San Antonio Spurs

Redick, a man on the move, enlivens a lost art

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Redick, a man on the move, enlivens a lost art

If moving without the ball is a lost art in the NBA, Sixers guard JJ Redick is Rembrandt with a jump shot. He runs no fewer than 2.52 miles a game, according to SportVU — approximately all of them at a full sprint, and approximately none of them in a straight line.

A defender will dog Redick’s every step as he slaloms off screens, forever seeking a sliver of daylight to launch that pristine shot. There will be clutching and grabbing, cursing and gabbing.

It is a fascinating game within the game, a literal running feud.

“I embrace it,” Redick said late Wednesday night, after providing 20 points in a 112-106 victory over San Antonio.

The Spurs mostly used their JVs because Gregg Popovich is, as always, playing the long game, ticketholders be damned. But with the verdict hanging in the balance and less than a minute left, Redick found himself matched against Patty Mills, one of San Antonio’s longtime rotational staples.

For an instant they were frozen in place on the left wing — indeed, one of the few moments all night Redick was not in motion — as Joel Embiid handled the ball just to the left of the circle.

“It was a set play,” Redick said, “and we kind of screwed up the passing angle a little bit.”

He was supposed to receive the ball, then engage in a two-man game with Embiid. But now Embiid had the rock, and Mills was preventing him from darting toward his teammate, as well as the head of the key — “top-blocking,” as Redick called it.

Redick feinted toward the baseline, as if he were going to go backdoor, then darted back toward Embiid.

“Sometimes,” Redick said, “that’s just setting your guy up and giving him a little nudge.”

Which he did in fact deliver, creating just enough space to receive Embiid’s pass and bury the jumper that put the Sixers up 108-104 with 35.9 seconds left.

“It was,” Mills said, “classic Redick.”

Mills is well aware of his wiles, having often faced the former Clipper the last four years in the Western Conference. Doesn’t make it any easier, though.

“You’ve got to have your antennas up at all times when you’re guarding him, and not just the people that have the project on him,” Mills said. “Everyone on the floor’s got to know where he’s at at all times. He’s been a beast on all the teams he’s played.”

An interesting choice of words, seeing as “beast” is a term normally reserved for physical freaks like the 7-2 Embiid. But Redick, a mere 6-4, has that jumper; he nailed 3 of 4 three-point attempts Wednesday, is shooting 40.2 percent from the arc this season and 41.4 percent in his 12-year career. (His scoring average this season — 17.2 — is also a career high.)

Then there’s all that running. Only 11 NBA players, all of them far younger than the 33-year-old Redick, run more miles each night, according to SportVU. (The league leader is Portland guard C.J. McCollum, at 2.78; Sixers rookie Ben Simmons is second, at 2.68.)

That’s an obvious tribute to Redick’s conditioning. Doughy in his early years at Duke, he transformed his body late in his college career, then took it to the next level his first few seasons in the NBA, under the lash of Joe Rogowski, then Orlando’s conditioning coach.

All the while Redick was learning about off-the-ball tactics from watching (and facing) guys like Ray Allen and Rip Hamilton — lessons that are reinforced these days by Golden State’s Klay Thompson and a handful of others.

“I would describe it at times as hand-to-hand combat,” Redick said.

For that reason, he spends as much offseason time working on his upper body as he does his lower extremities.

“I know I don’t look it, but I’m actually pretty strong (at 195 pounds),” he said. “As much as it is just being in great cardio shape, it’s also just having the strength to just create that separation.”

Besides his pivotal moment against Mills on Wednesday, there was a play late in the first quarter where he, uh, nudged Brandon Paul and freed himself up for a three, then a three-possession stretch in the second when he took a dribble handoff from T.J. McConnell and connected from the arc; lost Darrun Hilliard on screens by Embiid and Dario Saric, took another pass from McConnell and dropped in a layup; and coaxed in the first two of three free throws after drawing a foul from Dejounte Murray on a three-point attempt.

At other times, Redick was used as a screener. It is a role in which he excels, coach Brett Brown said, because his defender is loath to switch off him.

And at all times he was active — forever running, forever crafting another masterpiece.

You have to hand it to Joel Embiid

You have to hand it to Joel Embiid

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Joel Embiid was listed as “out” against the Spurs an hour before the game. He had other plans.

Embiid’s sprained right hand was tight and swollen so badly it had been preventing him from shooting. But as he went through pregame warmups, and still experienced discomfort, he decided he would play. 

Not just because he dislikes being sidelined. Because he wanted to get this victory specifically for Brett Brown. 

“I love my team,” Embiid said after the Sixers’ 112-106 win Wednesday (see observations). “I want to be right there with them. I don't want to quit on them. Then, also, I wanted to give Coach his first win against his former team and we did that for him.”

Brown spent 11-plus seasons on the Spurs’ coaching staff with Gregg Popovich. He had not defeated them since coming to Philadelphia in 2013. In fact, the Sixers’ struggles began before he arrived. They entered Wednesday with a 12-game losing streak against the Spurs, with their last win on Feb. 11, 2011. 

