Green, Rondo too much in Sixers' loss to Celtics


Green, Rondo too much in Sixers' loss to Celtics


Essentially, the Sixers and the Celtics are traveling over the same path. As both teams carved apart their rosters and set off on complete overhauls, the 2013-14 season shaped up to be difficult all the way around.

Even with Boston’s 114-108 victory over the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay), there isn’t much separating the teams. Both are young and inexperienced with first-year NBA head coaches taking on the hard task of putting the pieces back together.

But where the Celtics (17-33) have it over the Sixers (15-35) is obvious. When Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green are on the floor, any team has a chance.

Green scored a game-high 36 points on 11 for 18 shooting, including 5 for 7 from three-point range. He scored 17 points in the third quarter and single-handily put the Celtics on the way to the victory.

Clinging to a two-possession lead with 8:47 left in the third quarter, Green scored 13 points in a row and 17 of the next 19 for the Celtics. He hit three three-pointers and went 6 for 6 from the line as the deficit grew to 12 points for the Sixers.

“It felt like it was a lot more,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of Green’s 17-point run in the third.

It only felt like more because the Sixers couldn’t do anything about it. With Rondo controlling the tempo of the game in a season-high 32 minutes, the Celtics always had an answer. That proved to be especially frustrating during the fourth quarter when the Sixers had six chances to cut the Celtics’ lead to one possession over the final nine minutes of the game.

Instead, the Sixers never got closer than three points with those six chances ending with three turnovers and four missed shots.

It was very frustrating for the Sixers to be so close only to let it slip away.

“It’s kind of the story of the year,” said Spencer Hawes, who had 13 points and 14 rebounds. “We battle back, but it takes so much energy to get back into games. We have to start giving ourselves a little pad to be on the other end absorbing it and having that little burst to finish them off.”

In his eighth game back following knee surgery, Rondo had a season-high 11 assists and came one rebound and one basket away from a triple-double. In a game in which all of the intangibles were equal -- the Sixers had 16 turnovers, Boston had 15; the Sixers had 47 rebounds with 13 offensive, Boston had 48 and 12 -- Rondo shifted the balance.

Facing off against rookie Michael Carter-Williams, who was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for January before the game, Rondo played like a conductor.

“He’s their compass,” Brown said about Rondo. “He’s just like Chris Paul where he has that cocky side that you just love where he’s in control of the game. It’s his ball and he’s going to dribble at a pace that he wants to and around who he wants to. Maybe he’s going to shoot it or maybe he’s going to drop it off. He navigates the lane freely.”

Carter-Williams had his eyes wide open while playing against Rondo, too. Though the knee surgery has left the Celtics’ point guard just slightly slower than normal, the basketball IQ and court savvy were as fine-tuned as ever.

There was plenty for the Sixers’ rookie to pick up on.

“He’s definitely a pass-first point guard,” said Carter-Williams, who had 11 points on 16 shots with six assists and four turnovers. “He’s a great passer who always finds his teammates and he’s the leader out there.”

Certainly, Carter-Williams is working to develop into a leader like Rondo. And despite the early-season accolades, it’s been a rocky road for the rookie. For instance, Carter-Williams had half of his assists during the first half, but the team was only able to find two shots in the opening half for leading scorer Evan Turner. Thad Young made up some of the difference with 12 of his team-high 20 in the first half, but the Sixers rarely run plays just for Young.

Turner squeezed off 11 shots for 12 points in the second half, however, he created a few of those for himself.

Afterwards, Turner said his shots came when available.

“It was just the flow of the game,” Turner said. “That was pretty much it.”

With Rondo back on the floor, the flow of the game had been decided and there was nothing the Sixers did to steal it away.

Despite shooting struggles, Dario Saric impressive in Sixers' regular-season debut

Despite shooting struggles, Dario Saric impressive in Sixers' regular-season debut

After two years filled with will he or won't he speculation over joining the Sixers, this certainly wasn't the effort Dario Saric had envisioned for his NBA regular-season debut. 

"I felt comfortable, but sometimes it's not your day and this was my bad day," said Saric, who scored five points in the Sixers' 103-97 season-opening loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. "I'll try to watch the video and fix what I can fix and move forward."

