Hawes' clutch three helps Sixers beat Bucks in OT

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Hawes' clutch three helps Sixers beat Bucks in OT

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Spencer Hawes remembered the last time a coach drew up a play for him to shoot a three-pointer in the waning seconds in attempt to tie a game. That time he wasn’t sure if the coach knew what he was doing.

“I was in college,” Hawes said. “I thought he screwed something up. ‘Wrong guy, coach.’”

In the Sixers’ dramatic 115-107 overtime victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay), Hawes was the right guy. With 1.7 seconds left in regulation, Hawes got open for an in-bounds pass from Evan Turner and hit a 25-footer from the corner while jumping off the wrong foot to send the game to overtime.

It was the exact play that head coach Brett Brown drew up and was reminiscent of a play the Celtics used to draw up for Larry Bird to get him open for a corner three-pointer. Brown called it a “Rashard Lewis play” and thanked former Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy for drawing it up.

“That was the play,” Brown said. “The Rashard Lewis play. Yeah, that was the play. And I would like to thank Coach Van Gundy and I’m kind of serious because that is his play.”

Hawes’ three-pointer was his third in the final 1:21 of regulation and helped the Sixers overcome a 10-point deficit with 2:10 to go in the fourth quarter. The three three-pointers down the stretch gave Hawes 25 points to go with 12 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season. He also has hit a three-pointer in every game this season and leads the team with 26 threes.

Not bad for the team’s only seven-footer.

“Spencer is the three-point killer around here,” Evan Turner said. “He’ll be in the three-point contest at the All-Star Game and we’ll take it from there.”

Hitting an off-balance three in the final seconds to force overtime wasn’t the only fallout from Hawes’ shot. The Sixers’ big man also helped erase the damage from a season-worst 26 turnovers, which led to 28 points for the Bucks.

In fact, the Sixers also shot a season-best 57 percent from the field, out-rebounded the Bucks by a 50-32 margin, scored 52 points in the paint and built a 15-point lead in the second quarter.

The Sixers did this against a team riding a six-game losing streak with two starters out because of injuries and nearly lost the game under a hail of bad passes and shoddy ball handling.

The Sixers lost sixth man Tony Wroten after 11 minutes of action to a back strain and rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams fouled out in the fourth quarter just two rebounds shy of a triple-double.

“It’s kind of a gift and a curse of a young team that you can forget things easily,” Hawes said. “But you do stupid things that get you in those situations in the first place. We have a resilient group and we have a lot of competitors. I think in any situation you always take that over the opposite even if it comes with some more of the aggressive mistakes.”

Despite the turnovers, the Sixers hung around long enough for Hawes to give them a second chance in overtime. When the Sixers got second life, Turner wasn’t going to let them lose it.

Turner scored eight of his team-high 27 points in overtime and got to the foul line eight times during the second half with some aggressive play. In shooting 10 for 18 from the field, Turner got 10 shots in the paint.

“We were very lucky,” Brown said. “At the end, Spencer got us to where we needed to go and Evan brought us home. Evan grabbed the overtime and made sure we were not going to lose.”

Before the overtime period began, Turner said he was told by his teammates to take over. That’s all he really needed to hear.

“My teammates just pretty much told me to take over the game and lead us, and that’s what I tried to do,” Turner said.

Turner also made the pass to Hawes on the last-second play to tie the game in regulation. Hawes said the pass set up the shot nicely.

“We knew they were going to switch [on defense], so we had to do something to combat that,” Hawes said. “Evan did a great job on the pass by holding it a little longer than it was designed to allow me to get a little bit more space to get one up from the corner.

“I didn’t intend on shooting it off one foot. That was not how I saw it going down.”

It doesn’t matter how it looks, so Hawes will take it. Next, the Sixers return to action Saturday night when they travel to Indiana to play the 11-1 Pacers.

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

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The Sixers weren’t supposed to beat the Raptors, were they? This was going to be an “easy” game for the visiting team, which was coming to Philadelphia on a back-to-back that started in Brooklyn. The Raptors are a playoff team, and second in the Eastern Conference at that. Not to mention, they had defeated the Sixers in their last 14 meetings.

Maybe easy would have been the case the last time the two teams played back in mid-December. For the Sixers, though, things have changed since then and a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday proved this recent success is not fleeting (see Instant Replay).

“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Joel Embiid said. “We’re competing. We’re winning games. We’re playing great defense. We finally found what we’ve been looking for.”

The Sixers had been missing clearly-defined roles and a defensive identity (see story). Now that Brett Brown has whittled down his roster to 10 players and laid out a starting five and second unit, the team has been gelling in those two aspects. The Sixers have won seven out of their last nine games, with the Raptors being the highest caliber of competition.

The Raptors entered the game averaging 111.5 points per game, first in the East and third in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Rockets. They had scored less than 100 points in just seven games this season. Additionally, the Raptors had been held to under 90 points by a single opponent: the Spurs. Not bad company to be in. 

Embiid led all players with 26 points (including 12 for 14 from the free throw line) to go with nine rebounds (see highlights). The Sixers staved off 25 points (11 for 21 from the field), six assists and three rebounds from DeMar DeRozan and 24 points (11 for 16 from the line), four rebounds, four assists and five steals from Kyle Lowry, who fouled out. The Raptors shot 25 percent from three and 65.2 percent at the free throw line.  

“We’re playing with a spirit, we’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief within each other amongst the team that is the best that it’s been since I’ve been here.”

