76ers

Blake Griffin does it all in Pistons debut

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Blake Griffin does it all in Pistons debut

DETROIT -- Blake Griffin had 24 points and 10 rebounds in his debut for Detroit, and the Pistons edged the Memphis Grizzlies 104-102 on Thursday night.

Griffin was impressive throughout his first game for the Pistons since they traded for him earlier this week. His teammates looked uncertain at times, but Detroit was able to outlast a Memphis team that is without Tyreke Evans and Mike Conley.

Anthony Tolliver's 3-pointer with under two minutes remaining gave Detroit a 101-100 lead, and the score stayed that way until the final seconds. Marc Gasol attempted to drive on Griffin but missed his shot, and a wild scramble led to a jump ball between Tolliver and Dillon Brooks with 10.4 seconds left.

The Pistons controlled that tip, with Reggie Bullock running the ball down in the corner. Tolliver gave Detroit a three-point lead with a pair of free throws, and then purposely fouled Wayne Selden with 2.6 seconds remaining. Selden made the first free throw and the second went in even though he was trying to miss and give his team a chance at an offensive rebound.

A free throw by Bullock closed out the scoring.

Griffin was the first Detroit starter announced before the game and received a big hand from the crowd. The arena still didn't appear full -- the Pistons have struggled with attendance for several years -- but the atmosphere was lively, especially during the tight finish (see full recap).

Butler shines as Timberwolves roll over Bucks
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jimmy Butler scored 28 points, Karl-Anthony Towns had 24 points and 11 rebounds for his NBA-best 46th double-double, and the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Milwaukee Bucks 108-89 on Thursday night.

Jeff Teague added nine points and eight assists for Minnesota, which was coming off consecutive losses at Atlanta and Toronto. The Timberwolves have lost six of their last seven road games and have returned home with back-to-back losses from their last three road trips.

Each time, Minnesota has responded at home with a victory, winning by an average of 14.25 points. The Timberwolves' 21-6 home record represents the second-most home wins in the NBA behind San Antonio's 22.

Khris Middleton scored 21 points for Milwaukee, which had won four in a row. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 17 points and 15 rebounds, but the Bucks shot 37.6 percent from the field and committed 15 turnovers.

Milwaukee had five turnovers and shot just 36.8 percent in the first quarter. Towns, who had single-digit shot attempts in five of the past seven games, was aggressive early on with nine points and three rebounds in the quarter.

The Wolves closed the first half on a 30-15 run for a 60-39 lead. The Bucks cut the lead to 12 in the third, but Minnesota responded and led by as many as 23.

In the first meeting between the two teams, Milwaukee erased a 20-point deficit in the third quarter for a 102-96 home win (see full recap).

Harden, Rockets dominate Spurs in 3rd straight win
SAN ANTONIO -- James Harden had 28 points and 11 assists, and the Houston Rockets dominated the San Antonio Spurs for the second time this season with a 102-91 victory Thursday night.

Clint Capela added 14 points and 13 rebounds in Houston's third straight win. The Rockets led by as many as 19 points in the first matchup between the Texas rivals since the Spurs' 124-109 blowout loss on Dec. 15 in Houston.

Danny Green had 22 points to lead San Antonio in scoring for the first time this season. LaMarcus Aldridge was held to 16 points on 8-for-15 shooting.

The Spurs' only lead came in the opening minutes. They trailed by double digits for much of the night.

San Antonio scored the first points of the fourth quarter to close to 82-76 with 10 minutes remaining. Chris Paul hit three jumpers to rebuild Houston's lead to 88-76.

The Rockets captured a 27-14 lead in the first quarter despite having their first four possessions end in two turnovers and two missed shots.

Ryan Anderson got Houston rolling, hitting three straight 3-pointers. Anderson's second 3 prompted San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich to angrily call his first timeout (see full recap).

Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell headline NBA All-Rookie first team

Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell headline NBA All-Rookie first team

Sixers guard Ben Simmons and Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell continue to be linked in the quest for Rookie of the Year. 

They both were unanimously named to the 2017-18 NBA All-Rookie first team with first-place votes on every ballot. 

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma and Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen rounded out the first team. Tatum was one vote short of also being a unanimous selection. 

Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, Hawks forward/center John Collins, Suns forward Josh Jackson and Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr. were named to the second team. 

Simmons (15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 1.7 steals), Mitchell (20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.5 steals) and Tatum (13.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steals) are the finalists for Rookie of the Year. The award will be announced on June 25.

The All-Rookie votes were cast by global broadcasters and sportswriters, choosing five players at any position for each team. First team votes were weighted with two points, second team votes one. 

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Amir Johnson

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Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Amir Johnson

Amir Johnson

Position: Power Forward/Center

Status for 2018-19: Unrestricted free agent

Johnson in 2017-18
The Sixers signed Johnson to provide solid backup minutes to Joel Embiid. He certainly wasn’t spectacular in that role, but that’s not who he is. He did his job.

Johnson averaged 4.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, playing in 74 contests. He averaged 15.8 minutes per game, his lowest since the 2008-09 season.

It seemed like Johnson’s name was always linked with Richaun Holmes, the younger, springier center also competing for backup center minutes (see Holmes' evaluation). While Johnson doesn’t have Holmes’ athleticism or offensive ability, Brett Brown preferred the veteran’s defense. During the regular season, Johnson had a 101.3 defensive rating, while Holmes’ was nearly five points worse, at 106.2.

At the start of the postseason, Johnson played some important minutes with Embiid working his way back from a left eye orbital fracture, and he played well. Despite Johnson not creating much of his own offense, the Sixers had no problem scoring when he was on the floor. In fact, Johnson’s 121.5 offensive rating was the best of any player in the first round of the playoffs.

Brown then drastically cut his minutes against the Celtics, Johnson’s former team, leaning heavily on Embiid. Johnson only played 17 minutes the entire Boston series, sitting on the bench for all of Game 4 and 5. He didn’t score in the series.

Signature game
In the Sixers’ 121-113 win over the Hawks on April 10, their 15th straight victory, Johnson posted 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists. That game was during Embiid’s recovery from his eye injury, which gave Johnson more of a chance to shine.

When Embiid was active, however, Johnson mainly just held down the fort while the big man got some rest.

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Johnson sometimes seems older than he actually is, mainly because of his experience and the way he carries himself. At 31 years old, Johnson has already played 13 years in the NBA, since he was the last player to be drafted directly from high school in 2005 before the league changed its eligibility requirements.

JJ Redick and Johnson were two players the young Sixers could always turn to for wisdom. Johnson never complains about his minutes, always plays hard and goes about his business like a true professional — there’s no doubt he’s a good guy to have in the locker room.

Does that mean he’ll still be a part of the Sixers’ locker room next season? Not necessarily. With the Sixers looking to acquire a superstar this offseason, Johnson would likely have to take a pay cut from the $11 million he made this year if he wants to stay in Philadelphia.

And in the long term, the Sixers may ultimately want to place their faith in Holmes, who’s seven years younger and has a higher upside. If Holmes can improve his defense, Johnson could be expendable.

On Johnson
“It was amazing, to a man, how consistent the reviews were. People skills, works 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.” 

- Brett Brown on Johnson after the Sixers' 107-86 win over the Jazz on Nov. 20