Report From Philadelphia 76ers
Game Recap: Warriors 108, 76ers 105
Snapshot: The best team in the NBA was in town, bringing with it the league’s most captivating player this season. The building was sold out, and in the final two minutes of Saturday’s match-up between the 76ers (7-41) and Golden State Warriors (43-4), the crowd of 20,798 at The Center had reached full-throat. Once the final horn sounded, the appreciative faithful in attendance remained standing to give the home squad a big ovation.
Although the Sixers weren’t able to emerge victorious from their memorable clash with the league’s defending champions, they came pretty darn close. And the atmosphere was tough to beat.
Golden State forward Harrison Barnes buried a corner three-pointer with 0:00.2 seconds remaining in regulation, sending the Warriors to a 108-105 win, their sixth in a row. The clutch deposit thwarted the Sixers’ designs on, at the very least, extending the contest to overtime, and, at the very most, emerging with what would have been an improbable triumph.
Following a first half in which Golden State burst for 73 points, the Sixers clamped down, using defense to set the stage for their comeback push. Outscoring the Warriors 51-35 between the third and fourth quarters, the Sixers spotted Golden State – the highest scoring team in the NBA – their lowest point total of any half this season. Additionally, the Sixers permitted Golden State to shoot just 32.6 percent from the field in the second stanza. They forced the Warriors into 15 of their season-high tying 23 turnovers during that stretch.
After the Warriors increased their lead to 103-90 with 3:45 left in regulation, the Sixers made their move, ripping off nine straight points before Stephen Curry delivered a driving lay-up. On the Sixers’ ensuing possession, the 2015 NBA MVP was guilty of a major mistake, fouling Isaiah Canaan in the corner. Canaan not only nailed the three-point bucket, but punched in the free throw as well with 38.6 seconds to go . The Sixers’ defense then forced Barnes into a turnover, sparking a fastbreak lay-up from Ish Smith that stunningly knotted the score at 105-105. While there were only 22.3 seconds showing on the scoreboard, it proved to be enough time for the poised, composed champs to set up Barnes for his decisive shot.
Seven of the 10 Sixers that received playing time on Saturday finished in double-figures. Canaan paced his teammates with 18 points, shooting five for nine from three-point territory. Robert Covington registered the fourth double-double of his career, producing 12 points and 13 rebounds. Smith tallied 16 points (7-19 fg), five rebounds, nine assists, and four steals. Jahlil Okafor tacked on 13 points in his return from a two-game flu absence.
Golden State All-Star Klay Thompson registered 21 of his game-high 32 points in the first half. Curry, meanwhile, was held below his 29.9 point per game average, scoring 23 points (9-19 fg). He had six assists, but also committed seven turnovers. Draymond Green, the Warriors’ third All-Star, nearly pulled off a triple-double, with 10 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists.
Brett Brown Said – On the Sixers’ showing in their 108-105 setback to the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors:
“San Antonio, Dallas, Indiana, Chicago, and Cleveland. That’s the last five games that [Golden State] has beaten by an average of 25 points. And scored an average of 125. For us and to be down 24 and find a way to not roll over, not be all caught up in the moment – and find a way to give something back to our fans who were fantastic – is a great thing for our young team. It validates the work they have put in. It showed we have not let down, and no back down. I give us a lot of credit.”
The Sixers summoned up their strongest sequence of the day down the stretch of the fourth quarter, calling upon defense to spark offense. Mounting a 20-5 surge during the final six minutes of regulation, the Sixers shocked Golden State by locking up the score with 22.3 seconds to go. Ish Smith’s equalizer sent the sellout crowd of 20, 798, and the Comcast SportsNet television crew, too, into a frenzy.
Notes and Quotes:
Before even taking the floor Saturday versus the Golden State, the Sixers had to confront several potentially intimidating truths about their opponent. The Warriors rolled into South Philadelphia having already matched the 1966-1967 version of the 76ers for the best 46-game start in NBA history. On top of that, their roster boasted three All-Stars, in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Curry entered the afternoon generating 29.9 points per game, the highest scoring average in the NBA.
Prior to tip-off, Brett Brown spoke about the mindset he was seeking from his team, as it readied for an immense challenge.
“That we play, that we’re not intimidated by the moment, that we go play, and we compete,” said Brown. “We feel like we got something to offer too. We can put our hand up and have our young guys say, ‘Look at me.’ You look at some of the plays and the way we have been playing recently, I’m proud of our effort, and proud of our play. I think that we’ve showed a balance. I think that we’ve showed a toughness. We want to go play. We want to go play, and not get caught up in records, or who’s on the court, and let these guys show our fans what we’re doing as well.”
