Bunch of Good Things But No Win For Sixers Against Grizzlies

Bunch of Good Things But No Win For Sixers Against Grizzlies

Well phooey. With a 33-point first-quarter that saw just about
everything go right for them, the Sixers looked like they were in pretty
good shape to finally win a second straight game (imagine!) tonight
against the Memphis Grizzlies, and even after the Grizzlies cut the lead
to shreds and then took the lead in the second, the Sixers persevered
and gave themselves several opportunities to win the game. But in the
end, gravity was not on their side tonight, and the Grizzlies eked out a
103-100 win that left Malik and Zumoff reaching for the peach schnapps.

It's a tough loss to swallow, because there were so many
positives you'd like to take out of a game like this. Evan Turner was a
marvel tonight, scoring from all over the court on the way to his
season-high 27 points and seven assists. Jrue got stymied a bit in the
second half but was absolutely on fire to start, still ending with 18
points and ten assists. Thaddeus Young scrapped his way to 23 and seven,
and played lockdown D on the other end against one of the NBA's
toughest post matchups, holding Zach Randolph to just four points. It
was an astounding group performance from our young core trio.

Unfortunately,
as good as Thaddeus was on Z-Bo, that's about as poor as Spencer Hawes
was on Marc Gasol. Not entirely Spence's fault, since Gasol is a rough
cover for anyone, and the Sixers made the conscious (and as it turns
out, very poor) choice to let Gasol fire away from the perimeter, which
he did to the tune of a season-high 25 points. Hitting from the
perimeter was a recurring theme for the supposedly ground-and-pound
Grizzlies, and Jrue and Evan also probably deserve a good deal of the
blame for some poor defensive switching and ill-timed help that left the
likes of Rudy Gay (26 points) and Jerryd Bayless (21 points, also a
season high) open to fire away from all over the court.

Really,
though, as with last week against the Spurs, this loss can be blamed on
poor late-game execution. Up 100-97 in the game's closing minutes, the
Sixers had several chances to give themselves some breathing room, and
ended up with the following series of possessions:

1. Jrue attempts a jumper double-teamed in the corner (strip, turnover)
2. Jrue finds Thad in the corner (??) for a three (clang, rebound Grizzlies)
3. Jrue pulls up for a contested two 22 feet away from the basket (clang, rebound Grizzlies)

Three
straight poor, low-percentage decisions from Jrue, 0 points for the
Sixers in three trips. Brilliant as The Damaja has been this season, and
much as we want him to be an all-powerful devourer of worlds at just 22
years of age, this is something that he's struggled with a bit this
season, and you hope and expect that this is just a matter of Jrue
needing to get his reps in these late-game stretches, and that the calm,
cool Holiday we know from the game's first three-and-a-half quarters
will soon start showing up reliably in the last half of the fourth as
well. But in the meantime, it gave the Grizzlies just enough time to
edge ahead by one with about 12 seconds to go.

The play that the
Sixers ran there to take back the lead ended up being unsuccessful, but
it was minorly encouraging just the same. Dribbling into the half-court
as the clock wound down to single digits, Jrue drew the double time
driving to the basket and whipped a pass to Thad in single coverage,
where he hoisted a five-foot jumper for the lead. It missed, but it's a
high-percentage shot, and one we've seen Thad make countless times
before, so you can't be mad at the team for the play ran—which in itself
is a victory of sorts for the Doug Collins 76ers. (Derek Bodner of
Liberty Ballers also points out that had Thad spotted Hawes creepeing up the baseline, Spence might've had an uncontested dunk. Next time.)

With
losses like this against superior teams, you have to keep in mind that
for large stretches of this season, it would be rare that the Sixers
even stayed in the games for this long. If you told me before the
Sixers' home games against the Spurs, Knicks and Grizzlies that they
would win one in a blowout and fight to the end in the other two, I'd
have been perfectly happy with that. (Wish they hadn't lost to the Bucks
in the middle, but such is life.) As long as Thad, Jrue and Evan keep
playing at this high a level—and it's worth pointing out that after
slumping for about a month straight, the Extraterrestrial is finally
back up in space, averaging 22 points, 6.8 boards and six assists over
his last four games—and as long as that funny-looking kid with the big
hair keeps getting healthier and healthier, wins and losses are really
not the most important thing anyway.

