76ers

Best of NBA: Cousins erupts in return to Sacramento; Griffin hits buzzer-beater

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Best of NBA: Cousins erupts in return to Sacramento; Griffin hits buzzer-beater

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- DeMarcus Cousins immediately scored after winning the opening tip and never stopped on the way to 41 points and 23 rebounds, and the emotional big man dominated his old team to rally the New Orleans Pelicans past the Kings 114-106 on Thursday night in his highly anticipated return.

Cousins took the crowd at Golden 1 Center on a trip down memory lane, then left them with some heartache after a spectacular performance. He waved to his supportive former home fans as highlights showed of his time in California's capital.

He hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:21 to play for a 108-106 lead and the Pelicans held on -- and Cousins finally got some help in a second-half comeback after New Orleans trailed by 14 at intermission playing without injured star Anthony Davis.

Jameer Nelson contributed 18 points with four 3-pointers with Davis sidelined with a left knee injury sustained at Portland on Tuesday. The Pelicans were down 70-56 at halftime with Cousins largely a one-man show already with 20 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

De'Aaron Fox scored 14 points off the bench to lead seven Kings in double figures (see full recap).

Griffin 3 at the buzzer gives Clippers victory
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Blake Griffin made a 3-pointer as time expired and the Los Angeles Clippers remained unbeaten with a 104-103 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.

Griffin, who scored 16 of his 25 points during the fourth quarter, got the ball on the left side of the floor and hit the 3-pointer just inside the line, the game's sixth lead change during the final two minutes.

DeAndre Jordan had seven points and 18 rebounds for Los Angeles, which at 4-0 is one of two unbeaten teams remaining in the NBA. Danilo Gallinari and Austin Rivers had 16 points apiece for the Clippers.

Damian Lillard scored 14 of his 25 points during the third quarter for Portland (3-2). C.J. McCollum had 23 points, but missed one of two free throws with five seconds remaining that could have given the Blazers a three-point lead.

All five Portland starters scored in double figures. Ed Davis had 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Horford, Irving help Celtics top Bucks
MILWAUKEE -- Al Horford had 27 points and nine rebounds, and the Boston Celtics beat the Milwaukee Bucks 96-89 on Thursday night.

Kyrie Irving added 24 points and seven assists for Boston, which avenged a loss to Milwaukee in Boston earlier this month.

The game was played at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, formerly known as the MECCA, which served as the Bucks' home from 1968 until the team moved into the Bradley Center in 1988.

The Bucks chose to play one game this season at the 11,000-seat arena to mark the franchise's 50th anniversary. The team will move into a new arena next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points for Milwaukee. Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon added 15 apiece (see full recap).

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: JJ Redick

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: JJ Redick

JJ Redick

Position: Shooting guard

Status for 2018-19: Unrestricted free agent

Redick in 2017-18
It’s OK to admit it now. When you first heard how much the Sixers were giving Redick on the free-agent market last summer, you were a bit alarmed. 

Sure, Redick was always going to be a valuable addition, and the fact that a big-time player chose to join the Sixers was a huge feather in their cap. But paying him $23 million — the sixth-highest mark among NBA two guards in 2017-18 and the 25th-largest sum in the entire league — is a huge investment, even if it was for only one season.

However, the Sixers made it clear that they were finally ready to contend, and getting the best possible fit in free agency was a top priority. In Redick’s case, his game meshed with the Sixers like a glove.

The 33-year-old had arguably his best season as a pro. Redick scored a career-high 17.1 points per game on 46.0 percent shooting from the field and 42.0 percent from three. He also contributed 3.0 assists a night and a personal-best 2.5 boards.

Redick, an up-and-down playoff performer to this point in his career, made the most of his postseason stint with the Sixers. He upped his scoring average to 18.2 points a contest and topped the 20-point plateau in five of the team’s 10 playoff games.

Of course Redick’s defensive deficiencies showed at times throughout the season, but his dead-eye shooting from long range and veteran leadership more than made up for those issues.

Signature game
Redick had plenty of highlights to choose from this past season. In just his eighth game with the team, he went bonkers from beyond the arc late in a 121-110 win over the Indiana Pacers. Redick finished that night with 31 points (eight three-pointers), six assists and three rebounds.

The marksman also contributed another eight-trey performance in a 130-111 victory over his former team, the Orlando Magic, on Nov. 25.

Still, Redick’s best showing of the season came when it mattered most. With the Sixers threatening to advance in the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, he took things into his own hands as he scored a game-high 27 in the team’s series-sealing win over the Miami Heat in Game 5. Not to be denied, the typical jump shooter got to the free throw line 10 times and made each of them to propel the Sixers into the next round.