Among the many areas in which Golden State excels is pace of play. Going into Saturday’s game, the Warriors ranked second in the NBA, averaging 101.65 possessions per contest, a figure that was only 0.32 possessions behind the Sacramento Kings for fastest in the league. Pace is key pillar of the system that Brown has implemented since taking over the Sixers prior to the 2013-2014 campaign.
“We don’t back down. We run. We go,” said Brown. “To all of a sudden come in and say, ‘Oh we’re playing Golden State, so let’s walk it up the floor because we’re fearful of their pace’ isn’t going to happen. It’s not going to happen. So we’re going to go do what we do. We have done what we have been doing lately quite well. We’re going against the league’s best at that. We look forward to entertaining an entertaining style of play, and showing the city and the fans how we play, too. I admit at times that could be dangerous, but that’s what we’re going to do.”
Given how close the Sixers came to knocking off the Warriors, Brown’s instinct to stick to his convictions proved correct. The Sixers began Saturday with the sixth-fastest pace in the NBA, manufacturing 99.68 possessions per outing.
As an encore to his NBA MVP performance last season, Stephen Curry is playing even better this year. In addition to topping the NBA in points per game, three-point field goals made, and three-point percentage, the 27-year old point guard also owns the top individual offensive rating (118.7) and player impact estimate (20.8) in the league.
Regardless of whether you want to use traditional or advanced metrics to measure Curry’s talents, he also possesses an immeasurable star power aura. The three-time All-Star’s uncanny handle and remarkable shot-making ability has made him a can’t miss performer, and not just while games are going on, either. Curry’s pre-game warm-up shooting routine brings out fans extra early, as was the case at The Center on Saturday.
“Steph is getting to that point where he’s sort of transcending the game in a lot of ways,” said Steve Kerr, a five-time NBA champion as a player between stints with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs. “People who wouldn’t otherwise be interested in basketball are interested in Steph, and that’s how it was with Michael [Jordan]. It’s also similar in the reaction of the crowd. I remember Michael going crazy back in the day, going for 40 on the road. It seemed like the crowd enjoyed it, the [opposing home] crowd. I feel the same way with Steph. He does some amazing things, and the crowd, even though they’re cheering for the hometown, are legitimately thrilled to watch him do his thing. That’s pretty rare.”
Kerr added that his point guard, whose 1.6 million All-Star Game votes were second only to Kobe Bryant’s 1.8 million, hasn’t changed, despite the enormous surge in popularity he’s experienced in recent years.
“You just enjoy it, and Steph is so grounded, and down to earth about everything, and legitimately so,” Kerr said. “He handles his fame incredibly well. I think the rest of the guys just enjoy being part of a great team, and a part of this situation. Steph is obviously the main attraction, but we’ve got a lot of guys who can really play, and enjoy playing together.”
While the reigning NBA MVP put his skills on display Saturday in South Philadelphia, the reigning NBA Finals MVP did not. Former Sixer Andre Iguodala was given the day off to rest.
Taken ninth overall in the 2004 NBA Draft, Iguodala spent the first eight years of his professional career with the Sixers. His final two seasons netted playoff berths.
Elton Brand, back for a second stint with the Sixers, was a teammate of Iguodala for his final four campaigns in Philadelphia, and spoke on Friday about the heights the versatile small forward has reached.
“It’s amazing,” Brand said, discussing Iguodala’s career path. “It’s different. He was always that ultimate ‘player,’ pass-first, do what it takes to win, play hard-nosed defense, make the right play. That’s always his game. That’s five years ago. He’s gotten better, but that’s who he always was.”
Iguoldala, an All-Star for the Sixers in 2012, accounts for 7.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in 27.4 minutes per game off the bench for Golden State.
The Sixers will have three straight days without a game before returning to action on Wednesday. When they do get back on the floor, they’ll take on another tough team at home. As of Saturday, the Atlanta Hawks (27-21) led the Southeast Division, and ranked fourth in the Eastern Conference. Nearly a month ago, Atlanta used a 126-98 victory over the Sixers to kickstart a strong stretch during which it won five out of seven games. Since then, the Hawks have dropped four of their last five outings, as their offense has fallen into a rut. In each of these four defeats, Atlanta has scored 95 points or less. A season ago, en route to compiling the East’s best regular season record, Mike Budenholzer’s club posted the sixth-best offensive rating in the NBA. This year, the team has slipped back to the middle of pack in that statistical category. Paul Millsap, who paces the Hawks with averages of 18.0 points and 6.3 rebounds, was nominated last Thursday to his third straight NBA All-Star Game. The power forward was forced to exit Atlanta’s 19-point loss to the Indiana Pacers on Thursday with a sprained left ankle.