Sixers-Warriors observations: Defending champs pull away in 2nd half

Sixers-Warriors observations: Defending champs pull away in 2nd half


OAKLAND, Calif.  — The first two quarters were a game of back-and-forth. The third was a Warriors’ takeover.

The Sixers and Warriors swapped leads 16 times in the first half before the Warriors, well, played like the Warriors out of halftime to claim a 135-114 victory Saturday night.

• The Sixers trailed by only four points after one in spite of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons uncharacteristically going scoreless. The Warriors committed eight turnovers in the first quarter, nearly half of their season average 16.6 per game. Those early errors led to nine of the Sixers’ 28 points in the quarter.

• Kevin Durant (29 points) was just getting started, though. Even as the Sixers outscored the Warriors in the second quarter, Durant dropped 20 points in the first half to give his team a 65-64 lead. Durant was supported offensively by Steph Curry (22 points) and Klay Thompson (23 points), while the Sixers were right in the game even though no player had reached double digits. The Warriors outscored the Sixers 15-5 at the line in the first half.

• The Warriors ended the second quarter on a 6-0 run and carried that momentum into the third. They broke a 74-74 tie with 7:29 remaining to go on a 20-5 burst over the next five minutes.

• Golden State outscored the Sixers by a dramatic 15 points in the third while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three. Simmons (0 for 3 from the field) went scoreless again in the quarter. Unlike in the first, the Warriors didn’t give up any points off turnovers; the Sixers committed seven.

• The Sixers' deficit was too deep to overcome in the fourth. They trailed by 26 points at one point with Curry and Durant on the bench the entire final quarter.

• Simmons garnered high praise from Warriors head coach Steve Kerr before the game. “This guy’s a bulldozer, like LeBron (James), Magic (Johnson), just powerful and springy. He’s got one of those sort of strange games because he’s not a shooter. He finds angles. He finds different ways to score the ball that are unorthodox and difficult to guard.”

Still, Simmons struggled offensively in his first game against the Warriors, who focused on limiting him in transition. He went scoreless in two quarters and shot 6 for 17 from the field on the night. Simmons finished with 13 points, eight assists, five rebounds and four turnovers.

• Embiid’s declaration to Draymond Green that he was “going to kick his a--” didn’t happen. Embiid shot 4 for 11 from the field for 12 points, his second-lowest total of the season. He grabbed seven rebounds and committed as many turnovers.

• The Warriors' top scorers were dangerous, as usual. In addition to 29 from Durant, Curry and Thompson combined for 55 points. Draymond Green neared a triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. The team shot 58.2 percent from the field and 96.2 percent from the line overall.

• The Warriors and Sixers entered the game first and second in assists with 31.0 and 25.9, respectively. The Sixers actually had the edge on the Warriors, 30 assists to 28. Simmons, T.J. McConnell (7) and JJ Redick (6) combined for 21.

• Richaun Holmes got the backup center minutes (23), which wasn’t surprising given the Warriors’ uptempo system. Brett Brown has praised Holmes for his “bounce” on the court. Holmes fouled out with 1:45 left in the game. Brown subbed in Justin Anderson instead of turning to Amir Johnson, who had been sitting the entire night.

• Injury updates: Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) was on the bench with the Sixers. He broke a sweat in pregame shooting drills (not long-range jumpers) … I saw Nik Stauskas’ sprained right ankle before the game. Yikes. He suffered the injury after stepping on a teammate’s foot during practice Friday. Stauskas has to wait for the swelling to subside … Jerryd Bayless remains out with a left wrist contusion … Former Sixer Andre Iguodala sat out for rest.

• Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie was in attendance. Hinkie also was at last season’s Sixers game in Oakland.

• Oracle Arena gets loud when one of the Splash Brothers nails a three. Klay Thompson brought the crowd to their feet and they stood for the Sixers’ final possession of the first half.

• The Warriors presented James Michael McAdoo with his 2017 championship ring prior to the game. McAdoo played his first three seasons for the team and was part of two title-winning teams. The Sixers signed McAdoo to a two-way contract this offseason. He is averaging 7.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists in his first four games with the Delaware 87ers.

“I’m thrilled that he’s here,” Kerr said. 

NBA draft profile: Villanova G Jalen Brunson

NBA draft profile: Villanova G Jalen Brunson

Jalen Brunson

Position: Guard

Height: 6-2

Weight: 198

School: Villanova

As Mikal Bridges cements his status as a consensus lottery pick and Donte DiVincenzo’s name becomes hot enough to reportedly receive an invite to the green room of the draft, their Villanova teammate who was the consensus national player of the year has seen his stock remain static.

