Amazing: Sixers Rally From 18 Down to Steal Game One in Orlando

Amazing: Sixers Rally From 18 Down to Steal Game One in Orlando

This instant recap of the Sixers huge win in Orlando comes from Andrew Unterberger.

Say what you will about the Sixers, they know how to follow a script.
Stop me when this sounds familiar: The Sixers, down double digits in
the second half of the first round's game one, start to rally back just
as it seems the game's getting out of reach, and crawl ahead in the
final minute to stun the home court and pull off the upset. But as
amazing as their win was to start the playoffs last year in Detroit,
the finish to this one took it to a whole new level. Down 18 with just
a minute left in the third, it looked for sure like this thing was
over--the Magic were hitting from all over, the Sixers looked
completely directionless (and went five and a half minutes without a
field goal), and you could just sense that the Magic had gotten the
better of the Sixers this time out. My Sixers insecurity complex kicked
in full throttle as I pictured sportswriters/broadcasters/naysayers around the country chuckling to themselves and exclaiming "How the hell did this team ever get to the sixth seed?" Worse, I thought they might have had a point.

But then a couple buckets to close out the third left it a 14-point
lead, and the Sixers begin to chip away. Royal Ivey and Lou Williams
both hit threes, and as he always seems to when the Sixers are making a
fourth-quarter run, Donyell Marshall poured in a couple more. A Sweet
Lou three-point play cut it to two, and eventually Andre Iguodala was
at the free-throw line with a one-point deficit and a minute to go.
When he bricked both, and Dwight Howard posterized Theo Ratliff at the
other end to make it a three-point game, it was time to break out the
concessions--"well, at least they didn't give up," "well, if so and so
had gone different," etc. But then a third Donny three to tie it up, a
stop at the other end, and suddenly the opportunity was there to walk
away with the win. With three seconds to go in the game, Andre "I Won't
Call You Iggy Ever Again After This" Iguodala stepped back at the top
of the key, fired a fadeaway jumper over Hedo Turkoglu...and buried it.
Hedo put up a desperation heave well behind the arc as the game ended,
but it was way off. Final Score: Philadelphia 100, Orlando 98.

The thing I didn't even realize until watching Iguodala's
game-winner for the fifth or sixth time was how immaculately it was
defended. Andre tried to do his trademark swoop-and-pull move on
Turkoglu twice to get separation, and neither time bought him an inch.
When the shot actually went up, Turkoglu's hand was so far into Iggy's
face that he could probably smell the Cheetos that Hedo was eating
during the last quarter break. The shot simply could not have been
defended any better without Turkoglu actually grabbing the ball out of
Iguodala's hands, and he drilled it anyway. It was the kind of shot
usually reserved for guys who wear numbers like 23 and 24. Good thing,
too, because those missed free throws could've haunted Andre's
clutchness rep for some time to come. Now I doubt anyone will even
remember them by the time the next SportsCenter airs.

It was such an unbelievably satisfying win--vengeance for Rashard
Lewis's last-minute game-winner earlier in the season, if nothing
else--that it's important that we not start trying to read too much
into it. Yes, what the Sixers did tonight was phenomenal, but if you'll
remember, that Detroit series didn't end up finishing so hot, and
Orlando still proved tonight why they are such a dangerous team. I've
never given Dwight Howard the same credit that others have because I
thought his game was still shallow--he was never really dominant in the
interior, he missed a lot of key free throws, and he got in foul
trouble too early, too often. Well, if there was a flaw to be found in
D-12's game tonight, I couldn't see it--he was absolutely sick on both
ends, denying the Sixers anything easy in the paint, and abusing
Ratliff and Dalembert offensively in the post. In the third quarter,
his unstoppable offense got the team's wings all the open shots they
could handle, and they took advantage, to say the least. The really
scary thing is that Theo and Sammy both actually played Howard fairly
well--there was just no stopping Superman II tonight, on his way to 31
points (11-13 FG and a stunning 9-12 FT), 15 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Whether this was a fluky strong performance or the start of Howard
taking his game to that next level remains to be seen, but for the
first time that I've actually witnessed, he looked like an MVP tonight.

Wherever the series goes from here--and you're absolutely nuts if
you don't stick around to see it for yourself at this point--this game
illustrates why, in my opinion, making it to the post-season at all
costs is so important. You never know when your team is going to go out
and, when you least expect it, turn a game into an absolute
classic--the kind of game that takes second-tier, relatively unknown
young talents like Iguodala and turns them into the stars of tomorrow.
Even if the team doesn't end up advancing, it's just not right to rob
your team and fanbase of potential to make memories like that.

