Anything is Possible: Sixers Win Game Two On Super-Interesting Final Minute

Anything is Possible: Sixers Win Game Two On Super-Interesting Final Minute

First it looked like Game Two of the Bulls series. Then it looked like
Game One of this series. Then it looked like few things I've ever seen
before in a Sixers game—though you could say the eventual outcome was
roughly as weird and wonderful as Thad, 'Dre and Omer's Round One grand
finale. In the end, the Sixers ended up winning this game in a
controversial final minute by an 82-81 margin that wasn't as close as it
seems (except that it sort of was.) I'll explain in a minute.

No surprise, but this Game Two was ugly—and we're talking for-real,
alabi-less UGLY. The Sixers missed five shots in a row on two separate
occasions in the first quarter, the Celtics came a couple Paul Pierce
FTs with two seconds to go away from posting a single-digit third
quarter, and the two teams combined for just 28 points in the second.
Neither team shot above 42% in the game, the two teams combined for 33
turnovers and 35 fouls. It was a little less depressing than some of the
Bulls games, but that's probably just because at least neither team had
the excuse/handicap of injury—minus a stretch in the third when C's
guard Avery Bradley went out with shoulder issues, before returning in
time to hit (at the time at least) a huge fourth-quarter three.

The Sixers manage to briefly cut through the scoreless tedium at the end
of the third quarter, where they went on an 11-0 run that made it look
like they might be able to run the Celtics out of the gym, as they did
the Bulls in their only United Center victory of Round One. The Celtics
were able to answer in the fourth, though, thanks to a couple straight
threes by Mickael Pietrus and two straight KG jumpers to make it a tie
game at 69-69 with 4:33 to go in the game. It looked like the C's would
grind out another home victory, especially during the sequence where
Avery Bradley hit a three to put the C's up one, Jrue Holiday answered
on the other end with a three of his own, and Ray Allen answered right
back with another three, with Holiday being smothered on a subsequent
possession.

But the Sixers showed impressive intestinal fortitude in this one, and
managed to get a stop on defense (love you taking those 16-footers,
Rajon Rondo), allowing Evan Turner—who'd had an absolutely miserable
game up until that point, scoring just six points with nearly as many
turnovers—to give the Sixers the lead on a gorgeous twisting layup down
the lane, a shot that was about 100x tougher than a couple gimmes he had
somehow missed just minutes before. The Sixers managed to get a stop at
the other end, forcing Ray Allen into a tough shot, and brought up the
ball with about 28 seconds to go.

Then, things got weird.

Rajon Rondo took a foul on Jrue Holiday with 14 seconds to go,
presumably because they had a foul to give and Jrue was starting his
drive to the basket. But what appeared unconsidered in the situation was
that with the foul, the shotclock reset to 14 seconds, meaning the
Sixers could basically dribble out the clock, forcing the Celtics to
foul again. Whether this was a lapse in judgment on the part of Rondo or
Celtics coach Doc Rivers, or strategy on Doc's part because he didn't
believe the Celtics could score with four seconds to go (the Sixers also
having a foul to give), was unclear. But the result was that the C's
had to foul when Philly inbounded again, and Evan Turner went to the
line with the chance to put the game in the Sixers' control.

Now, my love for Turner here is well-documented, but when it comes to
free-throw shooting...well, the idea of him going to the line needing to
make two is only slightly less terrifying to me than the idea of Andre
Iguodala (who crashed back down to Poor Free-Throw Shooting Earth
tonight, by the way, going an unconscionable 2-7 from the line) doing
so. He shot just 68% for the regular season, and his prior shooting in
Game Two wasn't exactly helping my confidence. But just as he did late
in the Sixers' huge Game Four victory against Miami last year, he sank
both, putting the team up three and, with 12 seconds remaining, just one
stop away from icing the game.

Then, things got really weird.

No team in the NBA is more terrifying to face when you're up three with
seconds to go than the Boston Celtics. They have two of the game's best
late-game clutch shooters—both with great three-point range—in Ray Allen
and Paul Pierce, other guys who can certainly hit a clutch three in
Avery Bradley and Mickael Pietrus, and even a couple odd Hit a Big
Three-Pointer When You Least Suspect It shooters in Rondo and Kevin
Garnett. So I was prepared for just about anything as the C's
in-bounded—except for what actually happened. A whistle blew as Paul
Pierce got open for a three. The whistle was clearly before the shot, so
I figured the Sixers were using their foul to give, and it'd be side
out, Boston again. But everyone stayed frozen for a couple added
seconds, and some of the Sixers started walking to the other end. It
dawned on me, the fans and the announcers at the same time—

Offensive foul.

