Sixers end overseas trip with loss to Thunder

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Sixers end overseas trip with loss to Thunder

Brett Brown promised when the Sixers headed overseas that they would compete and play hard in their two contests as a part of the NBA’s Global Games.

They did just again on Tuesday, although without the desired outcome on the scoreboard.

The Sixers suffered a 103-99 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Manchester, England. This after the Sixers beat Bilbao Basket 106-104 on Sunday in Spain.

Evan Turner and Tony Wroten again appeared willing to attack the basket. Wroten led the way with 20 points, while Turner added 19. The perimeter duo again combined for 16 free throw attempts.

Brown’s squad attempted 31 free throws overall in the game, 10 more than the Thunder. The Sixers also shot 40 percent from the three-point line.

Spencer Hawes looked sharp on offense and finished 5 of 11 for 11 points to go along with his team-high nine rebounds. Hawes had just one field goal on Sunday.

Brown preached during training camp that he is not “three happy” and that his team must get to the paint. The Sixers found the right balance in their two games abroad.

While the Sixers will certainly take those positives away from those two games, they have to realize that things will not exactly play out that way in the regular season.

Kevin Durant will not sit out many fourth quarters during the Thunder’s regular-season schedule, as he did on Tuesday against the Sixers. Durant scored 14 of OKC’s 35 third-quarter points to finish with 21 and put the Thunder up nine entering the final frame.

The Sixers’ 20 turnovers will also be difficult to overcome once the real action starts. They did force the Thunder into 19 turnovers to even the field, but the fact that All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook is still sidelined after knee surgery has to be taken into account.

The Sixers’ conditioning level as a group appeared to be higer than is often seen in early preseason games, which certainly helped them in both games.

The Sixers will now return home before facing the Celtics on Friday at 7 p.m. in Newark, Del.

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

With the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery behind us, there appears to be a consensus on the first two selections in next month's draft. The Celtics are expected to take Washington guard Markelle Fultz, and it would be a surprise if the Lakers passed on Lonzo Ball.

After that, all bets are off, and the Sixers will have plenty of options at pick No. 3.

A popular choice has been Kansas' Josh Jackson, and with good reason. The 6-foot-8 guard was an All-Big 12 first-team selection in his lone season with the Jayhawks, averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Others have pointed to Kentucky sharpshooter Malik Monk, who would fill an obvious need. Monk consistently has shown the ability to pull up without hesitation. He shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc while averaging 19.8 points per game to lead the Wildcats.

There is a strong case to be made, however, that Duke forward Jayson Tatum will be the most talented player remaining on the board when it is the Sixers' turn to pick. 

As a basketball beat writer for The Duke Chronicle, I had the opportunity to watch Tatum play up close and in-person for much of the season, seeing him at his best and his worst.

A quick rise
After coming to Durham, N.C. as one of the key pieces of the Blue Devils' top-ranked recruiting class, Tatum suffered a left foot sprain during a preseason practice that kept him out of action until early December. 

But even with what appeared to be a breakout performance against then-No. 24 Florida in early December, he struggled to find a rhythm throughout the first half of the season. Tatum shot only 30 percent from three-point range in his first 13 games.

When the Blue Devils were shocked at home by ACC bottom-feeder N.C. State Jan. 23, I was quick to call out the first-year player — he was not cutting it on the defensive end, and offensively, Tatum had yet to prove himself as a consistent shooting threat.

Down the stretch, however, no freshman came on stronger than Tatum. He scored 28 points on 6-of-7 shooting from distance against Virginia in February, averaged 22 points in four ACC tournament wins in March, and notched a double-double in his first career NCAA tournament game.

Whatever questions scouts have about Tatum's potential, he has already shown an ability to develop in a short period of time. Even if Tatum takes time to develop as an NBA player, it probably won't take all that long as the Sixers continue their rebuild.

Cool customer
In a deep ACC, Tatum was one of just two first-year players to earn all-conference honors, picking up a third-team spot in early March. He was also second in ACC Freshman of the Year voting behind N.C. State's Dennis Smith.

Tatum been a consistent performer at the charity stripe — unlike Jackson, who shot just 56.6 percent from the line. He hit on 118 of 139 free-throw attempts (84.9 percent) and has the body to get to the line at will with strong drives to the rim.

Although the Sixers have budding stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they lack a true end-of-game threat who can score both inside and out. Tatum's improving outside shot combined with a powerful inside game could give the Sixers an option that will stretch opposing defenses.

Defensive concerns
As has been the case with a few recent young Duke prospects (e.g. Brandon Ingram, Jabari Parker), Tatum at times struggled on defense. As Sixers fans know all too well, Jahlil Okafor has the same problem. The former Blue Devil standout led Duke in scoring during his lone collegiate season but wasn't a major factor on defense and has been even worse with the Sixers, ranking 324th of 486 NBA players in defensive win shares last season.

Tatum's numbers suggest he has potential to be a better defender than many might expect. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Tatum had a 3.2 block percentage and a 2.3 steal percentage — an uncommon combination. He helped Duke limit North Carolina's Justin Jackson to only 6-for-22 shooting in an ACC tournament semifinal matchup.

Where Tatum needs to grow is guarding away from the ball. He often found himself losing his man on back cuts and long possessions in the half-court.

