Sixers, Celtics working to rebuild former glory

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Sixers, Celtics working to rebuild former glory

It might be hard to believe that the Sixers and Celtics are just 20 months removed from playing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

When the two franchises meet for the first time this season on Wednesday night at TD Garden, they will do so in full rebuilding mode as the bottom two teams in the Atlantic Division.

Long gone are Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams, who made up the core of that Sixers team coached by Doug Collins.

The Celtics have since parted ways with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Ray Allen found greener pastures in South Beach and Doc Rivers is now guiding the Los Angles Clippers.

“It seems like it was just yesterday,” said Thaddeus Young, who averaged 7.7 points and 5.2 rebounds that postseason. “That was a great series, of course. In Game 7 (Rajon) Rondo hit some big shots.

“But this is a new year, new teams with different players and things have changed over the course of time. We both are now in a situation where we are losing teams and basically we are both trying to go out there and battle for wins.”

Rondo has played in just five games this season since recently returning from surgery to repair a torn right ACL last year.

The Celtics point guard is trying to regain the all-star form that allowed him to put together a personal 9-2 run with 3:30 remaining in that Game 7 to give them a series win. Rondo notched a triple-double in that game with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Rondo’s performance that night was just the latest chapter in the rich playoff history shared between the Sixers and Celtics.

Brett Brown all too familiar with that tradition between the two franchises. The Sixers head coach was a Boston University student-athlete from 1980 to 1983, absorbing the city’s love for its Celtics and tense rivalry with the Sixers.

“What a special era it was selfishly,” Brown said. “I can still hear the NBA music and introduction to the NBA Game of the Week. To travel down to the Garden and be able to see [George] McGinnis and Julius Erving and Bobby Jones and [Andrew] Toney, [Maurice] Cheeks and Doug [Collins] play.

“I just couldn’t believe how Andrew Toney would just kick the Celtics’ tail. To me, he was unguardable. He was just such a one-on-one, triple threat. Rock a step, rock a step threat. He was a big part of my upbringing and my memory of the NBA, more so than the Celtics-Lakers battles.”

Brown hopes the days return when Sixers and Celtics can enjoy that kind of high-level success and rivalry that ruled the NBA’s Eastern Conference for so many years.

“They are two fantastic sporting cities that love basketball. It is ironic that we are on the same path of trying to find that balance of competing and rebuilding,” Brown said. “It is a difficult challenge, but I think it is in both of the programs to do it because they have such a history and rich tradition.”

Best of NBA: Kawhi Leonard scores 41, Spurs down Cavaliers in OT

Best of NBA: Kawhi Leonard scores 41, Spurs down Cavaliers in OT

CLEVELAND -- Kawhi Leonard scored a career-high 41 points, LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 118-115 in overtime on Saturday night despite missing starters Tony Parker and Pau Gasol.

Leonard scored six in OT, including a game-sealing dunk with 4.9 seconds left, as the Spurs regrouped after a late collapse in regulation.

David Lee, making a rare start in place of the injured Gasol, added 14 points as San Antonio improved to 18-4 on the road.

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving scored 29 apiece for the Cavs, who had the last shot in regulation and had plenty of opportunities in the extra five minutes. Cleveland still had a chance to tie it in the final second of overtime, but Kevin Love missed a 3-pointer (see full recap).

Lillard, McCollum carry Portland to OT win over Boston
BOSTON -- Damian Lillard had a three-point play with 47 seconds left in overtime and finished with 28 points to lift the Portland Trail Blazers to a 127-123 victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night, snapping their four-game losing streak.

CJ McCollum scored 35 points to lead Portland, which lost in the closing seconds in Philadelphia on Friday night. Lillard added seven assists.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 41 points, his 14th time this season with 30 or more points. Marcus Smart and Al Horford each scored 17 for the Celtics, who have lost two straight after winning 13 of 16.

Thomas nailed a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:24 to play in OT, pushing Boston ahead by one, but Al-Farouq Aminu was fouled on the next possession and hit both free throws to move Portland back in front.

Lillard then drove the lane, was fouled and hit the free throw. Mason Plumlee had a short jumper in the lane and a free throw in the closing 24 seconds (see full recap).

Booker scores 26 as Suns edge Knicks 107-105
NEW YORK -- Devin Booker scored 26 points and made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 31 seconds left, and the Phoenix Suns beat the New York Knicks 107-105 on Saturday night.

Carmelo Anthony's attempt at a winning 3-pointer rimmed out as Phoenix snapped a two-game losing streak and handed New York its second loss in a row.

