Houston Rockets

Sixers-Rockets observations: No heartbreaking collapse this time

Sixers-Rockets observations: No heartbreaking collapse this time

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HOUSTON — A double-digit lead is never safe against the Rockets, is it? 

The Sixers beat the Rockets for the first time in eight meetings, 115-107, but it wasn’t without another near-letdown in the fourth quarter. 

Ben Simmons turned in a team-high 24 points as the Sixers had seven players score in double figures Monday night. Joel Embiid was right behind him with 22 points.

Let’s get right to the final minutes of the game and then see how they got there.

Fast-forward to 9:30 to go when the Sixers were up 10. The Rockets started to chip away, cutting the Sixers’ lead all the way down to five with 8:37 to play. The Sixers responded by going up 10 again behind an offensive rebound, layup, block and steal by Embiid. 

From that point, the Rockets went on a 6-0 run to make it 103-99 with four minutes left. Embiid grabbed the rebound off Clint Capela’s attempted go-ahead layup to halt the Rockets’ momentum. 

The Sixers hit two straight baskets to go up five, but just like they did in their last meeting with the Rockets, committed a 24-second violation down the stretch. Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza both missed threes that would have brought the Rockets back within two.

• The last time the Sixers beat the Rockets was Nov. 13, 2013. Does that feel like a long time ago? Well, consider this: Tony Wroten posted an 18-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist triple-double in his first career start. The Sixers’ James Anderson led all players in scoring (36 points). 

And the last time the Sixers won in Houston dates even further back to Feb. 16, 2011.

• So how did it all begin on Monday night? The Sixers shot a season-high 65.2 percent from the field in the first quarter to jump out to a 10-point advantage. The Rockets saw a window of opportunity when Simmons took a seat halfway through the second. They went on a 7-0 run and cut the deficit to one point. The Sixers pushed their edge back up to seven points after Simmons checked back in. Dario Saric hit a pair of threes and Simmons found Embiid for an alley-oop. The Sixers ended the quarter with three straight turnovers, though, and were up just two at halftime. 

• The Rockets’ backcourt took turns dominating in the first half. James Harden played the entire first quarter and scored 12 points, including 6 of 7 at the line, which the Sixers wanted to limit. Eric Gordon didn’t attempt a shot in the first but exploded for 15 points as he played the entire second quarter. He hit a trio of threes, which wasn’t even the biggest standout. He took a whopping nine shots, 75 percent of his total season average of 12.0 attempts per game. Harden (25) and Gordon (29) were the only Rockets with over 15 points.

• The Sixers were locked in on limiting the sharpshooting Rockets from three and at the line. Their efforts paid off as the Rockets shot 13 of 47 (27.7 percent) from long range. The Rockets outscored the Sixers 28-17 at the free throw line, led by 10 of 12 from Harden.

• Embiid, Saric, Simmons and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (see below) combined for 47 of the Sixers’ 58 first-half points. Harden and Gordon were responsible for 30 of the Rockets’ 56.  

• The Sixers kept the Rockets at bay in the third, going up by as many as 14 points. The Sixers again reached 65 percent from the field, partially in thanks to T.J. McConnell, who led the team with eight points (2 for 2 from three) in five minutes (read more on McConnell here). Amir Johnson pulled down six rebounds in the third to match the Rockets’ team total. Harden added another 11 points but no other Rocket scored more than four. 

• Embiid didn't show signs of being bothered by his right hand contusion. He knocked down 9 of 12 field goals (22 points), pulled down nine boards and dished five assists (see highlights).

• Simmons made three jump shots — yes, jump shots — from 16 and 17 feet from the basket. Entering the game, he had shot just 0 for 2 in the 16- to 24-foot range from the hoop. Simmons neared a double-double with 24 points, nine assists and seven boards (see highlights). He was mixing up his shot locations, not just focusing in the paint, during pregame drills.

• Luwawu-Cabarrot broke out to a hot start. He scored 11 points on a perfect 4 for 4 from the field in six minutes during the first quarter. Luwawu-Cabarrot also went 2 for 2 from three, seeing the results of taking hundreds of three-point shots every practice.  

• Robert Covington was in a very different situation in Houston nearly three years ago to the day. He was waived by the Rockets on Oct. 27, 2014. 

• Embiid fouled Luc Mbah a Moute and knocked him to the ground. Embiid helped him up and Mbah a Moute replied with a friendly tap on the back. Mbah a Moute has played a major role in Embiid’s career, first recognizing the big man’s potential when Embiid attended his basketball camp in Cameroon back in 2011. 

Best of NBA: Green, Beal ejected in Warriors' comeback win over Wizards

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Best of NBA: Green, Beal ejected in Warriors' comeback win over Wizards

OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant had 31 points, 11 rebounds and six assists to help rally the Golden State Warriors from 18 points down and beat the Washington Wizards 120-117 on Friday night, a game marred by a fight between Golden State's Draymond Green and Washington's Bradley Beal shortly before halftime that led to both being ejected.

Stephen Curry added 20 points and eight assists, hitting two 3s and two free throws in the final minute of the third quarter to get Golden State within 97-87 heading into the final 12 minutes. Then Klay Thompson and Durant made 3s early in the fourth for a four-point game. Thompson scored 18 points.

