76ers

Sixers finally able to solve Cavaliers curse

Sixers finally able to solve Cavaliers curse

BOX SCORE

CLEVELAND — With a 108-97 victory Thursday night, the Sixers beat the Cavaliers for the first time since Jan. 5, 2015. That 11-game skid is over, as is their two-game losing streak on this road trip. 

The Sixers put together a balanced team effort to overcome 30 points, nine rebounds and eight assists from LeBron James. 

JJ Redick bounced back from missing the game-winning three attempt in Miami to lead the team with 21 points. Joel Embiid posted a 17-point, 14-rebound double-double while Ben Simmons neared a triple-double with 16 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. 

The game didn’t end quietly. Jordan Clarkson was ejected with 12 seconds remaining after throwing the ball off Dario Saric’s back after Saric connected at the basket. It appeared Clarkson took exception to Saric scoring with 12.2 seconds left and the game locked up when he could have just dribbled.

The Sixers improved to 33-27. The Cavaliers dropped to 36-25. 

• Ersan Ilyasova made his second Sixers debut after signing with the team Wednesday. He came off the bench at power forward to post six points, two rebounds and two assists. There looked to be an easy adjustment for Ilyasova, who had played for the Sixers last season. 

“I’d be happy if he just replicated what he did when he was here the first time,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said pregame. “He’s a wonderful teammate, he is a serious man, he is a prideful pro, and he can shoot.”

• James denied touring Philadelphia-area schools during the All-Star break on Thursday morning (see story), but that evening he created more buzz by wearing blue sneakers. Blue, of course, is one of the Sixers’ primary colors, not the Cavaliers (see story)

Simmons, who shares an agency with James, considered the high school rumors to be “random.”

“It was just funny because I mean he was on holiday and then he was at All-Star break,” Simmons said.

• Simmons said he aimed to improve across the box score from his previous games against James and the Cavaliers. Simmons was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for February shortly before the game. 

• All of the Sixers’ starters scored in double digits, including Robert Covington with a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double. The Cavaliers didn't get much offensive help from their starters. Cedi Osman, Tristan Thompson and George Hill combined for 19 points. Rodney Hood scored 11. 

• The Sixers committed 10 turnovers (12 points), well below their season average and a 180 from their recent missteps. 

• Up next: The Sixers will return to Philadelphia after the game to host the Hornets Friday night. They remain undefeated at the Wells Fargo Center in 2018.

Sixers weekly observations: Welcome to Philly, Jimmy Butler

Sixers weekly observations: Welcome to Philly, Jimmy Butler

Last week, we speculated about how the Sixers would integrate Jimmy Butler into the team. 

This week, it’s fair to say Butler looks like he belongs. 

The Sixers went 3-1 over the past seven days to move to 11-7 overall, winning in Miami, losing in Orlando, and beating Utah and Charlotte.

Butler was fantastic all night in his home debut Friday vs. the Jazz, and he was great when it mattered Saturday against the Hornets, making a huge block in overtime on Kemba Walker, then nailing the game-winning three-pointer with 0.3 seconds left.

• One of Butler’s best qualities is how simple he can make the game. His knowledge of the playbook and his teammates is obviously limited, but he’s not the kind of player who needs to know the nuances of every set to win his team games. At the end of Saturday night’s game, all Brett Brown had to do was get the ball in Butler’s hands and clear out the floor. It’s been a while since the Sixers had a player like that.

• It doesn’t spoil a very positive week, but the Sixers keep blowing big lead after big lead. In each of the last three games, they gave up leads of 16 or more points. Not good.

• Joel Embiid actually hasn’t shot the ball well since Butler arrived (34.9 percent), but he’s still averaging 25 points, 10.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.3 blocks in the past three games. Because of his ability to draw fouls, he doesn't need to have a great shooting night to be dominant offensively. 

• Saturday was Ben Simmons’ best performance of the season. While the stat line of 23 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists was impressive, his balance between patient point guard play and aggression in transition was most striking. He went 9 for 11 from the foul line, season highs for both attempts and makes.

• Markelle Fultz’s body language might not exude hustle, but he deserves credit for making winning plays through sheer effort. 

Friday night, he tracked down his missed free throw and found Butler for a pivotal and-one layup at the end of the third quarter. Saturday, he soared in to steal a rebound from Miles Bridges and dished it to Mike Muscala for a dunk.

Fultz’s unusual free throws have gotten a lot of attention, and rightfully so. His pump-fake free throw Monday in Miami, which Fultz claimed slipped out of hand, was alarming to watch. And his juggling free throw routine Friday night was also rather bizarre, though it did appear effective at removing most of the hitch from Fultz’s shot.

Through all the concern over his shot and conjecture about what the Butler trade means for his future with the Sixers, Fultz has continued to play hard.  

• Even after acquiring Butler, general manager Elton Brand said Tuesday at his new star’s introductory press conference that  “the championship talk is a little premature for me.” 

