Popovich feels bad, but not sorry, for Brett Brown

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Popovich feels bad, but not sorry, for Brett Brown

SAN ANTONIO -- There was a friendly face waiting to greet Brett Brown everywhere he turned at the AT&T Center.

After spending seven seasons as an assistant coach with San Antonio, Brown returned to the AT&T Center on Monday for the first time as Sixers head coach.

“You get flooded with so many memories of championships and good people and just elite competitors under a roof of an organization that is so prideful in doing the right thing,” Brown said. “[They are] led by I think the best coach in the game and a general manager that complements the head coach so well. You come back here, you revisit with all those types of memories and friends you haven’t seen in a while.”

The trip down memory lane ended in familiar fashion for the Spurs -- with a lopsided victory -- if an unfamiliar outcome for Brown in San Antonio.

The Spurs rolled to a 113-91 victory on Monday night, extending their winning streak to 14 while handing the Sixers their 25th straight loss (see story).

The victory proved bittersweet because it came against “one of my best friends,” San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich said.

“No, it’s never any fun doing that,” Popovich said. “Win or lose, it’s never fun either way. The wins aren’t as much fun and the losses are bad because they are losses, losses speak for themselves. You want to enjoy your wins, but it’s just harder when it’s with somebody like that.”

Making it even harder is the dubious path it kept the Sixers on.

The Sixers next play Thursday in Houston, where they can match the NBA record for consecutive losses of 26 straight set by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010-11.

“I feel terribly for him, but I don’t feel sorry for him,” Popovich said. “I feel badly for him because he has to go through it, but I don’t need to feel sorry for him because he would be angry if he knew I felt sorry for him because he doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him.

“He doesn’t feel bad for himself, I can tell you. He looks forward to going to work every day and he’s going to work those guys to death and he’s going to love them to death, both at the same time, that’s who he is.”

One of the most important lessons Brown learned under Popovich is focusing on the bigger picture. Winning and losing streaks are never as telling as what they eventually lead to is a mantra the Spurs' coaches and players preach.

“Obviously, it's a rough season for them; it's a rebuilding season for them,” Spurs veteran Tim Duncan said. “[Brown] knows that. They know that. They have a lot of young guys. He's just trying to get the system in place that has them playing the way he wants them playing. It's a process. He knows that.”

Brown knows Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was San Antonio -- even if it seems that way.

Under Popovich, the Spurs have captured four NBA titles, won 50 games for a league-record 15 consecutive seasons and are vying for the league’s best record while earning their 17th straight postseason berth.

Yet before all that success, Popovich struggled with injuries and a fluid roster after taking over as coach 18 games into the 1996-97 season. San Antonio finished 20-62 that season, but the dismal record yielded the top pick, which the Spurs used to draft Duncan and begin one of the greatest runs in sports history.

The Sixers could be on a similar path, owning two first-round picks that are expected to fall in the Top 10 of one of the deepest drafts in a decade.

They will also have 6-foot-11 Nerlens Noel, who has sat out his entire rookie year following left knee surgery, after being selected with the sixth pick in last year’s draft.

Adding all that talent to rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young could make the Sixers an instant contender.

But Brown knows it takes more than talent to be successful.

The Spurs have battled injuries all season, but their crisp ball movement, defensive intensity and unselfish play have allowed them to sit atop the league at 54-16.

San Antonio had 31 assists on its 44 baskets Monday night against the Sixers.

“In my opinion, that’s how you play the game,” Brown said. “So what you see is a system born out of many, many years of corporate knowledge where the winks and the blinks and the wrinkles and subtle nuances [allow them to] understand each other’s tendencies, and the offense shines. It’s not just a byproduct of good players or a great coach. It’s a decade worth of corporate knowledge. That’s what you aspire to get to.”

It can only come with structure and experience.

San Antonio's Big Three of Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have played for 39 seasons, which is seven years more experience than the entire Sixers' roster combined. The Sixers have six rookies on this year's roster.

“We run the completely same offense,” Young said. “But they do all the ins and outs and we don't. That's the biggest thing. They ran a play that we knew, but they ran it a completely different way than we ran it. And that's because they knew we were going to pick apart the first side and second side, so they came from a whole different angle and ran the play. We were all mind-boggled about how they all knew ins and outs.”

Despite the early troubles, Popovich said the Sixers made the right choice in hiring Brown.

“I think he is as tough minded as the environment that exists there in Philly,” Popovich said. “He’s a very focused individual with great competitiveness and unbelievable fiber. He keeps an eye on what’s important. He will always be participatory and creative, but at the same time very consistent in his demands and knowing what wins and loses. He can stick with a program and is loyal as the day is long. He’s a winner in life in a whole lot of ways.”

LSU PG Tim Quarterman on Ben Simmons: 'He's a great teammate'

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LSU PG Tim Quarterman on Ben Simmons: 'He's a great teammate'

By now, Tim Quarterman is used to being asked about Ben Simmons.