And if you really want
wins, there might be some to be had in the not-too-distant future. The
Sixers play their next six at home, with the next five being against the
Wizards, Kings, Magic, Pacers and Bobcats. Now the Pacers are good and
the Wizards have improved lately, but you'd still hope the Sixers could
get at least three of those, and perhaps even—wonder of wonders—two in a
row at some point. And if not, well, Jrue plays in the All-Star Game
soon after, and we (presumably) get Bynum back not long after that.
There is still much in life to look forward to.

Flyers-Oilers 10 observations: Two big rallies and the win streak pushes forward

Flyers-Oilers 10 observations: Two big rallies and the win streak pushes forward

Ten observations from the Flyers' 6-5 win over the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night, their seventh straight win and longest win streak since Dec. 2-15, 2011 (see Instant Replay).

1. And the Flyers (somehow) did it. They won their seventh straight game on a night Steve Mason wasn't his best — five goals allowed for the third time this season — and the team defense was largely atrocious. Michael Raffl scored a beautiful goal for the game-winner at 18:31 of the third period and the Flyers held on. This game had a 1980s feel to it. Lots of scoring. Highly entertaining. And the Flyers found a way to win it. This team is on a roll.

2. From the Flyers' perspective, the most entertaining moment of the opening 20 minutes came with 5:31 left in the first period, when Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning and Oilers center Connor McDavid exchanged words post-whistle in the Philadelphia zone.

Manning broke McDavid's collarbone last season, which forced McDavid to miss a chunk of his rookie season. Nothing more than a little pushing and shoving with some trash talk.

Still, the sequence brought the most excitement in the first period. Speaking of which …

3. For a team that entered on a six-game winning streak, the Flyers' first-period effort was disheartening. They needed more than nine minutes to get their first shot on goal, and had more shots in the final two minutes — five — than they did the first 18 minutes.

No real scoring chances, either, out of the nine first-period shots. Raffl had a nice chance, but Oilers goalie Jonas Gustavsson was able to make the stop.

That's two straight games the Flyers have had poor first periods. Tuesday, they were tied, 1-1, with the Panthers, but faced a 1-0 deficit Thursday. Better first periods are needed.

4. Boy, the Flyers woke up quick after the 10-minute mark of the second period.

Down 2-0, the Flyers scored three goals in one minute and 12 seconds in the second period — 12:31, 13:24 and 13:43 — to get the Wells Fargo Center jumping.

Mark Streit started it off with a power-play goal, followed by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and then Claude Giroux. Bellamare beat Gustavsson with a well-placed wrist shot, which may have been the fourth-liner's best shot of his NHL career, for his first of the year.

Giroux's diving slapper gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead 19 seconds later. The loudest the building may have been this season. It had a playoff atmosphere after Giroux's goal.

5. Let's talk about McDavid. We hear about how fast he is, how skilled he is, how special he is, and he is every bit as advertised. You see it more when you see him in person.

McDavid scored his first power-play goal of the season at 4:35 of the second period, his 12th goal of the campaign. He rocketed home a one-timer from Leon Draisaitl off a rebound.

The 19-year-old kid leads the NHL in scoring and just scored his first PPG. The kid is special. Very special. Side note, McDavid chirped Manning after his PPG.

6. And, of course, McDavid was a factor in another Oilers goal. After the Flyers took momentum with their three goals in just over a minute, McDavid took it right back.

While the Oilers were shorthanded, McDavid was double-teamed in the corner left of Mason by Andrew MacDonald and Bellamare, but he was able to shovel the puck to Mark Letestu, who then found Andrej Sekera for a blast by Mason to make it 3-3 at 16:15 of the second period.

The credit for that goal goes all to McDavid. Tremendous strength by a 19-year-old who was being pinned against the boards by a 30-year-old and 31-year-old, respectively.