The Sixers' winning stretch began against subpar teams, opponents who earlier in the season some would look at the schedule and say, the Sixers could probably take that one, as they tried to project a batch of victories. The Sixers turned those wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Nets into momentum and carried it into a matchup against the Knicks.

Even though the Knicks are looking lost this season, they still have veteran offensive firepower that can take over a game against a struggling opponent. The Sixers made noise by beating them at the buzzer, then escalated their performance against the postseason-hungry Hornets and Bucks. 

The Raptors are different, though. There is no questioning their success and potential to make a deep playoff run … again. Nonetheless, the Sixers handled this well-seasoned opponent with composure and confidence down the stretch. 

They stayed together when DeRozan hit a jumper with 1:53 to play to give the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter. The Sixers responded to the one-point deficit with a 7-0 run to push the edge up to six points with 20.7 seconds to go.

“I think it says we’re for real. It shows our consistency that we’ve built throughout the year,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re relentless. We have a young group of guys that know how to play the game and play it the right way and will come out there and compete against anybody in this league. I think the perception should be a whole different one now.”

The Sixers showed they can compete with top talent. Their wins aren't just coming from teams at the bottom of the standings. 

"That gives us a lot of confidence," Embiid said. "Coming into the game, we had a lot of confidence. Winning against the second-best team in the East is just amazing. We’re going to keep on working."

Sixers frustrate Raptors, finding 'defensive identity'

Sixers frustrate Raptors, finding 'defensive identity'

The Toronto Raptors were the latest victims of the red-hot Sixers on Wednesday.

The Sixers held the highest-scoring team in the Eastern Conference to more than 20 points below its average in a 94-89 win at the Wells Fargo Center (see story).

The visiting Raptors were visibly and vocally frustrated after the game.

"They're a good team, they've been playing well, no disrespect to them, but we missed a lot of wide-open shots," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "Those are shots we normally make but we knew we had our hands full coming in here. We knew it was gonna be a grind-it-out game."

Blaming it on bad luck and missing "wide-open shots" seems to be oversimplifying it just a tad. Toronto was held to 39.5 percent from the field and went just 6 of 24 from three.

A big factor in slowing down the Raptors is containing the dangerous backcourt duo of DeMar DeRozan and Villanova product Kyle Lowry. DeRozan finished with 25 points, below his average of 28.2, which was in the top five in the league coming in.

Lowry was even more frustrated by the Sixers' swarming defense. He finished with 24 points but on just 5 of 13 from the field. He also committed five turnovers, picked up a technical foul and fouled out in the final seconds. When asked what the Sixers did to slow him down, Lowry wasn't buying into the hype.

"I think we got everything we wanted," Lowry said. "We got every shot we wanted. We just didn't convert it.

"They won the game. Give them credit. They played with passion and energy. That's one thing they got us on tonight."

You don't win seven out of nine games and take down the second-best team in the conference with sheer will. The Sixers have become a strong team on the defensive end of the floor.

They're currently 10th in the NBA in defensive rating. A big part of that has been the emergence of Joel Embiid as an elite rim protector. For as great as "The Process" has been offensively, his largest impact is really on the defensive end.

He wasn't the only rookie engaged on defense Wednesday night. Dario Saric came through with consecutive blocks of Norman Powell and Jared Sullinger early in the fourth quarter, denying the Raptors a chance to cut into the Sixers' lead (see video).

"Dario never blocks shots and he had two in a row," Embiid said. "Especially at the rim like that, blocking Sullinger, that’s the type of play we need. The crowd obviously got into. I’m just glad he’s here with us like he promised he was going to be after two years."

Taking the torch from Saric, Embiid's block on a Lowry drive with 22.9 seconds left sealed arguably the Sixers' biggest win of the season, moments after Covington rejected a Lowry three (see video).

"One thing I care about is defense," Embiid said. "Everybody around me has to follow my lead because I am the last line of defense. One thing I care about in my career is winning Defensive Player of the Year. These guys know they can go for steals, and make stops, since I am the last guy there to block the shot.

"I don’t think it’s a fluke. We’re competing, playing great defense, winning games, and we found what we’re looking for. Everybody was trying to find themselves, and we all still have a lot to learn. We have some great players that are coming together."

Prior to the game, Casey had some lofty praise for the rookie big man. He compared Embiid to a former Rookie of the Year and 2016 inductee into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Shaquille O'Neal.

Casey walked away from this game even more impressed.

"He's a very talented player," Casey said of Embiid. "He made a difference at the rim. Challenging shots. Offensively, he's different because if you go out on him too quick, he's gonna drive by your big. His ability to attack the rim and shoot the three, his post play. And again, he's becoming a better passer so he's gonna be a handful. We know that."

Like any season, there are going to be ups and downs. For the Sixers, it's been mostly downs for three straight years. This recent run has breathed new life into this franchise and this fan base.

Embiid's ascension into a legitimate superstar has been a huge help. Saric coming from overseas to provide his grit, skill and basketball IQ has been key. T.J. McConnell's promotion to the starting lineup and the additions of veterans like Ersan Ilyasova and Gerald Henderson have steadied the ship.

But as Brett Brown has said many times, the Sixers' bread is buttered on the defensive end of the floor.

"I get very excited and proud of our group when they hear me talk so much about defensive identity," Brown said. "You know, who are we? How are you going to build a program? How are you going to grow the program? Words are cheap. I think results are real. And lately, they're buying in and executing our defensive game plan and they're playing with a tremendous spirit and togetherness. They really get into playing defense. That is beyond exciting for me."