The former LSU point guard declared for the NBA draft following his junior season and enter the same draft in which Simmons, the freshman phenom, is projected to be the No. 1 or No. 2 pick.

As Quarterman goes through his own pre-draft process, it's inevitable he'll have to field questions about his former teammate he calls “his little brother” along the way.

“He’s a great passer, he can handle the ball and he’s always there to cheer you on,” Quarterman said Monday following a workout with the Sixers on Monday. “He likes for other people to accomplish great accomplishments. He’s a great teammate.”

Simmons came under criticism during his freshman year for “quitting” on the Tigers. The team went 19-14 and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. They also chose not to participate in any other postseason tournaments. Even though Simmons averaged a team-high 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game, there was question over his effort.

Quarterman said that wasn’t the case.

"Ben is a great person, a great player and he's a great competitor, so I don't think throughout the season he ever quit on us," Quarterman said. “I think he continued to play hard. I think us losing frustrated a lot of  us as competitors because we always wanted to win.”

The Sixers have an edge evaluating Simmons. While he grew up thousands of miles from Philadelphia in Australia, it just so happens Brett Brown coached Simmons' father David during his extensive coaching career in Australia. Not only does Brown know Simmons’ family, he still is closely connected to those involved in his basketball career.

“I know the people that have worked with him all across the board,” Brown said. “That’s just one of the benefits of living in the country and 20 minutes from where he grew up for 17 years, short of my Sydney days where it makes it 12 years.”

Of course Quarterman didn't work out with the Sixers just to speak on Simmons. He is also fighting for a place in the NBA as well.

"Tim did a very good job creating for others," Brandon Williams, Sixers vice president of basketball administration, said. "What I'm impressed by is he's such a nuisance defensively, his length and athleticism. Then he showed his ability to create off the bounce."

NBA draft profile: Oklahoma G Buddy Hield

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NBA draft profile: Oklahoma G Buddy Hield

Buddy Hield

Position: Guard

Height: 6-foot-4

Weight: 214 pounds

School: Oklahoma

It seems rare these days for juniors considering the NBA draft to return to school. It's even more unique for those players to take a leap from likely draft picks to lottery locks.

But that's exactly what Buddy Hield did during his dazzling senior season at Oklahoma. The guard demanded the country's attention as he shot his way to 25.0 points per game (second in the nation) and helped the Sooners reach the Final Four as he racked up both the prestigious Wooden and Naismith Awards in the process.

While the scoring was certainly worthy of praise, Hield's efficiency was even more impressive. Despite attempting career highs in field goals (16.2), three-pointers (8.7) and free throws per game (5.4), the sharpshooter increased his percentages across the board. Hield connected on 50.1 percent from the field, 45.7 percent from three-point range and 88.0 percent from the line.

Even though Hield capped off his decorated career with a dud in Oklahoma's Final Four loss to eventual national champion Villanova (nine points on 4 of 12 shooting), he proved throughout the course of the season that his ceiling is higher than expected and that he belongs among the top tier of this year's draft class.

Strengths
All of those days practicing on a milk crate back in the Bahamas paid off because Hield can flat-out shoot the ball. His 147 threes led the nation last season and were tied for the most by any college player since some guy named Stephen Curry drained 162 in 2008.

But Hield isn't just a standstill shooter by any means. Yes, he can catch and shoot, but he also has the ability to fire off screens, pull up off the dribble and get to the rim at times.

Hield also showed he wasn't afraid to stick his nose into the trees by pulling down 5.7 rebounds per game a season ago and 4.9 a night during his time at Oklahoma.

Weaknesses
There is some concern about whether Hield will be able to get that silky shot off the way he wants to at the next level. His jumper does have a lower release point than usual, and at 6-foot-4, he won't be able to just rise up to shoot over smaller defenders in the NBA. That means to get open he will have to rely more on his ball handling, which could use some work and helped lend itself to Hield's 3.1 turnovers per game as a senior. Hield will also have to improve his defense, which has never been a strong suit.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
Seamlessly. In case you haven't heard, the Sixers can use all of the outside shooting help they can get. With so many big bodies doing their work down in the paint, Hield would be able to spot up for one open jumper after another.

However, with the two perceived transcendent talents at the top of the draft, the only way we would be able to see how Hield looks in a Sixers jersey would be if Bryan Colangelo pulls the trigger on a trade to acquire another high draft pick.

NBA comparison
Sure, Hield's game has some similarities to Curry and he received a co-sign from Kobe Bryant during the NCAA Tournament, but let's not get too carried away. A more accurate comparison would be Portland guard and Lehigh product C.J. McCollum. Like McCollum, Hield is a natural shooter who can score from just about anywhere on the floor. Hield also has the drive to get even better, just like McCollum, who walked away with the NBA's Most Improved Player Award this season.