Yes, offensive foul—a moving screen on Kevin Garnett. I didn't even
notice it during the play, largely because Garnett is legendary for his
subtle hook screens, which the Sixers had been begging to get called the
entire game, and finally got it at the most crucial time in the game.
Garnett looked more stunned than angry at the whistle—probably because
he knew that he was guilty, but couldn't believe he had actually gotten
called on it. Lou Williams hit a couple free throws at the other end,
and though the C's insisted on making things interesting until the
buzzer—Allen hit a three with two seconds left to cut it to two, and a
couple Jodie Meeks free throws later, and KG actually hit a long
buzzer-beating three to cut the lead to one at game's end—the Sixers'
win was secure.

Now, there's gonna be a lot of crying about the KG moving screen call,
and indeed, the refereeing was a little hinky all game, with calls and
no-calls on both sides leading to some serious head-scratching. But make
no mistake about it—that was a moving screen on Garnett, and his
elbow hook on Andre Iguodala was the very reason why Paul Pierce had
gotten so open at the top of the arc for that three. Whether or not it
usually gets called doesn't really matter—it's the right call, and when
you look at it on replay, it's actually a pretty obvious call, so
there's no complaints to be had. (That Evan Turner short jumper with
about three minutes where he pretty clearly traveled beforehand...that's
another story. But this one's clean.)

Anyway, it was a great collective showing from the Sixers in the final
minutes tonight. Nearly all of Turner's sins—and this was arguably his
worst game of the playoffs for the first 47 minutes—were absolved by his
final four points, probably his most important ever in his professional
career. Jrue Holiday ended as the team's leading scorer, hitting four
big threes, including that big answer three in the final minutes, a
gorgeous pull-up after he was given space behind the arc. Free-throw
shooting aside, Iguodala was also huge tonight, hitting some big jumpers
when the Sixers O went stagnant, and filling the box score in his usual
manner, adding six rebounds and a team-high seven assists, as well as
playing lockdown D on Paul Pierce—who, amazingly, has now shot a
combined 5-20 for the series, a big reason the Sixers have been in both
games in Boston.

But if there's a game ball to be had tonight, it probably goes to rookie
Lavoy Allen. In a series where the Sixers' frontcourt has been getting
positively dominated—Elton had a nice stretch in the third where he hit
some shots, but he, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes still combined for a
miserable 19 points—Lavoy has been incredibly big, scoring ten points
and grabbing eight rebounds off the bench, but more importantly, being
the only Sixer seemingly up for scrapping with Garnett, as well as other
C's bigs Brandon Bass and Greg Stiemsma, fighting on the glass at both
ends and not letting KG get in his head. It's a toughness the Sixers
desperately need in this series, and while I didn't really expect Mr.
500 to be the guy to provide it...hey, we'll take it where we can get
it.

You can't really say enough about the guys for getting this one. It was
another weird one, sure, but this is now the fourth close game that the
Sixers have won in the post-season, and probably their toughest yet. At
some point, you have to give these Liberty Ballers credit for doing what
we get on them all regular season for failing to do—close out big games
against good (or hell, even not-good) teams. A moral victory alone
would have meant we were at least alive in this series, an actual
victory means we might really have a chance to make things interesting
later this week in Philadelphia. It's got me feeling good enough that
I'm going to abstain from saying anything mean about Lou Williams, even.

Game three coming up in Philadelphia on Wednesday night. The Sixers are
still definitely the underdog, but this is now officially a winnable
series. No one could have imagined we'd even get this far two weeks ago,
and I still have a lot of mixed feelings about how we got to this
point, but damn if we shouldn't enjoy the hell out of this now that
we're here.

Pro athletes react to Donald Trump's inauguration

Pro athletes react to Donald Trump's inauguration

A look at some of the reaction around the sports world as Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday:

Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Richie Incognito on Twitter
"Today is the first day on the road to Making America Great Again #Inauguration2017"

Memphis Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green on Twitter
"Hope these 4 years fly by ? #TimeToPray"

Los Angeles Angels relief pitcher Huston Street on Twitter
"Today we start a new chapter, let's work together, and remember only saying negative without an idea is creating divide, it does not help US"

Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee on Twitter
"Inauguration Day.. Some folks happier than they've ever been.. some folks madder than they've ever been.. what a time to be alive"

Former USWNT soccer player Lauren Holiday , to her infant daughter, on Instagram
"I may not be the president, baby but I'll promise to be your Mom. I'll teach you that your brown skin is beautiful. I'll show you that being a girl and a woman is a privilege. How being incredibly powerful means serving those around you and fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves. I will tell you about Jesus and how he taught us to love unconditionally. We will have many talks about equality and I will always encourage generosity. One day if you ask me what you can be, I will smile and say absolutely anything. I'll tell you whatever it is you choose, be kind. I'll fight for you, I'll cheer for you and I'll love you along the way. But most of all, I'll make sure you're hopeful. So today, baby, I'll choose hope."

Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum on Twitter
"Appreciate you Mr. 44"

Atlanta Hawks guard Thabo Sefolosha on Twitter
"The only President my 2 daughters have known. Feels strange going from them to the new guy. Thanks for the class act Barack and Michelle !"

Former Texas and NFL receiver Jordan Shipley on Twitter
"Heard God's word in the inauguration speech. I care about our country being under God a lot more than I care about politics or parties."

Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul on Twitter
"Thank You!!! #44"

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady when asked on Friday if he called Trump to congratulate him.
"Let's talk about football."

Shayne Gostisbehere was right: Let's not forget the big picture

Shayne Gostisbehere was right: Let's not forget the big picture

Shayne Gostisbehere spoiled us.

In 64 games last season, we were spoiled by his 17 goals, most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf scored 20 over a full 82 in 2005-06.

Spoiled by a historic 15-game point streak, the longest ever for a first-year blueliner.

And spoiled by four overtime winners, an NHL rookie single-season record.

With it all, Gostisbehere created a mighty and somewhat unfair challenge. He exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations and perhaps made for even greater ones as an encore.

So, naturally, questions and doubts have swirled around his quiet sophomore season. Speaking to reporters last week after a 4-1 loss in Buffalo, Gostisbehere, for the first time, expressed just a hint of frustration. In the midst of his current 22-game goal drought, he wanted to make a point.

Astutely, he did.

“I’m doing my job,” he said. “I mean, I’m a defenseman, I’m not a goal scorer.”

It served as a reminder of what many wanted to see improve in Gostisbehere’s second NHL go-round — a more sound game in his own end by honing in on the defensive skills to his position.

Yes, he can change a game offensively, but could he be reliable and responsible defensively?

After all, Gostisbehere is a defenseman, like he said. We’ve already seen the offensive potential. From the onset, defensive growth is what head coach Dave Hakstol wanted to see.

“Consistency every day,” Hakstol said in early October. “Just be an everyday worker who is pushing hard to really improve himself as an NHL defenseman.”

Now, not only is Gostisbehere in a malaise offensively with four goals and 15 assists through 43 games, but he also hasn’t been sharp or consistent defensively. That certainly is a part of the concern permeating through the Delaware Valley. The 2015-16 Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie) runner-up has been benched twice because of it and is a team-worst minus-17 on the season.

However, the positive here is he’s focused on it. Forget scoring goals for a moment. Even with Gostisbehere’s struggles, Flyers defensemen have provided offense among the league’s best. And for a stretch of 20 games following his first healthy scratch on Nov. 17, Gostisbehere was cleaner and more active with 17 giveaways and 24 blocked shots just partially telling the story. In the 17 games prior, he had 19 giveaways and only 20 blocked shots.

“I’m here to help the team in any way possible,” Gostisbehere said last Sunday. “Right now, it’s just getting back to work and doing the little things. It’s not going to come easy. That is something that me personally, and a lot of us have to look at.”

Even some of the all-time great defensemen went through the proverbial sophomore slump. Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom went from 60 points and a plus-36 rating as a rookie to 41 and a plus-7 in his second season. Brian Leetch, also in the Hall of Fame, saw a dip in production across the board in Year 2 after winning the Calder Trophy.

But let’s not draw crazy comparisons. Let’s just understand the important thing here, which is Gostisbehere’s understanding that defense is paramount. He’s learning through his lumps, starting at the end of his breakout rookie campaign in which he looked spent from the NHL grind. He underwent minor offseason surgeries on his hip and lower abdomen, suffered a nasty face cut in the season opener, then a bone bruise on his right hand in December.

We’re just over halfway through the 2016-17 schedule. Gostisbehere is only 23 years old, a 2012 third-round pick with a cap hit less than 16 other Flyers in a season that looks more like a continued rebuild than a jump to contention.

Really, Shayne Gostisbehere should be some of the least of our worries.