Carter-Williams stars in debut as Sixers stun Heat

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Carter-Williams stars in debut as Sixers stun Heat

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Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner had to laugh. Shortly after holding off the two-time defending NBA champions for a 114-110 opening night victory (see Instant Replay), the teammates thought back to their first season with the Sixers.

“I was joking with Evan. We were talking about when we first got here how we had a lot of games just like this one early in the season and we found a million different ways to lose them,” Hawes said. “We needed this.”

Some of those losses during the 2010-11 season were unique, like the one in which the Sixers lost to Washington on a late four-point play in overtime. There was another OT loss in Washington, too, as the Sixers opened the season 3-13.

The difference between those losses and the victory on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center was hardly a subtle one, according to Hawes and fellow veteran Thad Young. First, the Sixers opened the game with a 19-0 run, built up a lead to 22 points and rallied in the fourth quarter after allowing 80 points in the second and third frames.

The Heat played the second game of a back-to-back without Dwyane Wade. However, with 80 points in the second and third quarters, including 10-for-13 shooting on threes in the third quarter, it looked like the Heat would survive without the perennial All-Star.

That was until the Sixers’ rookie point guard, Michael Carter-Williams, took over.

Down by eight points with 4:30 to go in the game, the Sixers stood up to LeBron James (25 points, 13 assists) and the Heat with a remarkable amount of poise. Call it steely nerve and veteran know-how all over the floor from Hawes, Turner and Young.

But more than that, unflappable point guard Carter-Williams played as if he had been in the league for 10 years. In the final three minutes of the game, Carter-Williams grabbed three rebounds, handed out three assists, grabbed a steal and stepped up to the foul line to make five out of six foul shots, including a pair with 8.5 seconds left to seal the game.

Believe it or not, Carter-Williams showed that poise and grittiness in his NBA debut. With 22 points, 12 assists, nine steals and seven assists, Carter-Williams did just about everything and then some. The double-double is the first by a Sixer since Maurice Cheeks did it in his first game in 1978. The 22 points is the most by a player making his debut since Allen Iverson scored 30 in 1996.

The 22-12-9-7 combination is one achieved only twice previously by anyone in NBA history. Quick point guard Ricky Green had a 26-12-9-7 for the Utah Jazz in 1982, and Spurs guard Johnny Moore put up a 26-13-9-11 in 1985.

Not only did the nine steals tie a franchise record, but also it was the most steals in a debut since it became an official stat in 1973. No player has officially posted a triple-double in his NBA debut, though coach Brett Brown -- also making his NBA coaching debut -- thinks Carter-Williams could have been the first.

“I thought he could have had one more steal but he was out of place in one of the early defensive assignments,” Brown said, again with a grin.

The coach will let that one slide. After all, it was the first game and Carter-Williams did step up to hit those free throws at the end.

And oh yeah, Carter-Williams had just one turnover.

“The stats speak for themselves, really,” Brown said. “They’re littered across many categories. … We tried to come up with a game plan and a way to play and he’s a big part of that. We have to turn him loose a little bit.

“What do you say? Look at the win and look at the stat line. He was really, really good.”

Carter-Williams wasn’t the only standout. Turner scored a game-high 26 points on 10-for-19 shooting, despite the fact he missed four three-pointers and went 3 for 10 on shots outside the paint. Hawes added 24 points with a team-high nine rebounds and hit a huge three-pointer with 2:36 to go in the game to cut the Heat’s lead to one point.

Additionally, Young added 10 points and Tony Wroten came off the bench to provide some energy and fire to go with 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting.

Brown played nine of his 11 players in uniform with each player scoring a basket in at least 12 minutes.

Afterwards, the talk was about the rookie point guard and his remarkable debut.

“I’m very proud of him,” Young said. “He showed every side of himself and how he can be a great player in this league. He handled the pressure and he got up into them and forced them to make mistakes. He kind of willed us on.

“He doesn’t play like a rookie at all. He came in on day one and was able to take coaching and criticism and that’s a good thing. He has a little edge to him, which I like. I don’t want my point guard to be a wimp or a punk or anything like that -- I want him to be tough. You know, take the contact and keep on moving and he does that. Put a Band-Aid over it and keep playing.”