Draft projection
Hield is an early- to mid-lottery selection. Look for him to go somewhere between the fifth and ninth picks.

Warriors complete comeback, oust Thunder in Game 7

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The Associated Press

Warriors complete comeback, oust Thunder in Game 7

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry knocked down yet another 3-pointer in the waning moments, pulled his jersey up into his mouth and yelled to the rafters in triumph once more.

A special, record-setting season saved for the defending champs, with a memorable comeback added to the long list of accomplishments.

Splash Brothers Curry and Klay Thompson carried the 73-win Warriors right back to the NBA Finals, as Golden State rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88 on Monday night in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

Now, Curry and Co. are playing for another NBA title -- just as they planned since Day 1 of training camp in September.

Bring on LeBron James again.

"You appreciate how tough it is to get back here," Curry said. "You've got to be appreciative of this accomplishment, and look forward to getting four more wins."

The MVP scored 36 points with seven 3-pointers to finish with an NBA-record 32 in a seven-game series, and also had eight assists. Thompson added 21 points and six 3s, two days after his record 11 3-pointers led a Game 6 comeback that sent the series home to raucous Oracle Arena for one more.

The Warriors became the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit and win a postseason series. They return to the NBA Finals for a rematch with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost the 2015 title in six games as Golden State captured its first championship in 40 years.

Game 1 is Thursday night in Oakland.

"We survived by the skin of our teeth," coach Steve Kerr said. "We were able to pull it out, and we're moving on."

His signature mouthpiece dangling out and the game ball cradled in his left hand, Curry pumped his right arm as yellow confetti fell through Oracle Arena once the final buzzer sounded.

With the Thunder trailing 90-86, Serge Ibaka fouled Curry on a 3-point try with 1:18 to go and the shot clock running out. Curry made all three free throws, then that 3-pointer to seal it.

"This is who he is. Having a clutch performance in a Game 7, that's Steph Curry," Kerr said.

And Golden State's beloved "Strength In Numbers" catchphrase coined by Coach of the Year Kerr was needed in every way.

"No one ever had any doubt that we could get this done," Draymond Green said. "People have seen teams down 3-1 before but they ain't seen many. They've definitely never seen a 73-win team down 3-1."

Andre Iguodala joined the starting lineup for just the second time all season and the 2015 NBA Finals MVP hung tough against Kevin Durant, who scored 27 points on 10-for-19 shooting. Shaun Livingston's breakaway, one-handed dunk late in the third provided a big lift off the Warriors bench.

Oklahoma City won Game 1 108-102 at deafening Oracle Arena, so Golden State never envisioned this one coming easily. Russell Westbrook had 19 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds for the Thunder.

"It hurts losing, especially being up 3 games to 1," Durant said.

It took a quarter and a half for Thompson to warm up after his 41-point performance in a 108-101 win Saturday at Oklahoma City that sent the series back to the East Bay.

He missed his initial seven shots before hitting a 3 6:02 before halftime, energizing the Warriors in their first Game 7 at home in 40 years.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Thompson and Iguodala pulled the Warriors within 54-51 with 7:57 left in the third. They tied it on Curry's 3 at 7:21 and he followed with another 3 to give his team the lead.

Curry and Thompson each topped the previous record for 3s in a seven-game series, 28 by Dennis Scott and Ray Allen. Curry hit one over 7-foot Steven Adams in the third, and Thompson wound up with 30 3s.

Iguodala replaced Harrison Barnes in the starting lineup and what a move by Kerr, who did the same thing last year in crunch time. Iguodala made a pretty bounce pass through the paint to Green for Golden State's first basket, and his smothering defense on Durant kept the Thunder star without a shot until his 3 at the 5:45 mark in the first. Durant had just nine points on five shots in the first half.

But Oklahoma City dictated the tempo with snappy passes and the hard, aggressive rebounding that had been such a part of its success this season. The Thunder couldn't sustain it.

"They won a world championship last year, and they've broken an NBA record, and people are already talking about it before the playoffs started, this may be the greatest team to ever lace them up in the history of the NBA," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.

The Warriors, who fell behind 35-22, lost their last Game 7 at home: 94-86 to Phoenix in the Western Conference finals on May 16, 1976.

Tip-ins
Thunder: The Thunder's 12 third-quarter points were the fewest allowed by Golden State in a playoff third quarter during the shot clock era. ... Durant took nine shots in the first 33:25. ... Oklahoma City led by as many as 13 in the first half. ... Donovan celebrated his 51st birthday. ... The Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State's opponent the previous round, are the only teams to beat the Warriors twice this season.

Warriors: The Warriors are 4-4 all-time in Game 7s -- 3-1 at home. ... Iguodala earned his first since Jan. 2 against Denver. ... Golden State wasn't whistled for its first foul until 2:34 in the first. ... The Warriors' 42 first-half points were their fewest at home this season. ... Curry hit a 3 in his 51st straight playoff game.