Oh, and I've decided that at this point, after keying a fourth
fourth-quarter game-winning resurgence for the Sixers, Donyell Marshall
absolutely must have a nickname, or at the very least some sort of lame
Chris Berman-ism. So far, I've come up with the following
possibilities:

1. Dagger Donny
2. The Marshall Plan
3. He Is Marshall
4. The Secret Weapon
5. The Amplifier

Votes and other nominations are welcome and encouraged.

Stay or Go Part 9: Jalen Mills to Wendell Smallwood

Stay or Go Part 9: Jalen Mills to Wendell Smallwood

In the ninth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — part 9 is Mills to Smallwood.

Jalen Mills
Cap hit: $559K

Roob: Mills has all the tools to be a capable cornerback except world-class speed. He’s fearless, he’s cocky, he’s smart, he’s a hard worker. He just doesn’t have that make-up speed you want your top outside corners to have. I’ve seen enough positives from Mills that I definitely want him on my team. I’m not sure he’ll ever be a starter, but I definitely want him around.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Mills really got thrown into the fire as a seventh-round rookie, didn’t he? It wasn’t all good, but it wasn’t all bad either. It’s pretty obvious defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s loves Mills’ competitiveness. He doesn’t have top-end speed and that’s probably going to prevent him from ever becoming a top-of-the-line corner in the league. But there’s no reason he can’t stick around for a long time. He certainly has the right mindset to be a corner in the NFL and that’s a part of the battle. The Eagles really need to upgrade the corner position, which could greatly reduce Mills’ role, but he should still have one. 

Verdict: STAYS

Aaron Neary

Roob: Neary is a guard who spent the year on the Eagles’ practice squad.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: I’d say there’s a fair to good chance most of you have never heard of Aaron Neary. He’s an undrafted O-lineman out of Eastern Washington who was on the practice squad in 2016. I’d be lying if I told you I knew a lot about him. 

Verdict: GOES

Jason Peters
Cap hit: $11.7M

Roob: Cut Jason Peters at your own risk. You want the $9.2 million cap savings that the Eagles would gain by releasing the perennial Pro Bowler? Find it somewhere else. Because some guys simply should never be released. Peters is an all-time great Eagle and unless his level of play drops off dramatically, he should be allowed to decide when it’s time to go. Only Chuck Bednarik has been picked to more Pro Bowls than Peters in Eagles history. Peters rebounded from a subpar 2015 with a vintage Peters season this past year. Considering that the Eagles have a promising young quarterback who has to be protected and considering that Lane Johnson is one more positive test from a two-year suspension, Peters has to stay. I don’t care what the cap savings would be by getting rid of him. He’s too good and means too much to cut him. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Sure, the Eagles could save over $9 million in cap room if they cut Peters, but who would they get to play? While they’d be fine moving Lane Johnson to left tackle, they’d then be relying on Halapoulivaati Vaitai to play right tackle. And while that might be the plan in coming years, it would weaken the team in 2017. Peters might not be the dominant force he once was, but he had a very good season and he was able to play 97 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, which is huge. He gets paid a lot, but he’s still worth it. 

Verdict: STAYS

Isaac Seumalo
Cap hit: $764K

Roob: I asked Jason Kelce about Seumalo back in training camp and Kelce said he thinks the third-round pick will one day be a Pro Bowl center. Pretty clear Seumalo is the heir apparent to Kelce, it’s just a matter of when the transition occurs. Kelce wasn’t as awful as some people seem to think. He actually finished the season strong. But I think Kelce goes this offseason and Seumalo is your opening-day center in 2017. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Seumalo’s rookie year was a really interesting one. It started with a pec strain in training camp that slowed him down, but eventually ended with his getting some real experience. In all, Seumalo played six different positions in 2016: right tackle, right guard, left guard, left tackle, fullback and tight end. He didn’t even play center, which might be his most natural spot. I think he’ll have a real shot to be the team’s opening-day starter at left guard. 

Verdict: STAYS

Aziz Shittu

Roob: Rookie defensive tackle spent the year on the practice squad. Depending on what happens with Bennie Logan in free agency, the Eagles could be on the prowl for defensive tackle depth this offseason, and Shittu is an interesting guy. He had a good training camp last year coming off a solid career at Stanford and it’s fair to say he has a chance, depending on what the Eagles do in the draft and free agency. Going with my instincts on this one.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: I actually really liked Shittu coming out of Stanford and not just because I giggle like a schoolgirl every time I hear his name. For an interior defensive lineman, he has some real pass rushing potential. I think he would have been the undrafted guy to make the team over Destiny Vaeao had he not missed the spring because of the silly college graduation/quarters rule. I’d like to see him get a legitimate shot to stick here. It’s a longshot, but I’m going to take a chance with this one. I think he can make the roster. 

