76ers

NBA Playoffs: Spurs steamroll Rockets to advance to Western Conference finals

NBA Playoffs: Spurs steamroll Rockets to advance to Western Conference finals

HOUSTON -- San Antonio is heading to the Western Conference finals for the 13th time thanks to a player who has never been there.

The Spurs eliminated the sluggish James Harden and Houston Rockets with a 114-75 victory in Game 6 on Thursday night behind a season-high 34 points from LaMarcus Aldridge in a game they played without All-Star Kawhi Leonard.

Aldridge, who is in his 11th season and second in San Antonio, had failed to get out of the second round in his previous six postseason trips. He added 12 rebounds in his second big game of the Western Conference semifinal series to pick up the scoring slack with Leonard out after rolling his ankle in San Antonio's overtime victory in Game 5 on Tuesday night.

"He's really turned it on," coach Gregg Popovich said. "Demanded the ball, got in good position ... he was wonderful on the boards and of course he passes it really, really well and gets it moving for us."

Aldridge became the first Spur to score 34 points with 12 rebounds in a playoff game since Tim Duncan against Phoenix in 2008.

"I just touched it a little bit more tonight so I had a chance to figure it out," Aldridge said. "I was trying to be more dominant down there. So I was willing to take some contested shots tonight and I got into my rhythm early and after that I was good to go."

The Spurs were up by 19 by halftime in a game that was over quickly, and didn't let up to reach the Western Conference finals for the first time since winning the title in 2014. The 4-2 series win sends them to conference finals against the Golden State Warriors.

Trevor Ariza led Houston with 20 points on a night when MVP hopeful Harden capped his stellar season by tying a season low with 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting before fouling out with 3:15 left.

A somber Harden was clear about who was to blame for the loss.

"Everything falls on my shoulders," he said. "I take responsibility for it, both ends of the floor. It's tough, especially the way we lost at home for Game 6. But it happened and we move forward."

Houston coach Mike D'Antoni wasn't sure if the disappointment of losing a winnable Game 5 could have lingered with his team and contributed to this embarrassing blowout.

"It could, "he said. "I've been on both sides of this thing. Sometimes life hits you in the face. No matter what it was, we just didn't have it tonight."

Jonathon Simmons filled in nicely for Leonard, scoring 18 points and hounding the Rockets on defense.

San Antonio was up by 23 after the third quarter and scored the first seven points of the fourth to make it 94-64 and send many of the home fans streaming to the exits.

Already without veteran Tony Parker, who suffered a season-ending quadriceps injury in Game 2, the Spurs looked to be the underdog entering this one without Leonard's scoring and defense.

Instead, things went wrong early for the Rockets with Aldridge scoring 10 points in the first quarter as San Antonio dashed out to a 31-24. Houston was already down 50-29 when Harden took his first shot midway through the second quarter. He made that 3-pointer to whittle the lead a bit, but it didn't get the Rockets going.

The Spurs opened the third quarter with an 8-1 run, with six points from Aldridge, to extend their already big lead to 69-43 with about 9 1/2 minutes left.

The Rockets used a 7-2 spurt after that with 3-pointers from Ariza and Eric Gordon to cut the lead to 71-50 with about seven minutes remaining in the third.

A 3-pointer by Harden not long after that got Houston within 20, but San Antonio scored the next four points to make it 77-53 a couple of minutes later.

Houston, which relied on its 3-point shooting to get this far, couldn't make shots from long-range going 13 of 40. But the Rockets also had trouble scoring in general, making just 28.6 percent (22 of 77) of their shots overall.

Tip-ins
Spurs: Danny Green got a technical in the third quarter for a scuffle with Ariza. ... Patty Mills had 14 points and seven assists, and Pau Gasol added 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Rockets: Ariza received a technical in the third for the scuffle with Ariza. ... Coach Mike D'Antoni added Sam Dekker to the rotation after being criticized for not adding anyone to the rotation Tuesday in the first game since Nene suffered a season-ending thigh injury. Dekker had six points ... Clint Capela finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Stingy defense
The Spurs held the Rockets to less than 100 points for the third time in this series after they been limited to less than 100 points just five times in the regular season. The 75 points Houston scored on Thursday night was a season low and the fewest points the franchise had scored in a playoff game since managing just 70 against the Los Angeles Lakers on May 17, 2009.

They said it
Gasol on the lopsided win: "No one expected a Game 6 ... win like this, but we just played hard."

Up next
Game 1 of the conference finals is Sunday at Golden State.

Sixers praise Amir Johnson as MVP of win over Jazz

Sixers praise Amir Johnson as MVP of win over Jazz

BOX SCORE

Ben Simmons scored a career-high, Joel Embiid recorded a double-double, and still, the highest praise was directed to an unlikely player after the Sixers’ 107-86 win over the Jazz: Amir Johnson.

“He was the MVP of tonight,” Embiid said. 

Johnson embraced the ultimate role player mentality. He didn’t know until shortly before the game if he was going to start in place of Embiid or come off the bench. Embiid, who had been dealing with left knee soreness, ended up playing. So Johnson waited for his name to be called and stepped right into action. 

Johnson began the game with five rebounds in four first-quarter minutes. He finished with 13 boards, eight points and four blocks in 21 minutes. Johnson pulled down 10-plus rebounds for the 98th time in his career (see observations)

“I feel like my job is just to find ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “Knowing Joel, Ben and those guys are going to get the majority minutes, but when I come in I want to be effective at the same time.”

The 13-year veteran has been studying game film. Even though he didn’t get on the court in either of the Sixers’ matchups against the Warriors and played a combined 28 minutes in three road games in California, Johnson has been staying ready. 

