Slumping Sixers miss Young in loss to Raptors

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Slumping Sixers miss Young in loss to Raptors

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As one key Sixer returned to the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night, another was noticeably absent.

With the Toronto Raptors in town for a game to determine sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division, the Sixers got their rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams back after a foot injury put him on the sidelines for the last four games.

But even with Carter-Williams back, the Sixers were missing a huge piece in Thad Young, who was not with the team in the 108-98 defeat (see Instant Replay).

Young was tending to some personal issues and coach Brett Brown isn’t quite sure when the seven-year veteran will return. Without Young, the Sixers struggled on defense as the Raptors drilled 14 three-pointers. They also had difficulty hanging onto the ball, committing 20 turnovers that helped the Raptors build a 16-point lead in the second half.

Without Young, Brown had to alter his rotation and his substitution patterns. That meant Spencer Hawes was playing power forward and sometimes guarding a quicker player in Rudy Gay, and Daniel Orton got his first start of the season.

“When a guy is out of the lineup you have to be versatile and do whatever you’re called for,” said Hawes, who led the Sixers with 28 points and 10 rebounds.

However, there are some things that can’t be replaced.

Where Young was missed the most was in his leadership ability. A strong voice on and off the court is one thing. But to lead by example and on defense like Young does really resonates. With Young on the floor it would have been difficult for the Raptors to go on a 15-5 run in the final 2:15 of the third quarter to turn a six-point deficit into a 16-point debacle.

“You look at it and say, ‘Why and who was on the floor?’ You’re always challenged by not having too many of your senior players [on the bench],” Brown explained. “But there aren’t many senior players.”

The Sixers got no closer than 10 points in the fourth quarter with that run by the Raptors at the end of the third quarter deciding the game. Hawes and Evan Turner battled foul trouble during the second half and Carter-Williams was shaking off the rust.

When it came time to hold the fort at the end of the third quarter, the Sixers couldn’t pull it off.

“That period was a killer,” Brown said. “You can lose games in that period of time. My answer is that our young guys have to fix that. They have to grow or we’re going to see something similar at the end of the third period.”

The Sixers went 2 for 6 with a turnover during that fateful stretch, while Toronto went 6 for 6 with five three-pointers.

“Discipline,” Hawes said. “I see that quarter ending in a barrage of threes. Closing out quarters is always important, but especially in the second half when you work hard and fight to be in it and then you give it up in a two- or three-minute span. We have to address that.”

It’s one thing to address it and put in plans to halt a decisive run, but it’s another to have the horses to do it. Without Young, the Sixers were missing a major cog.

And add in a tough shooting night for Turner, who went 4 for 13, and six turnovers from the rookie Carter-Williams, and the result wasn’t tough to fathom.

“His rhythm was a little off and his fitness was evident where he hadn’t played basketball at that level in a while,” Brown said about Carter-Williams. “And like any young player, he gets so excited to come back and play that he tries too hard to put his imprint on the game. He tried to force things in the paint and he didn’t let the game come to him as naturally as he normally does. It was clear that Michael hadn’t played in a while.”

Carter-Williams didn't dispute the idea that he was a little excited to get back on the floor.

“I felt pretty good and my foot wasn’t bothering me,” Carter-Williams said. “I struggled a little bit just getting back into the swing of things.”

With four straight losses, the 5-8 Sixers are a half-game behind the Raptors for first place in the Atlantic Division. They will try to snap the losing skid on Friday night when the Milwaukee Bucks come to town.

NBA Playoffs: Warriors sweep their way to 3rd straight NBA Finals

NBA Playoffs: Warriors sweep their way to 3rd straight NBA Finals

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SAN ANTONIO -- Stephen Curry scored 36 points as the Golden State Warriors closed out the Western Conference Final against the injury-ravaged San Antonio Spurs with a 129-115 victory Monday night, becoming the first team in league history to start the playoffs 12-0.

Golden State led by as many as 22 points in cruising to its third straight NBA Finals. The Warriors await a possible third straight championship matchup with Cleveland, which leads Boston 2-1 in the East finals.

"It's great to be one of the last two teams standing, we'll see how it goes," said Kevin Durant, who had 29 points and 12 rebounds.

San Antonio's only lead came on the opening possession when Manu Ginobili tossed in a left-handed scoop shot. The Spurs started Ginobili in what could be his final game with the team. The 39-year-old had maintained he will not ponder whether to retire or return until after the season.

Unsure if the beloved veteran will return, the crowd serenaded Ginobili with "Manu, Manu" chants as the game came to a close.

"An amazing competitor, even more fun playing against him," Durant said of Ginobili. "He was phenomenal this series."

Kyle Anderson scored 20 points to lead the Spurs, who were without Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and David Lee. San Antonio didn't go down without a fight despite the injuries.

Anderson dove on the court for a loose ball that the Spurs had tipped away defensively, pushing the ball upcourt to Patty Mills who fed Ginobili for a 3-pointer that pulled San Antonio to 108-94 with 7 minutes remaining.

The effort made Spurs coach Gregg Popovich smile and clap at times, but the Warriors' depth and talent proved too much for short-handed San Antonio.

Golden State shot 56 percent and were 14 for 39 on 3-pointers.

Draymond Green had 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Warriors.

Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge closed out a disappointing series with his second eight-point effort against the Warriors.

Ginobili finished with 15 points in 32 minutes.

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, North Carolina 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 NC 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 NC State's Dennis Smith.

Tatum was a consistent performer at the charity stripe — unlike Jackson, who shot just 56.6 percent from the line. Tatum 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.