’s here,” Kerr said. 

Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow help Heat snap skid

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USA Today Images

Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow help Heat snap skid

MIAMI — Tyler Johnson scored 23 points to lead six players in double figures, and the Miami Heat stopped a three-game slide when they beat the reeling Memphis Grizzlies 115-89 on Saturday night.

The Grizzlies lost their ninth game in a row, the longest active streak in the NBA, and their second in as many nights.

Justise Winslow scored a season-high 17 points for the Heat. Reserve Wayne Ellington went 5 for 10 from 3-point range and scored 15.

Miami's Dwyane Wade was limited to 18 minutes by foul trouble and scored six points. But the Heat, scrambling for a playoff berth, still managed to win for only the second time in the past 10 games.

Andrew Harrison scored 17 points for the Grizzlies, who played without leading scorer Tyreke Evans. He'll undergo a precautionary MRI Sunday on his injured right ribs.

The Heat took the lead for good at 28-26. Their margin reached 92-70 by the end of the third quarter.

Miami outscored Memphis 50-30 in the paint, 13-2 on fast breaks and 26-8 off turnovers (see full recap).

Irving's 31 powers Celtics past Knicks
NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn't win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Warriors avenge pair of blowout losses to OKC
OAKLAND, Calif. — 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 (see full recap).

There's no 'I' in Sixers team win

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AP Images

There's no 'I' in Sixers team win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers’ 116-105 victory over the Magic (see observations) was just that: a complete “Sixers” victory.

This wasn’t about one player taking over or the starting five carrying the weight. From players one through 10 who stepped on the court, everyone contributed. 

“It doesn’t matter who scores all the points as long as we win,” Ben Simmons said. “We all know that to get to the next level, that’s what it’s going to take.”

Enhancing the bench is a priority for the Sixers as they look to the playoffs. They are going to need depth in a postseason series, having different weapons as they face the same opponent night in and night out. 

Brett Brown was committed to counting on the second unit. The Sixers held a 22-point lead halfway through the fourth, an opportunity for starters to get a significant period of rest ahead of Sunday’s back-to-back on the road against the Wizards. 

So as the Magic chipped away at the differential and got within nine, the reserves stayed on the court. Even when Mario Hezonja attempted a trey that would have cut the lead to six with 1:21 remaining, Brown had decided the starters would remain on the sidelines.

“I wasn’t going to do it," Brown said of subbing in the starters. "I was going to go with those guys. Some of it’s just gut feel, maybe some of it’s stubbornness. But we have to grow our bench. We have to give those guys confidence that they can close out games and they did. My intention was to going to be to let them see it through.”

In total, the reserves combined for 32 points, 16 rebounds and 12 assists. The bench stepped up in different ways. Marco Belinelli provided a boost on the scoreboard with 15 points. T.J. McConnell absorbed extra playing time and clocked a team-high 31 minutes. (None of the starters played more than 29 minutes.) 

Brown determined before the game he would give Richaun Holmes the nod to back up Embiid instead of Amir Johnson. He wanted Holmes, who has played in only three of his last 10 games, to get the opportunity for time on the court (see video). Holmes grabbed eight rebounds with four points in 21 minutes. 

“It shows (the bench) can hold it down,” Simmons said. “We have guys who are capable of doing that, it doesn’t have to be the starting five.”

The bench's production in this win over the Magic is only a small glimpse into what the Sixers believe they will need to succeed in the postseason. 

"Our objective is, in general, playoffs, but I want homecourt advantage," Joel Embiid said. "To know that going into the playoffs you have a bench that can come in and keep the lead or keep building the lead, it's great. In the playoffs you need that, you need a bench to come in and keep it up for the starters, and finish it."