“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said of Johnson’s defense. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”

The Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year, $11 million contract this summer. He proved what he could do on the court since entering the league out of high school in 2005, but the even bigger draw was what he could add to the locker room. Brett Brown reached out to some of Johnson’s former teammates and the assessments echoed one another. Now the Sixers are seeing what those who played with Johnson were talking about. 

“It was amazing, to a man, how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle sitting and swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. 

“To be able to bring him in the game, and not worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots isn’t ever on my mind with Amir. He’s a perfect teammate.” 

Redick bounces back in 2nd half
JJ Redick is at a point in his career where he isn’t worried about a slow start. He went scoreless in the first half and still ended up with 20 points. 

“Maybe five or six years ago I probably would have been a little more stressed at halftime,” Redick said. “But I just knew there would be some opportunities and stayed patient.”

Brown noticed Redick getting better looks after halftime. He evenly distributed his scoring with 10 points in both the third and the fourth quarters. He shot a perfect 4 for 4 from the field in the third. 

“I’m always going to be aggressive. There just weren’t opportunities to get shots off in the first half,” Redick said. “I scored 20 in the second half, but didn’t feel like I was forcing anything. The opportunities were there. Sometimes that happens within a game.”

Simmons, too
Simmons showed the same kind of poise, even more notable because he is a rookie. Simmons shot 2 for 9 in the first half, shook off the early struggles, and scored a career-high 27 points. He scored half of the Sixers’ 28 points in the third quarter off an efficient 7 for 9 shooting stretch. 

“I thought I was going to have more, honestly,” Simmons said. 

Simmons took advantage of the Jazz missing center Rudy Gobert in the middle. He became the only Sixer since 1963-64 to score in double digits in each of his first 16 games. Simmons is averaging 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 2.0 steals per game.

Best of NBA: Kyrie Irving helps Celtics rally for 16th straight win

usa-kyrie-irving.jpg
USA Today Images

Best of NBA: Kyrie Irving helps Celtics rally for 16th straight win

DALLAS  -- Kyrie Irving scored 10 of his season-high 47 points in overtime as the Boston Celtics rallied once again from a double-digit deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-102 and extend their winning streak to 16 games.

The Mavericks led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but as they have several times during their winning streak, the Celtics stormed back.

The winning streak ties the fourth-longest in Celtics history.

Boston tied the game at 96 when Irving stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and fed Jayson Tatum for an alley-oop lay-up that hung on the rim for a full second before dropping through.

Irving scored his team's first six points of overtime. Then after Jaylen Brown gave Boston a 104-102 lead with a jumper with 1:39 to play, Irving went to work on Yogi Ferrell, backing him down and drawing contact on a lay-up with 48.5 seconds to play. Though Irving missed the free throw to keep the score 106-102, Dallas never got closer.

Harrison Barnes scored 31 points and Wesley Matthews had 18 for Dallas, which came back from an early double-digit deficit as the Celtics went cold for much of the second and third quarters (see full recap).

Cavs rout Pistons for 5th straight win
DETROIT -- LeBron James scored 16 of his 18 points in the first quarter and the Cleveland Cavaliers made 11 3-pointers in the first half on the way to a 116-88 rout of the Detroit Pistons on Monday night.

Cleveland led 73-46 at halftime thanks to an overwhelming shooting performance, an indication that Detroit's stay atop the Central Division might not last much longer. The Pistons still lead the Cavs by a game, but Cleveland has won five straight and scored at least 110 points in eight of its last nine.

The Cavaliers led 27-22 when James went to the bench late in the first quarter. By the time he came back in, it was 50-30. Cleveland's reserves ended up outscoring Detroit's 26-8 in the first half.

The Cavs shot 62 percent from the field in the first two quarters and 11 of 17 from 3-point range. They finished the game 16 of 33 from beyond the arc. Cleveland led 101-62 after three, and the top players for both teams had plenty of time to rest in the final period (see full recap).

Knicks push Clippers' skid to 9 straight
NEW YORK -- Kristaps Porzingis scored 25 points and the New York Knicks extended the Los Angeles Clippers' losing streak to nine games with a 107-85 victory Monday night.

Porzingis outplayed a frustrated Blake Griffin and helped the Knicks snap a 10-game skid in the series with their first victory over the Clippers in five years.

Doug McDermott added 16 points for the Knicks, including a 3-pointer that swung the momentum for good midway through the third quarter.

Griffin scored 21 points but shot just 6 for 17, picked up a technical foul and fouled out with 4:46 remaining. The Clippers (5-11) still haven't won since Nov. 1 at Dallas, when they improved to 5-2.

Patrick Beverley returned after missing five games with a sore right knee and had nine points and six rebounds. But the Clippers are still without fellow guard Milos Teodosic and the rest of their backcourt play was mostly dismal (see full recap).

Oladipo's 29 leads Pacers over Magic for 4th straight win
ORLANDO, Fla.  -- Victor Oladipo had 29 points, nine rebounds and seven steals to lead the Indiana Pacers to their fourth straight win, 105-97 over the Orlando Magic on Monday night.

Oladipo, who played his first three NBA seasons in Orlando, and Bojan Bogdanovic combined for 40 points in the second half, 14 of them during a 16-3 third-quarter run that put the Pacers in command.

Bogdanovic scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half.

Nikola Vucevic had 25 points and 13 rebounds for the Magic, who lost their fifth straight. Aaron Gordon had 13 points and 12 rebounds.

The Magic finished with 22 turnovers and shot 33 percent in the second half to fall below .500 for the first time this season (see full recap).