Looking ahead
You know the situation by now. Redick has stated several times that he wants to be back in Philadelphia, but it’s much more complicated than a simple desire.

First, the Sixers plan to go superstar-hunting in the offseason with the main target being LeBron James. That would almost certainly mean Redick would be shown the door. To his credit, Redick admitted that if a team has the chance to land James, it has to take that opportunity (see story).

Secondly, even if the Sixers swing and miss on James, the numbers to get Redick back in a Sixers uniform could be tricky. He will certainly be looking for a multi-year deal and his numbers suggest he deserves one, but how many years and how many millions is the franchise willing to give a shooting guard who will be 34 when next season tips off?

On Redick
“I don’t want to offend any of the other places I’ve been or teams I’ve been on, but this was probably my favorite year of my career. Playing in Philly is its own experience. Our fans, the city, the buzz about sports and about this team was amazing. I think I said this on media day, it’s the first time I’ll ever play in a real sports town. That definitely lived up to those thoughts. It was awesome to play in Philly.”

- Redick on his experience playing in Philadelphia

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: T.J. McConnell

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: T.J. McConnell

T.J. McConnell

Position: Point guard/shooting guard

Status for 2018-19: Team option will be exercised for $1,600,520

McConnell in 2017-18
Improbably, the undrafted McConnell has become an integral part of "The Process." He was certainly here in the dark days, sharing minutes with Kendall Marshall and Ish Smith and suffering through seemingly endless losing streaks — McConnell, Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes are the only survivors from the 10-win 2015-16 Sixers. This season, the fan-favorite guard was spearheading playoff victories.

McConnell’s “spark,” the unmatched passion and energy he brings every night, is what he’s all about. It’s why so many people love him. But his value lies beyond raw hustle and intensity — McConnell is the best Sixer off the bench at hounding opposing guards and probing the paint. He forces you to play him.

This season, he also forced opponents to respect his shot. After making just 20 percent of his three-point attempts in 2016-17, McConnell worked on his jumper in the summer and saw results, shooting 43.5 percent from long range.

When Markelle Fultz made his surprise return to the lineup on March 26, McConnell nearly dropped out of the rotation — he played just 14.5 minutes per game in the final 10 regular-season games. Still, McConnell has always been supportive of Fultz, and he didn’t get discouraged — when you’ve had to live through one of the worst seasons in NBA history, it takes something bigger than diminished playing time to get you down.

When his moment came, McConnell was ready …

Signature game
If any Sixer had a signature game this season, it was McConnell’s insane Game 4 against the Celtics.

McConnell took Covington’s spot in the starting lineup, and he made Brett Brown look like a genius. With a career-high 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists along with stellar defense on Terry Rozier, McConnell helped the Sixers keep their season alive.

Game 4 wasn’t a total fluke for McConnell. In the series against the Celtics, he shot 19 for 26. When McConnell was on the court, the Sixers were plus-41, the best of any player from either team.

Prior to Game 4, McConnell had a couple other decent contenders for his signature game. In his only start of the regular season on Nov. 25 vs. Orlando, with Ben Simmons sidelined with a left elbow injury, McConnell posted 15 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds.

And on Feb. 12, McConnell notched his first career triple-double, recording 10 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds against the Knicks. He became the first Sixer in franchise history with a triple-double off the bench.

Looking ahead to 2018-19
At his end-of-season press conference, Bryan Colangelo confirmed the Sixers will exercise McConnell’s team option.

Since we know McConnell will be back, the biggest question is, how Brown will find minutes for him? If McConnell is playing at a high level and Fultz isn’t early in the season, Brown will be in a pretty awkward situation.

Even if Fultz has a slow start, you’d assume that the No. 1 overall pick, who’s set to make more than five times as much as McConnell, would take a significant number of his minutes.

After next season, McConnell becomes an unrestricted free agent. Given how he’s proved himself on the big stage, he should be in for a nice payday.

On McConnell
“It’s tough. T.J. is the type of guy that you have to play him. He proved that this series against Boston. Without him in Game 4, I don’t think we win that game. He’s proven to you that you have to play him. He’s going to do his best, he’s going to play hard, he’s going to press full court. He’s going to do his job offensively, that’s to share the ball, and if he’s open, he’s going to shoot it. But we got a great coaching staff. Coach Brown was amazing all year. The assistant coaches … all those guys were amazing. So they’re going to figure it out. But I’m excited. It’s going to be fun.”

- Joel Embiid on Fultz possibly taking away from McConnell’s playing time next season