Dammit Spencer Hawes Stop Teasing Us Like This

Dammit Spencer Hawes Stop Teasing Us Like This

On March 3rd of this year, exactly four weeks ago to the day, Spencer
Hawes had the worst game of his career, and arguably one of the worst
games ever posted by a starting center in the National Basketball
Association, at home against the Golden State Warriors. In about 20
minutes of game action, he scored 0 points on stunning 0-9 shooting,
with four rebounds and two dimes, but also three turnovers and three
personal fouls. (Amazingly, the Sixers still won the game somehow.) It
was an absolutely embarrassing performance in an already disappointing
season that made you wonder if Doug Collins was going to gently,
tenderly asphyxiate him as he slept on the team plane that night,
putting him out of both of their misery.


Since that game, Spencer Hawes has basically been Marc Gasol.

OK,
that's not really true—Gasol has the defensive-anchor bonafides that
Spence, at his best, simply never will, as anyone who watched Hawes
whiff on blocked shot after blocked shot as a help defender in the last
two games against the likes of Kemba Walker and Shaun Livingston will
attest. But if you gave Spencer Hawes' stat line over the 16 games since
the Golden State humiliation to an impartial observer and asked them to
name the player responsible for it, Memphis' all-around beast of an an
All-Star center would be the most logical guess. I mean, look at this
thing:



That's 16 games for which Spence is averaging 15
and 10 a game, on 53.5% shooting along with 50% from three (!!!) and
even 84% from the foul line, to go with about four assists and two
blocks a game, and just two turnovers and 3.4 personal fouls in 32
minutes a night. Those aren't just All-Star numbers; if he had them for a
full season they'd be putting Spence in All-NBA discussion, better than
(or at least comparable to) the lines posted by the likes of Joakim
Noah, Tyson Chandler and (yes) Marc Gasol. Again, Spence will never have
the all-around defensive impact of those three stars, but when you're
getting statistical production of this caliber from your big man, it's
hard to be too critical.


This should be cause for excitement, right? After all, despite being
in his sixth NBA season, Spencer is still just a
young-and-impressionable 24 years old, not hitting the quarter-century
mark until late April. He's signed for another year with the Sixers for
an unexorbitant $6.5 million, and with no assurances for the future with
Andrew Bynum, to have a backup plan (for next year and after) like this
version of Spencer Hawes could give the team a ton of options when
figuring out where their team goes from here. And hell, he's helping
them win games—after losing their first five after the Golden State
game, the team has gone 7-4 since, including the team's first three-game
winning streak since early February, cemented with the team's most
recent victory over the Bobcats.


Unfortunately, Sixers fans have seen this movie before. At the
beginning of last year's lockout-shortened season, Spence looked like he
was going to fulfill Yahoo hoops writer Adrian Wojnarowski's prediction
of winning the year's Most Imrpoved Player honors. He averaged a
double-double over his first eight games, on league-leading 63%
shooting, with three assists and a couple blocks as well. Then injuries
slowed down his season, and when he came back, seemingly fully healthy,
he was back to the player he was the year before—bringing it some
nights, disappearing others, showing flashes of a blue-chip player but
never doing it with any degree of consistency.


And after three years as a Liberty Baller, that's what most of us
have taken to be the norm with Spencer—inconsistency. Like the Sixers'
other tease of a lottery pick, Evan Turner (who, incidentally, has also
come to life a bit lately, scoring 20 in back-to-back games for the
first time since January), it's impossible to trust that the Spence we
see when he's draining jumpers and finishing on putbacks and running our
offense from the high post is the same one we're going to see this time
next week, or next month, or next year. Seemingly at a moment's notice,
he can lose the range, let himself get pushed around inside, and try to
force passes as a distributor, turning into a liability on both ends of
the court.