All while posting some impressive numbers, too.

Afterwards, Carter-Williams was as poised talking to the media as he was battling the Heat on the floor. He was excited to see his family after the game and gave veteran answers about his performance, quickly deflecting accolades from himself to his team.

"Everything was clicking tonight," Carter-Williams said. "If we can consistently play together, then we can be a good team."

Better yet, Carter-Williams is already looking forward to Thursday’s film and practice session followed by the trip to Washington where he will be matched up against point guard John Wall and the Wizards on Friday night.

First, it’s Wall on Friday night and then Derrick Rose and the Bulls on Saturday night.

Get ready, rookie, there’s more coming.

The case for Kansas' Josh Jackson to the Sixers at No. 3

The case for Kansas' Josh Jackson to the Sixers at No. 3

Over the weeks leading up to the 2017 NBA draft, we'll be making cases for the Sixers to draft several prospects. Our series will kick off with options at No. 3 (or trade downs) followed by second-round possibilities. The 2017 NBA draft will take place on June 22 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Josh Jackson

Position: SF
School: Kansas
Height: 6-8
Weight: 203
Wingspan: 6-9¾

Jackson enjoyed an excellent season in his one year with the Jayhawks. Regarded as one of the top high school recruits in the country, Jackson didn't disappoint. The super athletic swingman averaged 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and three assists per game.

Jackson is without a doubt the best two-way player in this draft. He can guard positions one through four. He averaged an impressive 2.2 steals and 1.4 blocks per 40 minutes, using his length and athleticism to disrupt passing lanes. He's also strong and physical, with the ability to body up ball handlers and cutters, and redirect them.

He's a bit underrated offensively. He struggled with his shot early on, but improved as the season went on. In his last 17 games, he shot 48 percent from three on over three attempts per game. As his three assists a night indicates, he's a good and willing passer. He's also a better ball handler than he gets credit for, with the ability to get to the rim using his left or his right. Oh, and he can finish.

The case for Jackson
He fits the Sixers as an elite wing defender who plays well off the ball. If his shot continues to improve, he could be a great complement to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. 

No, he's not an obvious fit, but he's way too talented at a position they really don't have. And talented wings aren't easy to find. Robert Covington has been a find for the Sixers and should definitely be given a contract extension, but Jackson simply brings more to the table on both ends of the court. The shot is a concern, but we've seen almost every player improve their shot with head coach Brett Brown and the Sixers' staff.

The case against Jackson
You can't just overlook the fact that he shot an abysmal 57 percent from the free throw line. That simply won't get it done. Free throw shooting can also be an indicator of whether a player can improve his stroke from the field. If the Sixers take Jackson, you have to hope that 57 percent is an aberration. 

Jackson also had some trouble off the court. There were two separate incidents. Both cases were recently resolved, but they both show a lack of maturity and, quite frankly, stupidity. 

One case involved Jackson backing up his car into another and then leaving the scene. He was given probation and forced to pay a $250 fine. In a more troubling incident, Jackson kicked the driver's side door and kicked out a tail light of a member of Kansas' women's basketball team after an argument. He reached a diversion agreement that requires him to attend anger management classes, write a letter of apology and refrain from using alcohol or recreational drugs for a year.

The Sixers will have to vet Jackson long and hard to determine if these incidents were out of a character or part of a troubling pattern.

Analysis
Washington guard Markelle Fultz is the No. 1 player on the board and will likely be picked by the Celtics. The consensus seems to be that the Lakers will take UCLA guard Lonzo Ball. With those two players off the board, Jackson is the clear-cut pick at No. 3.

At worst, you have an elite wing defender that can help slow down the likes of LeBron James, Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Eastern Conference. He's also going to be a nightmare in the open court running the floor with Simmons. I'd bank on him having at least a modest improvement on his shot.

The off-the-court stuff is definitely a concern, but it's possible they're just dumb decisions by a young kid. He's so talented, you better be certain that there's an issue if you decide to pass on him at No. 3. If he stays out of trouble, he's absolutely worthy of the No. 3 pick.