The raw numbers look bad. The rookie forward shot 2 of 12 from the field, including 0 of 4 from three-point range. He did notch seven rebounds and two assists, but also contributed two turnovers.

But as you know, numbers don't always tell the story. 

Saric displayed the offensive versatility and headiness on defense that had the Sixers salivating over him for two years while he played for Anadolu Efes in Turkey. He was able to penetrate in the lane several times against the Thunder on Wednesday night and used pump/head fakes to get his defender off balance, but the shots just didn't fall.

"He struggled with his shot" Sixers head coach Bett Brown said. "But just the physical play, some of the intellect of guarding things suddenly that we all might not pay attention to that coaches do. You see him go out of his way to make a rotation, that he just felt the game. I think that some of his pick-and-roll reads on trying to hit cutters, trying to slow up rollers and still go back to shooters like (Ersan) Ilyasova is, stood out to me.

"He's intelligent. He is a smart basketball player. The stats will show that he didn't make some of his shots, but I think that just that gamesmanship, that intellect stands out to me." 

The only time Saric looked a tad overmatched is when OKC went to its mustachioed muscle tandem of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter inside. After the game, Brown lamented leaving Saric in for so long against that pairing, which combined for 33 points and 17 rebounds on the night.

Teammate Jahlil Okafor tried to come to Saric's aid in those moments, but returning from a torn meniscus and on a minutes restriction, his plan wasn't exactly met with enthusiasm by the coaching staff.

"I actually kind of hinted to the coaches that I wanted to play with him (Embiid) because they put Kanter and Adams in," Okafor said. "I was kind of hinting to the coaches that if they want to play big ball we can play big ball with them."

Their response?

"Stay disciplined. Have your lawyer call my lawyer," Okafor said with a laugh. "That's the go-to line."

Even with Saric's few hiccups on defense, Okafor is confident the 22-year-old Croatian will be able to hold his own against NBA players and get the buckets to start dropping on the offensive end.

"I love Dario. It's been a pleasure having him around," Okafor said. "He's such a selfless guy.

"He did struggle a little bit with his shot, but all of the shots that he missed are shots that we know he can make and shots that we've seen him make since he's been here. So we're good. We know what he's going to do."

Lost in Joel Embiid's night, Jahlil Okafor returns with new role

Lost in Joel Embiid's night, Jahlil Okafor returns with new role

Joel Embiid’s regular-season debut headlined the Sixers' home opener Wednesday, a night two years in the making. He wasn’t the only player coming back from injury, though.

Jahlil Okafor took the court in a regular-season game for the first time since Feb. 28. Okafor underwent surgery in March to repair a right meniscus tear. He suffered a setback during training camp and was limited by soreness in that knee.

Okafor subbed in for Embiid with 7:47 remaining in the first quarter. He totaled eight points (4 for 10 from the field), three rebounds, one block, two fouls and three turnovers in 16 minutes, exceeding the Sixers’ initial minute projection of 12 to 14.

Okafor said his knee felt “good” after the game and did not experience discomfort. 

“I enjoyed myself,” Okafor said following the Sixers' 103-97 defeat to the Thunder (see Instant Replay). “Even though we lost, I enjoyed myself. We had a sold-out crowd. We had a hard-fought battle.”

Okafor’s role on Wednesday was different than it had been his rookie season. The former third overall pick is coming off the bench with a minutes restriction, broken down into segments. 

“It’s different for me,” Okafor said of his playing time. “I’m not used to playing in four-minute clumps. You’re more aware of when you’re going to go in. It kind of helps you a little bit. But it’s not something I want to get used to.”

Okafor is adjusting to a new in-game experience as a reserve. Last season, he started 48 of his 53 games and averaged 30.0 minutes. 

“My main thing was being able to come off the bench, which I’m not really used to, and still stay engaged, trying to stay loose,” Okafor said.

Opening night marked new starts for Okafor, as a player and a member of the Sixers (see 10 observations).

“I was taking a flashback to last year when we were 0-15, 0-16 and we so badly wanted to just restart the season,” he said. “Now we have the opportunity.”