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.

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

NEW ORLEANS -- The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans' tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn't keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players' first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists (see full recap).

LeBron triple-double powers Cavs past Knicks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday's trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Pistons rally from 18 down to beat Hornets in OT
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 33 points, including three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter during a pulsating Detroit rally, and the Pistons outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 in overtime Thursday night.

Caldwell-Pope scored Detroit's last 11 points of regulation, and his 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play tied the game at 100. Kemba Walker scored Charlotte's final nine points of the fourth, but the Pistons forced him to give up the ball on the last possession, and Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.

Detroit, which was behind by 18 in the third quarter, never trailed in the overtime. Caldwell-Pope's 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining put the Pistons up 110-102.

Charlotte led 85-70 at the start of the fourth but missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the period, enabling Detroit to cut into the lead.

Walker scored 34 points. Tobias Harris had 25 for the Pistons (see full recap).

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Nerlens Noel emerged from the trainer’s room in a red sweatshirt and made his rounds of handshakes and hugs. It would be his last time in the Sixers' training complex as a member of the team, marking the end of the longest-tenured player’s stay in Philadelphia.

The Sixers traded Noel to the Mavericks on Thursday for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and a top-18 protected first-round pick (see story). He went through a portion of practice and was removed from it because of the deal. 

Noel’s now former teammates had a strong reaction to his departure. 

“Nerlens, he’s my guy,” Joel Embiid said. “He’s been my best friend since I got to Philly and I’m happy for him. He wants to start. I think in Dallas he’s going to get the chance to start and they’re going to re-sign him and they’re going to pay him a lot of money. Here it was kind of hard for him to start unless they were starting us together. But I’m happy for him. He’s going to get the chance he wanted.”

Noel’s future with the Sixers had been in question for two years as he enters restricted free agency this summer. Last season, the team struggled to find a way for him and Jahlil Okafor, both true centers, to play together. This season, the logjam was magnified when Embiid made his debut and took over the starting role. 

Noel candidly spoke out about the overcrowding at the beginning of the season but that situation was sidetracked when he missed 23 games because of injury. Once he returned, he quickly was on the short end of minutes. 

“I need to be on the court playing basketball,” Noel said in mid-December. “I think I’m too good to be playing eight minutes. Like, no, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. They need to figure this s--- out.”

The Sixers did figure out his role, later making him the defensive leader of the second unit as Okafor became the odd man out. The Sixers also considered the possibility of pairing Noel and Embiid in the starting lineup, as they did with Embiid and Okafor, but that experiment played out only over a handful of minutes. 

“I’m a little bit disappointed,” Embiid said of not playing more alongside Noel. “I thought we should have tried that a little bit more. I think the few times we did, it actually looked pretty good offensively and defensively.”

Of the bigs, it seemed like Okafor would be the one moved at the deadline after being held out of two games because of trade talks. In the end, it was Noel as the one to go on Thursday. 

“He’s one of my favorite players here,” Dario Saric said. “He’s always ready for jokes, he’s always ready to enjoy every moment.” 

Noel was the only player remaining from Brett Brown’s first season as head coach with the Sixers. Brown could not comment on the Noel trade because it was not official at the time he addressed the media.

Once the deal was made official, Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo released a statement. 

“We want to wish Nerlens the best of luck in Dallas and thank him for his contributions over the last few years," Colangelo said. "Justin Anderson is a talented, strong and defensive-minded wing who will fit nicely in Brett’s system. I’m certain Justin’s toughness and edge will add a tremendous amount to our team."

Ilyasova leadership missed
On Wednesday night the Sixers dealt Ersan Ilyasova to the Hawks for Tiago Splitter, a 2017 second-round pick and 2017 second-round pick swap rights. Even though Ilyasova played only 53 games for the Sixers, the veteran leader left his mark.

“He was a consummate pro,” Brown said. “He helped teach our young guys about that professionalism and helped contribute to our culture. He was good. You add those things up and we’re going to miss him.” 

Ilyasova’s departure affects those who played with him and behind him. Embiid credited Ilyasova for stretching the floor when they were in the starting lineup together. 

Saric, though, is perhaps the most impacted by the trade. Saric moved to the second unit when Ilyasova took over the starting role. He learned from his fellow international power forward, who helped him adjust to the NBA on and off the court. Saric is likely to get the nod as a starter (see story).

“For me, it’s hard,” Saric said. “I lost in Ersan some kind of mentor.” 

Brown also plans to play Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes at power forward at times, as well. If Covington slides over from small forward, Brown eyes Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Gerald Henderson and Nik Stauskas as players who could fill in at the three spot. 

The Sixers will resume activity on Friday morning for shootaround ahead of their game against the Wizards. They will approach that contest without familiar faces on the court. 

“I lost two good friends,” Saric said. “But this is the NBA. This is part of the business, part of the job.”