Verdict: STAYS

Wendell Smallwood
Cap hit: $601K

Roob: We spend so much time talking about the Eagles’ desperate needs at cornerback and wide receiver that it’s easy to forget they're just as desperate at running back. Assuming Ryan Mathews isn’t back, the Eagles will have a real need for a No. 1 back. You can’t draft or sign every position. So Smallwood could get a real shot at the lead back role. Can he handle the role or is he best suited to be a No. 2? Not sure yet. I like how Smallwood responded when he got double-digit carries against the Steelers, Falcons and Seahawks. Averaged 4.2 yards in those three games. And he had nine runs of 10 yards or more out of just 77 carries. I know Smallwood is a player. I’m just not sure where he’ll fit in. Maybe it’s the No. 28 jersey, but at worst I see him as a Correll Buckhalter-type, a solid No. 2 back who can fill in once in a while as a lead guy. At best? We’ll see. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Smallwood might not be the true answer at the running back position, but he proved enough to earn a roster spot next year and a role in the offense. I’m not sure if his ceiling is very high, but he got better throughout the year, specifically as a blocker. He’ll be back for Year 2. 

Verdict: STAYS

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

While many people believe the Flyers are in far better shape right now than where they were a year ago, the fact is, they are pretty much the same.
 
After 48 games played, the Flyers have the same number of points now as they did last season – 52.
 
The critical difference – and this is why fans say they’re better off – is that a year ago at this juncture, the Flyers were five points behind Pittsburgh in the wild-card chase.
 
Right now, they own the second wild-card spot, but there are five teams behind them within four points or less of catching them, two of which have games in hand.
 
Earlier this week, Toronto was ahead of them and the Maple Leafs have three games in hand, which makes Thursday’s showdown against the upstart Leafs at Wells Fargo Center a very critical game.
 
That game represents the back end of the Flyers' 13th back-to-back set, which starts Wednesday with a date at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
 
If ever two games in a short week prior to the All-Star break were of prime significance, these next two seem to qualify.
 
“A hundred percent,” said Jakub Voracek, the Flyers' leading scorer with 42 points. “It’s the same for every game. Practice and come to the rink with a win in your head.”
 
To a man, the Flyers go into the nationally televised showdown with the Rangers feeling great about themselves because of the extraordinary effort they showed in Sunday’s 3-2 comeback victory against the Islanders in OT.
 
“I felt like we won the Stanley Cup with that overtime goal,” Voracek kidded. “That’s how happy we were. There was a lot of relief. Now we have to keep going.”
 
Just five points separate nine teams from the second wild-card position right now. The Eastern Conference is just as tight as it’s always been. Within the Metropolitan Division, just five points separate the Flyers from the three times tied for last in the conference - the Islanders, Sabres and Lightning.  
 
“It’s been that way,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Right from the drop of the puck in October, it was going to be a battle. You can’t get too distracted by it. You worry about the job in hand and that’s tomorrow.”
 
The focus this week is rather narrow: two games left before the All-Star break begins on Friday.
 
“Yeah, both these games have implications directed to us in the standings,” said goalie Steve Mason, who will start against the Rangers. “Both being Eastern Conference teams and they are right with one another.
 
“We have to have a short mindset. We have the Rangers and that’s going to be a tough game going into MSG. Once that game is over, we focus on the Leafs.”
 
The Rangers have beaten the Flyers twice this season already – both in South Philly. While the games were mostly competitive, there remains a huge disparity in one critical area for both teams this season: goal differential.
 
The Rangers have a plus-40 differential while the Flyers check in at minus-18. As poor as Henrik Lundqvist (2.75 goals against average) has been this season – although his recent performances are trending upward – he still owns the Flyers.
 
In his last 15 games against the Flyers, going back to Jan. 1, 2013, Lundqvist is 11-3-0 with a 1.91 GAA and .938 save percentage.
 
“This is huge, especially in MSG,” Voracek said. “We lost two games in a row to them at home. Hopefully, we get points.”
 
In his last three starts this month, Lundqvist is 3-0, with a 1.32 GAA and .952 save percentage. In other words, the “old” King Henrik appears to have regained his throne just in time to face the Flyers.
 
“Their goaltender has been outstanding over this past stretch for them,” Hakstol said. “Their team is playing well.
 
“We have to worry more about our team. We’re not going to control what their side is going to do. We can control what we do.”