In the eight games that preceded his recent hot streak—all Sixer
losses, besides the Golden State catastrophe—Spence averaged just nine
points sand seven rebounds on awful 32% shooting, with as many turnovers
and assists, just one block a game, and 0 three-point makes. Even if
this is his longest stretch of quality play—and 16 games is nothing to
sneeze at, certainly—there's simply no guarantee that his level of play
next year, or even for the rest of this season, will come anywhere near
this. Every game is a new opportunity for Spence's play to start
regressing back to the mean.


At this point in the season, when it's too late for an improved
Spencer to do anything for us but cost us ping-pong balls in the
lottery, it's hard not to be a little angry at this guy for teasing us
once again. We'd finally contented ourselves that the Big GOPper was
just never gonna be that good, that his miserable defense would always
outweigh his sporadically inspired offense, that his pedigree and
potential was always gonna come with too many caveats to be worth
investing in. But now here we are again, wondering "Well, maybe this
time it's for real?" And maybe it is—possibly maybe—but given Spence's
past history, you'd have to be described with a "G" word that you can't
find in the dictionary to believe it with any seriousness.


At the very least, Sixers fans should be thankful that Spence is
under contract with the team for another season, since it means there's
no chance (less of a chance, anyway) that the Sixers will reward his
recent hot play with a short-sighted, long-term-damaging multi-year
contract extension, as you know they're just itching to do. Do it for a
whole season, Spencer—next season, perhaps, if you're so inclined—and
then we'll have some degree of faith that you're the real deal. Until
then, we wish you'd stop strutting around all coy and peacock-like on
the court when we know it's all just gonna end in frustration and
disappointment.

NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder push Warriors to brink of elimination

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NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder push Warriors to brink of elimination

BOX SCORE

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Suddenly, these Golden State Warriors who have been compared all season to the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s are on the brink of elimination.

Russell Westbrook had 36 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Warriors 118-94 on Tuesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Golden State, which won a league record 73 games in the regular season, lost consecutive games for the first time this season.

The Warriors must win Game 5 on Thursday in Oakland to keep their season alive.

"We all have to bounce back," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "The good news is, we go home. Obviously we play well at home. The idea now is to go home and get one win. Do that, and we put some pressure on them and we'll see what happens."

Klay Thompson led Golden State with 26 points, but two-time league MVP Stephen Curry was limited to 19 points on 6-for-20 shooting. Curry's shooting performance was so uncharacteristic that reporters asked if he was hurt.

"He's not injured," Kerr said. "He's coming back from the knee, but he's not injured. He just had a lousy night. It happens, even to the best players in the world."

The Warriors lost consecutive playoff games by at least 20 points for the first time since Games 2 and 3 of the 1972 Western Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks. Golden State's Draymond Green, who was fined for kicking Steven Adams in the groin in Game 3, finished with six points, 11 rebounds and six turnovers.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma City got a boost from an unlikely source. Andre Roberson, a player the Warriors have ignored at times during the series, scored a career-high 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Kevin Durant added 26 points and 11 rebounds and Serge Ibaka added 17 points and seven rebounds.

As for Westbrook, it was his first triple-double of the playoffs after posting 18 in the regular season. It was his fifth career playoff triple-double.

"I play every game like it's my last, regardless of who's in front of me," he said. "That's my job, and my job is to worry about my team, and that's all I do."

The Thunder know they have to close. Nine teams have rallied from 3-1 deficits to win.

"I think we're in a good place, but like I said, this game is over," Westbrook said. "We've got to move on to the next game. Every game is different."

The Thunder led 30-26 at the end of the first quarter, then gained control in the second. In the most unlikely of connections, Adams threw a bullet pass to Roberson near the basket for a dunk that gave the Thunder a 56-43 lead with just over four minutes left in the first half.

Oklahoma City finished with a flurry and led 72-53 at halftime. The Thunder matched the most points they have scored in a first half in franchise playoff history, a mark they set the previous game against the Warriors. It also matched the most points Golden State has allowed in a half this season for the second straight game.