Jalen Brunson was the leading scorer on Villanova’s national title team last season, pouring in 18.9 points per game while dishing out 4.6 assists. Bunson, a three-year starter and two-time national champ, was also highly-efficient, shooting 52.1 percent from the floor, 40.8 percent from deep and 80.2 percent from the free throw line. And as a result of his remarkable junior season, the Villanova point guard took home a ton of hardware in sweeping the major national player of the year awards.

But, Brunson isn’t considered a surefire first-round pick.

Two of the main reasons for this? His position and age. The point guard position has the greatest depth in the NBA so lead guards don’t tend be high draft picks unless they have All-Star upside. If Bridges was five inches shorter, he wouldn’t have the same kind of value. Teams are starving for rotation three-and-D wings and not so much for high-floor/low-ceiling point guards. 

With Brunson set to turn 22 years old in August, he doesn’t possess the tantalizing upside of the top point guards in this draft like Trae Young, Collin Sexton and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Even so, there's still a place for Brunson in the NBA.

As a three-level scorer, Brunson can fill it up in a variety of ways. He has a smooth jumper that extends beyond the three-point line. In the mid-range area, he makes up for his lack of quickness with crafty moves to create separation for pull-ups. On drives, Brunson can initiate contact to draw fouls, contort his body to avoid contests and has good touch around the rim. And believe it or not, the 6-2 guard utilizes his craftiness to be an effective post player as well. 

When Brunson has the ball in his hands, he carries a calming force with him. He plays at his own pace and just always seems in control, rarely committing egregious turnovers or taking bad shots. He's also a willing, talented passer who will make the unselfish extra pass and can also fit the ball into a tight window to a cutter/roller.

Brunson’s weaknesses have less to do with his skills and more with his physical traits and tools. He’s not an explosive athlete with crazy bounce and doesn’t possess game-changing speed or quickness. So will he be able to create enough space against more athletic wing defenders to penetrate to the rim or get off his pull-up jumper? 

Defensively, Brunson works hard and isn't way undersized as a point guard. But he doesn't have the size to switch across multiple positions and the one position he will defend is deep with high-level talent. He can survive against backups, but how will he fare against quality starters and stars?

NBA comparison
Lefties tend to get compared to other lefties, but I'm passing on the Derek Fisher comp and going with fellow Big 5 alum Jameer Nelson. The St. Joe’s product is shorter and had a little more quickness during his prime, but was a solid starter capable of scoring at all three levels despite some physical limitations. Brunson projects more as a backup but has the ceiling of a player like Nelson.

How’d he fit with the Sixers
Let’s look at the Sixers’ current guards beyond Ben Simmons. Markelle Fultz is an unknown. T.J. McConnell is set to be an unrestricted free agent next summer. And the only others under contract are Jerryd Bayless, Timothe Luwawu-Caborrot and Furkan Korkmaz.

This team needs guard depth, specifically ball handlers and shot creators/makers. While it may not come at an elite level, Brunson could fill both of those needs. And because of his shooting ability, he could also play off the ball as a spot-up shooter and secondary creator alongside Simmons and Fultz.

Draft projection 
A fringe first-rounder, Brunson's range will start right around the Sixers’ second pick at No. 26. If they pass on him there, they shouldn’t count on him still being on the board at their next pick at 38.

More on the Sixers

Report: Sixers still eyeing trade up, but reluctant to include Robert Covington or Dario Saric

Report: Sixers still eyeing trade up, but reluctant to include Robert Covington or Dario Saric

We’re counting down the hours now until the 2018 NBA draft, which means all of the chatter surrounding teams is heading into overdrive.

That includes the Sixers, who are reportedly still attempting to move up the draft board.

Per a report Tuesday by Sports Illustrated’s Jake Fischer, the Sixers are continuing to make calls about moving into the top five. However, “they have offered packages of picks, but have thus far rebuked including oft-mentioned Robert Covington and Dario Saric,” according to the report.

There has still been no mention of exactly which prospect the Sixers are interested in trading up for since former Cavaliers GM David Griffin made the claim during a radio interview last week (see story).

With six total selections in Thursday’s draft, including Nos. 10 and 26 in the first round, it makes sense that the Sixers would offer draft picks first in any potential trade.

However you feel about the streaky Covington, the team was high enough on the All-NBA defender last season to lock him into a long-term deal while Saric has proven to be a rock-solid contributor that keeps improving every day.

We’ll see if the Sixers ease off those demands as we get even closer to the draft.

More on the Sixers