There was a clear opportunity for the Sixers to snap this skid. Rudy Gay (right heel bursitis), Manu Ginobili (rest), Danny Green (left groin tightness), Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker (both return from injury management) were all sitting out on the second night of a back-to-back. The Sixers would still have to deal with starter LaMarcus Aldridge, who ended up with a 24-point, 14-rebound double-double, and a well-coached squad, but the odds were greater with a shorthanded lineup. 

So Embiid played through the pain of the injury he suffered Sunday during a fall against the Suns. He battled for rebounds and blocked shots that “kind of hurt” him while hitting baskets with more ease than expected. 

He started off the game with six points, six rebounds, four blocks and three assists in the first quarter alone. Embiid finished with 21 points, 11 boards, four dimes and four blocks in over 35 minutes.

“To Joel Embiid’s complete credit, he came in and he surprised me — he actually made some shots,” Brown said. “If you saw the swelling in his hand, you wouldn’t have thought that would have been the impact. He would’ve blocked shots, he would’ve rebounded, he would’ve been physical defensively. But he actually still had some finesse and touch to his shot with a swollen right hand.”

Brown and the Sixers had been preparing throughout the day to play without Embiid, a situation they have found themselves in several times this season between injuries and medical restrictions. Embiid had been ruled “doubtful” at morning shootaround. Less than two hours before game time, Brown said Embiid was “very doubtful.” Prior to warmups, even Embiid himself said of his hand, “I can’t really use it.” 

The final determination period was those warmups, though, when Embiid made the eyebrow-raising decision to play. Brown was informed of the news during the team’s pregame meeting, about 35 minutes before tipoff. 

“It happened quick,” Brown said. “It was completely unexpected. I give him a lot of credit for playing through complete pain and trying to play in front of the Philadelphia fans and help his teammates. That’s a gutsy effort.”

The Sixers won their third straight game to improve to 18-19. Embiid was front and center when the team insisted Brown have the honor of the celebratory bell, a symbol of winning, in the locker room after the game. And with each ring, Embiid smiled at his mission accomplished (see story).

“It’s a team that didn’t have their full-strength roster, but in my eyes, it’s still the San Antonio Spurs,” Brown said. “You can put in whoever you want, they’re still going to play and compete and be organized. From that perspective, the win is satisfying.”

Ben Simmons stars as the finisher

Ben Simmons stars as the finisher

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An injured Joel Embiid unexpectedly played.

Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Rudy Gay and Danny Green did not.

The Sixers seized the opportunity Wednesday against the shorthanded Spurs with a 112-106 win to snap a 12-game losing streak vs. San Antonio that dated back to 2011.

Overall, the Sixers have won three in a row to improve to 18-19.

• Embiid played through a sprained right hand as he shook off the injury from Monday’s game to notch 21 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four blocks in over 35 minutes. He initially was ruled out, but after he went through pregame warmups, he was cleared to go. 

The change in availability came as a surprise considering Embiid’s description of his injury just over an hour before tipoff. 

“It’s just tight in general, pretty swollen, and I can’t really use it, can’t shoot,” he said.

• Ben Simmons scored a cool, calm and collected 26 points (11 in the fourth), including 10 of 15 free throw attempts. The Spurs sent him to the line often late in the game, when he shot 5 for 9 in the fourth.

“He shot 15 free throws; that in itself is a huge win for me when he gets back to the line,” Brett Brown said after the game. “It’s a mentality more than it is a skill, and that mentality of him attacking the basket and going to the free throw line then growing the confidence that you’re referring to, that’s a hell of a package and it starts with getting there.”

• The Spurs were missing their star power between injuries and rest in the second night of a back-to-back: Gay (right heel bursitis), Ginobili (rest), Green (left groin tightness), Leonard and Parker (both return from injury management). Veterans Patty Mills (26 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (24 points, 14 rebounds) led the Spurs.

• More third-quarter problems: The Sixers led by 16. Then came the third. You know the rest. The Spurs outscored the Sixers 35-28 in the quarter and cut the lead to four points going into the fourth. The Sixers had to fend off the Spurs, including climbing back out of a quick deficit. 

“I thought Philly was great,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “Their aggressiveness, their physicality was really good. I thought they executed really well. We got a pretty good punch in in the second half and they hung in and went and took the game. It was a good win for them.”

• The Sixers committed only 13 turnovers, below their season average of 17.5 (most in the NBA). More importantly, there were only two in the fourth, including none by point guard Simmons. 

• The Sixers made their mark at the free throw line. They took 20 more attempts than the Spurs (43 to 23) and had a 13-point advantage. In addition to Simmons’ 15 attempts, Embiid shot 9 for 11. 

• Justin Anderson remains sidelined with shin splints (left leg).

• The last time the Sixers beat the Spurs was Feb. 11, 2011. They started Jrue Holiday (37 points), Jodie Meeks, Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes. Just how long ago was that? Darius Songalia logged four minutes. 

• Brown joined the Sixers in 2013 after working over 11 years on the Spurs' coaching staff. He had not won against his former team until Wednesday.

“It’s a program that I have tremendous fondness and respect for,” Brown said (see story). “It’s a team that didn’t have their full-strength roster, but in my eyes, it’s still the San Antonio Spurs. … You can put in whoever you want, they’re still going to play and compete and be organized. From that perspective, the win is satisfying.”