Sekera's goal was the seventh shorthanded goal allowed by the Flyers — most in the NHL.

7. I was skeptical of using the Bellemare line against McDavid, but at 5-on-5, Bellemare, Chris VandeVelde and Roman Lyubimov did a decent job against McDavid. Still, the Oilers' captain finished with a goal and assist. The Flyers held McDavid without a breakaway.

The Bellemare line did a tremendous job at 5-on-5.

8. The fans grew restless with the referees in the third period. First, Brayden Schenn put a loose puck into the net, but Gustavsson had covered it and the whistle had blown quickly. And then, McDavid tackled Ivan Provorov on a break. Should have been a penalty.

9. We hear about McDavid all the time, but Edmonton has another young star in Draisaitl, who found himself off the McDavid line against the Flyers.

No problem for the 2014 No. 3 overall pick. Draisaitl had a goal and two assists and displayed an uncanny ability to find open players and get them the puck.

In a game featuring McDavid, it was Draisaitl who stole the show. Wow.

10. It was Goaltender Heritage Night at the Wells Fargo Center, but there were no special ceremonies. The honorees, voted by the fans, were Bernie Parent, Ron Hextall, Pelle Lindberg, Pete Peeters and Brian Boucher. Outside of some interviews during stoppages and a cool, little presentation during introductions, there was nothing to write home about. There was an uptick in goalie jerseys in the crowd.

Personal favorite? A Brian Boucher No. 1 Philadelphia Phantoms sweater.

Instant Replay: Sixers 99, Pelicans 88

ap-sixers-joel-embiid.jpg
Associated Press

Instant Replay: Sixers 99, Pelicans 88

BOX SCORE

NEW ORLEANS -- The Sixers avoided setting a franchise mark of consecutive road losses with a 99-88 win over the Pelicans in New Orleans.

Prior to Thursday’s victory, the Sixers had lost 23 straight away from Philadelphia. Their last road win was Jan. 20, 2016 against the Magic. They also had dropped 23 consecutive games on the road from March 29 - Dec. 23, 2015. 

The Sixers held Anthony Davis, the NBA’s leading scorer, to 26 points, below his season average of 31.6. They were led by Ersan Ilyasova, who dropped 23 points again after scoring 23 in the Sixers’ last game against the Grizzlies. 

Third-quarter transformation
The Sixers trailed the Pelicans 57-52 at halftime and struck back defensively in the third. They held the Pelicans to 5 for 25 shooting from the field and 2 for 12 from three in the quarter. The Sixers outscored the Pelicans 19-12 in the quarter to regain the lead. 

Inside the box score
• Davis recorded a 26-point, 11-rebound double-double. He shot 8 for 21 from the field, 0 for 2 from three and 10 for 12 from the line. 

• Ilyasova scored 23 points (9 for 16 from the field, 2 for 6 from three, 3 for 4 from the line), eight rebounds and four assists.

• Joel Embiid contributed 14 points (5 for 15 from the field, 0 for 5 from three, 4 for 5 from the line), seven rebounds, two assists, four blocks and three steals in 27 minutes.

• Sergio Rodriguez gave a solid 16 points (6 for 13 from the field, 4 for 8 from three) and eight dimes.

• Nik Stauskas and Dario Saric combined for 27 points off the bench.

• St. Joe’s alum Langston Galloway dropped 19 points (8 for 16 from the field, 3 for 6 from long range) off the Pelicans’ bench.

Trusting the process in New Orleans
It follows Embiid on the road. Fans chanted “trust the process” while he was at the free throw line. The volume was more quiet than at the Wells Fargo Center, but the effort was there nonetheless. 

Injury updates
The Sixers were without Jahlil Okafor, who remained in Philadelphia battling gastroenteritis. Jerryd Bayless also missed the trip because of left wrist soreness. Former Sixer Jrue Holiday sat out with turf toe. 

Up next
The Sixers will return home to Philadelphia to get in some practice before heading back on the road. They will play the Pistons in Detroit on Sunday.