Durant's jumper with 1:20 to go put Golden State up by five, but the defending champions still needed his two free throws with 9.4 seconds left. John Wall missed an off-balance 3 then Washington couldn't capitalize on one final chance.

David West made two straight baskets for the Warriors midway through the fourth but Otto Porter Jr. hit consecutive 3-pointers for the Wizards, answering a 3 by Durant with a baseline dagger on the way to 29 points for the Wizards.

With 19.5 seconds left in the second quarter, Beal held the front of Green's jersey with his left hand while grabbing Green around the jaw with his right. That enraged Green, who threw his right arm in frustration and wrapped arms with Beal as if hugging, then other players joined the scrum (see full recap).

Towns has 33 and 19 as Timberwolves hold off Thunder
MINNEAPOLIS — When Jimmy Butler was sidelined for two games with an upper respiratory infection, the Minnesota Timberwolves lacked energy and struggled on defense. The end result was a pair of losses by an average of 22 points.

In Butler's return Friday night against Oklahoma City, it was evident just how different a team Minnesota is with him on the court.

Butler scored 13 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter and helped the Timberwolves hold on for a 119-116 win over the Thunder. His veteran leadership was felt on both ends of the floor for Minnesota, which improved to 3-2.

"He makes a big difference," Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Just having his presence - he's a great leader, does the right things on the floor."

Karl-Anthony Towns had 33 points and 19 rebounds to lead Minnesota. Towns also had arguably his best defensive game of the young season, posting a season-high four blocks (see full recap).

Harden's triple-double lifts Rockets past Hornets 
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Houston Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni seemed genuinely disappointed his team only attempted 55 3-pointers against the Charlotte Hornets.

"I don't know why we didn't shoot 60," D'Antoni quipped. "We passed up about four."

James Harden had his first triple-double of the season with 27 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, and the Rockets finished 22 of 57 from beyond the 3-point arc in a 109-93 win Friday night.

Houston nearly broke its own NBA regular season records of 24 3-pointers and 61 3-pointers attempted set last December.

Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson led the 3-point barrage. Gordon was 6 of 16 from beyond the arc and had 26 points, while Anderson was 6 of 15 and finished with 21 points (see full recap). 

Efficient Fournier scores 25 as Magic beat Spurs
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) The season is a little more than a week old, but the Orlando Magic continue to shock the NBA.

The Magic buried the San Antonio Spurs 114-87 behind 25 points from Evan Fournier to run their record to an Eastern Conference-best 4-1.

Orlando led by as many as 36 points in a near-perfect performance at both ends of the floor. One week ago, the Magic led the Cleveland Cavaliers by as many as 37 in a 114-93 victory.

Jonathon Simmons  scored 17 points, Aaron Gordon had 16 and Nikola Vucevic scored 15 for the Magic, who closed this one out early. They led by 27 at halftime and pushed the lead to 36 when Fournier conveted a four-point play with just over three minutes left in the third period (see full recap).

T.J. McConnell 'the best player on the floor' vs. Rockets, Embiid says

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T.J. McConnell 'the best player on the floor' vs. Rockets, Embiid says

Before the Sixers' season started, it was hard to know what exactly T.J. McConnell's role would be.

Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016 who missed all of last season, was being groomed to be Brett Brown's point guard. This year's No. 1 pick, Markelle Fultz, was a point guard at Washington. The newly-acquired JJ Redick and a healthy Jerryd Bayless muddled the entire guard picture.

But as his effort in Wednesday night's heartbreaking loss to the Rockets showed, Brett Brown will always find a role for McConnell.

"Inspirational," Brown said when asked about McConnell's performance. "Game-changing stuff. T.J. gets, 'Oh, he can't play with Ben because he can't shoot' and, you know, 'He can't do this because he can't shoot.' T.J. wins. That kid is a winner. Often times people look at him like what he can't do and how can you pair him with people like Ben. We don't think that at all and we're not going to do it. Tonight we played him with Ben and we'll continue to do that and I thought that his game tonight was inspirational."

The third-year guard was a big catalyst for the Sixers in almost beating Houston and superstar James Harden. He bothered Harden all night, forcing the five-time All-Star into eight turnovers. McConnell finished with just six points but filled the rest of the stat sheet with nine assists, six steals and five rebounds.

"T.J., I thought was the best player on the floor," Joel Embiid said. "He was all over the gym. Getting steals, playing defense. Setting up the team as a point guard. He found me, we've had that relationship since last year, but I thought he was the best player on the floor."

McConnell wasn't concerned about his stats. Or being an inspiration. He knows his role and filled it quite well Wednesday.

"I'm just trying to provide energy for our team and help us win," McConnell said. "If it was inspiring that's great but I'm just out there to do whatever this team needs me to do."

Before the game, Brown said that McConnell would get the minutes left by Fultz, who will be out for the next three games at minimum. 

But don't expect McConnell to look at it as a handout. He's had to earn everything he's gotten. A long shot to make the Sixers' roster out of camp his rookie season, McConnell played in 81 games and started 17. Last season, when his role was expected to be reduced, he played 81 games again and started 51 of them. 

McConnell is an NBA player. Maybe not a star, or even a starter, but a damn good player. On Wednesday, he didn't look out of place playing against Harden or dishing to Embiid. He was right where he belonged, fulfilling his role.