Sixers hold off Kings for third straight road win

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Sixers hold off Kings for third straight road win

BOX SCORE

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- When the Sixers set out on their six-game road trip on Dec. 21, they had not won away from home since Nov 1.

Now, they have four road wins to their name with the last three coming against Western Conference foes.

The latest came in a physical 113-104 win over the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night to move their record to 11-21 on the season (see Instant Replay).

Despite the Sixers allowing the Kings to hit the century mark, their defensive improvement showed again. They held the Kings to 42.2 percent shooting from the field and 30.4 percent three-point range. The Sixers also forced the Kings into 23 turnovers, which they turned into 27 points.

“To see bits and pieces of being rewarded for areas that we have talked about publically and these guys have worked their tails off privately and in film sessions and trying to teach and talk about it, and you see carryover,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said proudly. “That is always a great thing from a coach’s standpoint. You try to help them get better but they are the ones doing it.”

“We are making a concerted effort on the defensive end and offensively we have been sharing the ball as well as we have all season long,” Spencer Hawes said. “Guys are buying in, sharing the ball and it is more fun playing that way.”

The Sixers led 61-51 at halftime. It was the second consecutive game in which they had a double-digit lead at the break.

The Kings had numerous second-half runs that tested the Sixers’ grit, but Brown’s young squad responded each time.

Evan Turner in particular rose to the offensive occasion when the Sixers’ offense seemed to stall. He finished the game with 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

“He had timely baskets,” Brown said. “Like you felt the game was in the balance and Jimmer [Fredette] got it going and we weren’t scoring. I felt like we got too stagnant. We were trying to call plays instead of running. It was that fine line of trying to not play afraid and hope the clock runs out and playing.

“Evan came up with some big baskets that kind of got us back on track where we could continue to score.”

Turner wasn’t without help. Thaddeus Young was strong again, scoring 28 points to go along with seven rebounds and six steals.

Kings center DeMarcus Cousins had game highs with 33 points and 14 rebounds. The Sixers needed every big man on their roster to try and slow Cousins down in a very physical affair, especially with Hawes and Lavoy Allen both fouling out.

“You try to be physical with him and wear him out, get him tired more so than anything,” Daniel Orton said of his former University of Kentucky teammate.

“DeMarcus is a great player and he is going to get his. There is nothing you can do except to wear him down and keep going at him. He does take off plays on defense, so I go at him then. But he is going to get his on offense for sure.”

Orton made his presence felt on the floor. He played 19 minutes, the most action he’s seen in over a month. Orton posted five points, four rebounds and three blocks, including a monster stuff on a Derrick Williams dunk attempt with under a minute to play.

The Sixers carried over the balance they started in their win over the Nuggets on Wednesday night. They had 23 assists against the Kings, 58 points in the paint and five players scored in double figures.

All of that equaled a third straight win with all three coming on the road, a feat that seemed nearly impossible when the Sixers set out on the Western Conference leg of this journey eight days ago.

“It is incredibly satisfying, especially for the group of guys that we have and the way that this year has been going,” Orton said. “To lose so many in a row and then come back and win three in a row on the road is huge.”

“It was just a team effort and those are always the sweetest,” Brown said. “Road victories and a true team effort enables a team to grow together and feel a little bit tighter as a group. It was a really good win for this young team.”

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.