Eric Bledsoe added 23 points for the Suns, while P.J. Tucker and Marquese Chriss each had 15.

Anthony led the Knicks with 31 points, Derrick Rose had 26 and Kristaps Porzingis scored 14 (see full recap).

Dekker scores career-best 30 leading Rockets past Grizzlies
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Sam Dekker scored a career-high 30 points, James Harden added 29 points and 10 assists and the Houston Rockets leaned on their usual 3-point offense to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 119-95 on Saturday night.

Eric Gordon added 21 points as the Rockets built the lead to as many as 20 in the fourth quarter before easily coasting home.

Dekker, making his first career start in place of the ill Ryan Anderson, made 12 of 19 shots, including 6 of 11 from outside the arc. Houston shot 51 percent overall and 38 percent from distance.

Marc Gasol scored 32 points and Mike Conley added 15 for the Grizzlies, who lost for the third time in the last four.

Memphis struggled shooting the entire night, finishing at 37 percent and unsuccessfully tried to follow the Rockets' long-range attack but converted only 9 of 34 from outside the arc (see full recap).

Tired Sixers doomed by mistakes in second of back-to-back games

Tired Sixers doomed by mistakes in second of back-to-back games

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — It would be easy to suggest that the Sixers were weary.

Especially after they surrendered 37 points in the second quarter, but that wasn’t the only reason they lost, 110-93, to the Hawks on Saturday night (see Instant Replay).

Without Joel Embiid, the Sixers fell for just the third time in 11 games.

They were cooked by their mistakes in Philips Arena, where 21 turnovers led to 17 Atlanta points, and burned by the Hawks’ experience, muscle and bench.

After an even first quarter that ended 25-25, the Hawks did just about whatever they wanted over the next 12 minutes. 

Making 16 of 23 shots in the period, they scored every which way. Quite a few times, an Atlanta player slipped backdoor to the basket, and the Sixers missed several switches. That might be partly attributable to heavy legs, as they beat the Trail Blazers, 93-92, one night earlier, but the Hawks out-schemed the Sixers, too.

“They’re good. They’re veterans,” head coach Brett Brown said. “They’ve been playing together for a while . . . they really are difficult at home.”

That’s true. The Hawks (26-18) have won 11 of 13, and are just a half game behind the Celtics for the No. 3 spot in the East.

Atlanta’s also got a huge edge in experience over the Sixers.

Paul Millsap scored 22 points and the veteran forward added 10 rebounds. Center Dwight Howard complemented him with 13 points and 15 rebounds as the Hawks outrebounded the Sixers, 48-38.

Robert Covington battled on the boards, grabbing 10 rebounds to go with 15 points, but the Sixers’ next two leading rebounders were guards Nik Stauskas and T.J. McConnell with six each. 

Atlanta made just 7 of 20 three-pointers while the Sixers were 12 of 29 from distance. The Hawks, though, outscored the Sixers 42-30 in the paint, many buckets coming on back cuts the Sixers didn’t see coming or couldn’t keep up with.

“I think you could tell the fatigue set in on us, and I just think we failed to get stops,” said point guard T.J. McConnell, who had eight points and a game-high 11 assists. “Really, that’s what it comes down to . . . in a back-to-back sometimes your legs just aren’t there. You could tell, a lot of our shots, they just didn’t fall.”

Other than that second quarter, the Hawks were moderately successful offensively. They averaged 24.3 points in the other three, shooting 42.6 percent in those periods.

Without their usual sharp-shooting from beyond the arc, the Hawks scored at the rim, and converted their 11 rebounds.

They outscored the Sixers 42-30 in the paint, and Atlanta had a massive 14-0 edge in second-chance points. Howard had a lot to do with both problems.

“They do a good job of limiting post touches,” Brown said of the Hawks.   

The Sixers were trying. 

They trailed by 18 late in the third quarter, yet whittled away and pulled within 94-87 when rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot made a pair of free throws with 6:46 left in the game.
 
But their bench got slaughtered, and mistakes mounted. 

Atlanta’s reserves outscored the Sixers' 36-30, outrebounded them 15-9, and worst of all, the Sixers’ subs turned the ball over 10 times – Luwawu-Cabarrot had five – to five for the Hawks.

“I think there was an energy that wasn’t with us tonight,” Brown said. “I think that second group struggled.”

After they cut the deficit to seven, the Sixers missed seven of their next eight and the Hawks practically raced to the finish line as their opponents slowed once and for all.

“Every time we made a run, they just came back and made a run as well,” Covington said. “We did what we could to stop it, but Atlanta’s a good team.”