With the Sixers, the 6-foot-8 Tatum potentially could be the shortest member of a lineup that would feature the 6-foot-9 Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Simmons at 6-foot-10, and the 7-foot Embiid in the middle. Although he will likely need to improve his quickness, Tatum has the size to overwhelm smaller guards and the strength — weighing in at 205 pounds — to match up with most small forwards in the league.

Tatum vs. Jackson
Tatum and Jackson are comparable players in most respects. The two were right next to one another in the ESPN's Class of 2016 rankings behind Harry Giles and put up nearly identical numbers on the offensive end.

Both are considered top-five picks, but the 19-year-old Tatum is younger by more than a year and has room to grow physically. And unlike Jackson, he does not carry the baggage of a criminal property damage misdemeanor from December.

Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel told 97.5 The Fanatic last week that Tatum is "one of the most talented, most gifted offensive guys" he has ever seen. 

Agreed.

NBA Playoffs: Avery Bradley's buzzer-beating 3 lifts Celtics past Cavaliers in Game 3

NBA Playoffs: Avery Bradley's buzzer-beating 3 lifts Celtics past Cavaliers in Game 3

BOX SCORE

CLEVELAND -- Leprechauns are imaginary. Celtic pride is very real.

Avery Bradley's 3-pointer danced on the rim and dropped with less than a second left and Boston, blown out in the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals and playing without star Isaiah Thomas, stunned the Cleveland Cavaliers 111-108 on Sunday night in Game 3 to end the champions' 13-game postseason winning streak.

Bradley's shot from the left wing -- off a play designed by coach Brad Stevens -- bounced on the rim four times before going down. It capped a furious, focused comeback by the Celtics, who trailed by 21 in the third quarter before rallying to tighten up a series that appeared to be over.

"Wide-open look," Bradley said. "Al (Horford) did a great job of getting me open and Marcus (Smart) made a great pass and I was able to knock down the shot."

Smart, who started in place of Thomas, made seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points, and Bradley had 20 for the Celtics, who were given little chance after losing by 44 in Game 2 and then losing Thomas for the rest of the postseason because of a hip injury.

"Everybody had to step up their game tonight especially with one of our brothers down," Smart said. "Our love and support goes out to Isaiah. We wish he could be here but we understand. We just kept fighting. Everybody did their part."

Kyrie Irving scored 29 points, and Kevin Love had 28 for Cleveland. The Cavaliers dropped to 10-1 in the postseason with their first loss since Game 4 of last year's Finals.

Game 4 is Tuesday night in Cleveland.

LeBron James had one of the worst games of his postseason career, finishing with 11 points and six turnovers.

"I didn't have it," said James. "You let a team like that grab momentum you almost knew a shot like that was going in."

Still, the Cavs were in control leading 77-56 in the third quarter after making 14 3-pointers in the first half. But Cleveland got complacent, Smart got hot and the Celtics, who arrived at Quicken Loans Arena on Sunday morning for their shootaround without Thomas and looking somewhat defeated, never gave up.

"We decided were going to go out and play hard, swinging." Bradley said. "We never counted ourselves out."

The Celtics caught the Cavs at 95-all on Smart's 3-pointer and then matched the James and Co. basket for basket in the final minutes in one of the most entertaining games of what has been a mostly boring postseason.

Boston's Jonas Jerebko's baseline jumper put the Celtics ahead 108-106 with 30 seconds left before Irving scored on a drive to tie it with 10.7 seconds left.

Following a timeout, the Celtics perfectly executed a play drawn up by Stevens and worked the ball to Bradley, who found himself open and then calmly knocked down a shot that goes straight into Celtics lore.

For Cleveland, the loss was a wake-up call on their march toward a possible third straight Finals and a seemingly inevitable rematch with Golden State. The Cavs had been playing a glorified game of H.O.R.S.E. with the Warriors, who are undefeated and can complete a sweep of San Antonio on Monday night.

The Cavs hadn't lost since Game 4 of last year's Finals, and they came in tied with the 1988-89 Los Angeles "Showtime" Lakers for the longest winning streak in postseason history.

With Thomas back home, the Celtics could be forgiven for feeling down after Thomas, their inspirational leader was shut down with a hip injury he first sustained in March.

However, Stevens liked his team's energy leading up to tipoff and felt confident they would play hard.

"Our guys are itching to play," he said. "Obviously, we're here for a reason, and we've got tough-minded, competitive guys who have largely been guys that have had to really earn their way up in this league."

They earned their way back into the series.

Tip-ins
Celtics: Stevens said Thomas will visit hip specialists over the next few days and there's a chance the 28-year-old will need surgery. ... Stevens didn't review much of the Game 2 tape, but there's a mental image in his head of the Cavs making tough shot after tough shot that he can't shake. "As good as they are and they are tremendous, that might have been the best game I've ever seen a team play against us," he said. Does that mean college too? "Yeah, I think they would have beaten all those teams, too," he said, drawing laughter. ...

Cavaliers: James came in needing 73 points to pass Michael Jordan as the top scorer in postseason history. ... Cavs coach Tyronn Lue was an assistant in Boston and said his team reminds him of those Celtics teams with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. "That was a tight group," he said. "They did everything together, dinners and everything." ... Cleveland is 14-0 when leading a series 2-0. ... Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NFL draft, and fellow rookie Jabrill Peppers took a few shots on the floor before teams came out for warmups.