NBA Playoffs: LeBron James makes history as Cavaliers roll into Finals

NBA Playoffs: LeBron James makes history as Cavaliers roll into Finals

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BOSTON -- The NBA Finals has its first "three-match," courtesy of a King who passed His Airness.

LeBron James scored 35 points and passed Michael Jordan to become the NBA's all-time playoff scoring leader as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics 135-102 on Thursday night to claim their third straight Eastern Conference title and another trip to the NBA Finals to meet the Golden State Warriors.

Kyrie Irving added 24 points and Kevin Love finished with 15 for the Cavs, who never trailed and led by as many as 39 points in one of their most dominating wins of the series. The Cavs set an NBA record by winning their 13th consecutive series closeout opportunity.

Cleveland's 4-1 series win gives it a 12-1 record this postseason and sets up a third consecutive matchup with Western Conference champion Golden State, the team it beat in the Finals last season to claim the franchise's first championship.

"I wear the number because of Mike," James said. "I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike, just because of what he was able to accomplish. When you're watching Michael Jordan it's almost like a god. So I didn't think I could be Mike."

It will mark the seventh straight trip to the Finals for James, who hit a 3-pointer late in in the third quarter to nudge past Jordan on the playoff scoring list. He quickly flashed one finger as he backpedaled down the court.

In the postgame trophy presentation backstage, James spent most of it lingering in the background as his teammates celebrated.

But there's no denying that his accolades are putting him in the orbit of Jordan, his boyhood idol.

"The biggest thing is I did it just being me, I don't have to score the ball to make an impact on the basketball game," James said. "That was my mindset. If I'm not scoring the ball, how can I still make an impact on the game?"

As much as this series was about James, Irving helped turn the tide of the series with a 42-point effort in Game 4. But he said both he and his teammates continue to be inspired by their leader.

"He's been the driving force, this entire playoff run, and all of us have just helped us along the way," Irving said.

Coach Tyronn Lue said they've gotten tighter this season.

"This team is a crazy team. They just stayed resilient all year, got to the playoffs, and we really stepped our game up," he said. "Now we can start focusing on Golden State to get ready. As of tonight, I'll get started."

Avery Bradley led Boston with 23 points.

The Cavaliers basically conceded the East's top seed to the Celtics at the end of the regular season by opting to rest their starters in advance of the playoffs. But they displayed their superiority over the final two games to wrap up the series.

After allowing the Celtics to seize the early momentum in Game 4, the Cavs barely gave them the chance in Game 5.

Led by its Big Three, Cleveland quickly built a 21-point lead in the first quarter, while getting lots of contributions from their teammates.

Love continued to knock down shots from the outside, Irving sliced his way into the lane to the rim and James got free for several of his one-handed, tomahawk dunks.

It was a very welcomed sight in Irving's case, after he rolled his left ankle in the third quarter of Cleveland's Game 4 win. He showed no signs of lingering issues, though, beating several defenders off the dribble and handing out seven assists.

Meanwhile, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver helped spread out Boston's defenders by connecting on several wide-open scoring opportunities.

Deron Williams, who had been quiet for most of the series, also got in on the act with a series-best 14 points for Cleveland.

Tip-ins
Cavaliers: James has scored 30 or more points in 11 of Cleveland's 13 games this postseason. ... Improved to 36-5 against Eastern Conference opponents in the playoffs since 2015. ... The 43 points Cleveland scored in the first quarter set a team postseason record for a quarter.

Celtics: Never led at home in the series. ... Finished the playoffs having made at least 10 3-pointers in 16 of their 18 games. ... Held a pregame moment of silence for the victims of the Manchester bombing.

Making progress
The Celtics did their best to keep up, but the consistent outside shooting, bench scoring and defense they relied on to stun Cleveland in Game 3 wasn't there Thursday night.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said though he's disappointed with how the season ended, he's encouraged that no one in Boston's locker room is satisfied just making it to the conference finals.

"I told our guys: `We made a lot of great strides, but this pain is part of the path to what we ultimately want to be,'" he said.

Showing support
Injured Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas was in attendance Thursday night and gathered with his teammates in a huddle before they took the court for pregame warmups.

The two-time All-Star was sidelined in Game 2 after aggravating a hip injury.