Green, Rondo too much in Sixers' loss to Celtics

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Green, Rondo too much in Sixers' loss to Celtics

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Essentially, the Sixers and the Celtics are traveling over the same path. As both teams carved apart their rosters and set off on complete overhauls, the 2013-14 season shaped up to be difficult all the way around.

Even with Boston’s 114-108 victory over the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay), there isn’t much separating the teams. Both are young and inexperienced with first-year NBA head coaches taking on the hard task of putting the pieces back together.

But where the Celtics (17-33) have it over the Sixers (15-35) is obvious. When Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green are on the floor, any team has a chance.

Green scored a game-high 36 points on 11 for 18 shooting, including 5 for 7 from three-point range. He scored 17 points in the third quarter and single-handily put the Celtics on the way to the victory.

Clinging to a two-possession lead with 8:47 left in the third quarter, Green scored 13 points in a row and 17 of the next 19 for the Celtics. He hit three three-pointers and went 6 for 6 from the line as the deficit grew to 12 points for the Sixers.

“It felt like it was a lot more,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of Green’s 17-point run in the third.

It only felt like more because the Sixers couldn’t do anything about it. With Rondo controlling the tempo of the game in a season-high 32 minutes, the Celtics always had an answer. That proved to be especially frustrating during the fourth quarter when the Sixers had six chances to cut the Celtics’ lead to one possession over the final nine minutes of the game.

Instead, the Sixers never got closer than three points with those six chances ending with three turnovers and four missed shots.

It was very frustrating for the Sixers to be so close only to let it slip away.

“It’s kind of the story of the year,” said Spencer Hawes, who had 13 points and 14 rebounds. “We battle back, but it takes so much energy to get back into games. We have to start giving ourselves a little pad to be on the other end absorbing it and having that little burst to finish them off.”

In his eighth game back following knee surgery, Rondo had a season-high 11 assists and came one rebound and one basket away from a triple-double. In a game in which all of the intangibles were equal -- the Sixers had 16 turnovers, Boston had 15; the Sixers had 47 rebounds with 13 offensive, Boston had 48 and 12 -- Rondo shifted the balance.

Facing off against rookie Michael Carter-Williams, who was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for January before the game, Rondo played like a conductor.

“He’s their compass,” Brown said about Rondo. “He’s just like Chris Paul where he has that cocky side that you just love where he’s in control of the game. It’s his ball and he’s going to dribble at a pace that he wants to and around who he wants to. Maybe he’s going to shoot it or maybe he’s going to drop it off. He navigates the lane freely.”

Carter-Williams had his eyes wide open while playing against Rondo, too. Though the knee surgery has left the Celtics’ point guard just slightly slower than normal, the basketball IQ and court savvy were as fine-tuned as ever.

There was plenty for the Sixers’ rookie to pick up on.

“He’s definitely a pass-first point guard,” said Carter-Williams, who had 11 points on 16 shots with six assists and four turnovers. “He’s a great passer who always finds his teammates and he’s the leader out there.”

Certainly, Carter-Williams is working to develop into a leader like Rondo. And despite the early-season accolades, it’s been a rocky road for the rookie. For instance, Carter-Williams had half of his assists during the first half, but the team was only able to find two shots in the opening half for leading scorer Evan Turner. Thad Young made up some of the difference with 12 of his team-high 20 in the first half, but the Sixers rarely run plays just for Young.

Turner squeezed off 11 shots for 12 points in the second half, however, he created a few of those for himself.

Afterwards, Turner said his shots came when available.

“It was just the flow of the game,” Turner said. “That was pretty much it.”

With Rondo back on the floor, the flow of the game had been decided and there was nothing the Sixers did to steal it away.

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.”