One way he plans to get the Sixers closer to title contention is through filling the open roster spot. He acknowledged the team “needs shooting.”

Over the past week, their lack of quality options at the backup power forward and center spots has been easy to see as well. Amir Johnson has not had a very good start to the season — his minus-9.0 net rating is second-worst on the team. His 19.3 turnover percentage is the highest of any Sixer. 

Brown seems to recognize that Johnson is usually a liability; he’s only playing him 10.2 minutes per game, which would be a career low for Johnson. The ripple effect of that has been 23.9 minutes per game for Mike Muscala, which would be a career high.

With Wilson Chandler in the starting lineup, leaning so heavily on Muscala and trying to steal 10 solid minutes from Johnson each night does not look like a viable plan. In the short term, it might make sense to give Jonah Bolden a chance.

• The Sixers have played 18 games, most in the NBA, and five back-to-backs. The schedule finally eases up a little starting this week, with a three-game homestand Monday vs. the 3-12 Suns, Wednesday vs. the 9-7 Pelicans and Friday vs. the 2-12 Cavaliers. With their 8-0 record at Wells Fargo Center, the Sixers are the last team in the NBA without a loss at home.

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Jimmy Butler's overtime heroics lift Sixers over Hornets

Jimmy Butler's overtime heroics lift Sixers over Hornets

Jimmy Butler might not be the perfect fit for the Sixers, as many noted when he was acquired.

But on Saturday night, in the afterglow of Butler’s game-winning three-pointer with 0.3 seconds left in overtime, he felt as close to perfect as you can get for this Sixers team.

On the final possession of regulation, head coach Brett Brown cleared the floor out for Butler. His new star missed an open mid-range jumper.

On the final possession of overtime, Brown called the identical play. 

Butler’s tightly contested jumper from the right wing gave the Sixers a 122-119 over the Hornets (see observations).

It doesn’t take much creativity to find a way to win,” Brown told reporters in Charlotte. “That’s what the great players can do and it’s what we spoke about with the inclusion of him, whether it’s the pick-and-roll, isolation, to create his own looks. That is a rare gift in the NBA, the players that can do that a high rate, and he’s one of them. And he’s ours. To see that happen, to see him be able to make amends for that shot he was disappointed he missed in regulation and to have the opportunity to back it up and deliver as he did, I think it’s a tremendous feel good story, and his teammates shared in that.

In Butler’s three games with the team, the Sixers are 2-1. Without Butler, there’s little doubt they’d be 0-3. 

He shut down Donovan Mitchell Friday night, dished out seven assists and scored 28 points, including eight in a tight fourth quarter. 

Saturday night felt like a different story for Butler, who shot just 4 for 11. He mostly looked out of sync with the Sixers’ offense, struggling to muster open looks and lingering in the background as Ben Simmons (23 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists) and Joel Embiid (33 points, 11 rebounds) shined. 

Butler was the primary defender on the electric Kemba Walker, who scored a career-high 60 points.

“In my head, as much as I wanted the shot to go in to win the game, I also wanted it to go in because I didn’t want Kemba to give me 70,” Butler said. “I just wanted it to stop at 60.”

In overtime, though, Butler showed exactly why the Sixers traded for him. Before Butler, the Sixers had gaping holes when it came to shot creation, shutdown perimeter defense and late-game scoring. With Butler, it appears those deficiencies no longer exist. 

Butler didn’t resign himself to Walker having an unstoppable night, even after all the improbable shots Walker had made, including a three-pointer that kissed off the backboard and went in to give Charlotte a 108-107 lead with 44.5 seconds left in regulation.

On Charlotte’s final possession of overtime, Butler swatted Walker’s shot, then leaped up to grab the ball and toss it over his head to save it from going out of bounds.

“I stayed in the game,” Butler said. “Guys are going to score the ball and if they’re feeling it, they’re going to score it at a high rate. My job is to make everything tough for him. I think I did that on a lot of plays. Let up on a couple, don’t get me wrong. But in the end, got a piece of the ball. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw [Wilson Chandler] right there. Throw the ball back to him, take off the other way.”

The Sixers called timeout, and everyone knew who was getting the ball. After Butler’s miss at the end of the fourth, JJ Redick approached Butler before the final play of overtime.

“He was kind of in his own little world,” Redick said, “and I just said, ‘I bet you won’t call game.’ He said, ‘Huh?’ I said, ‘I bet you won’t call game.’ And he said, ‘Bet.’ So we had a fun little moment after he hit that shot.”

While Butler does erase many of the Sixers’ previous weaknesses, he doesn’t solve everything. The Sixers continue to blow sizable leads — Saturday night was the third straight game they’ve squandered a lead of at least 16 points. And the bench still looks like it could use another piece or two. 

Butler is the kind of player who can make those concerns feel irrelevant. At the end of overtime, all that mattered was the Sixers could give the ball to Butler and let him do what he does.

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