Westbrook had 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds in the first half, and Durant had 18 points and six boards.

Thompson tried to keep the Warriors in it, scoring 19 points in just over seven minutes to start the third quarter. But the Thunder maintained their composure, led 94-82 at the end of the period and remained in control in the fourth.

"This is a tough situation to be in, but the series isn't over," Curry said.

Quotable
Kerr, on the pressure of trying to win a title after setting the regular-season wins record: "We had a tremendous regular season, our guys competed every single night and did something no one has ever done and they're proud of that. But in the playoffs, everybody starts 0-0. So there's no extra pressure, whether you're talking about defending our title or trying to back up the regular season."

Stat lines
According to Thunder Public Relations, the last team to score 72 or more points in the first half of two straight playoff games was the 1987 Los Angeles Lakers.

Tip-ins
Warriors: Curry went 1 for 7 in the first quarter, and made just 1 of 4 3-point attempts. ... Thompson committed his third foul with 7:55 left in the second quarter, and C Andrew Bogut committed his third about two minutes later. ... Curry made a 3-pointer for his 48th consecutive playoff game, extending his NBA record. ... The Warriors were 12-0 this season the game after a loss.

Thunder: Westbrook had five points, six assists and three rebounds in the first quarter. ... Oklahoma City forced 13 turnovers in the first half. ... The Thunder improved to 19-0 this season when Westbrook gets a triple-double. ... The Thunder outrebounded the Warriors 56-40 and outscored them 31-19 from the free throw line.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins fight off Lightning to force Game 7

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NHL Playoffs: Penguins fight off Lightning to force Game 7

BOX SCORE

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins made good on Evgeni Malkin's pledge to force Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final.

Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist, and Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored Tuesday night in a 5-2 victory that evened the best-of-seven series with the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-3.

Game 7 is Thursday night, with the Penguins hoping to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009 and the Lightning looking to advance to the Cup Final for the second straight year.

"I just told them to embrace the moment. It's a great opportunity for us. These are the type of circumstances to where you have an opportunity to write your own story," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan.

"They had a certain mindset going into this tonight: `We're going to leave it all out there and do everything we can to bring this back to Pittsburgh,'" Sullivan added. "And, certainly that's what they did."

Malkin was the most demonstrative of the players expressing confidence the Penguins could take the series back to Pittsburgh, saying he believed in himself, his teammates and that they could return home for a seventh game "for sure."

Crosby stepped up with his third game-winning goal of the series. The Penguins captain assisted on Kessel's 5-on-3 power-play goal in the opening period and later skated around Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman into the clear before sending a wrist shot between goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy's legs for a 3-0 lead in the final minute of the second period.

"We know the circumstances. It makes you go out there with a mindset of playing desperate," Crosby said. "I think we had confidence in the whole group. I think everyone played great.

"Everyone contributed in their own way. In a big game like this you, don't do anything special, just do your job. I think that's gotten us this far."

Rookie goaltender Matt Murray returned to the lineup after being replaced as the starter for Game 5 by Marc-Andre Fleury, but his 10th playoff victory did not come without a bit of suspense.

Brian Boyle scored twice in the third period for Tampa Bay, with one of the goals bouncing off Kessel before getting past Murray, who finished with 28 saves. The second score drew the Lightning within one goal with 7:17 remaining.

Instead of flinching, the young goalie who turns 22 on Wednesday retained his composure down the stretch to help the Penguins avoid relinquishing a third-period lead for the second straight game.

"I just think it's part of his DNA. He has a calming influence. He doesn't get rattled if he lets a goal in. He continues to compete," Sullivan said.

"That's usually an attribute that takes years to acquire. And to have it at such a young age is impressive. I think one of his biggest strengths is just his ability to stay in the moment."

Rust's breakaway goal at 17:52 of the third gave Pittsburgh breathing room, and Bonino added an empty-netter to finish it off.

"We had a great chance tonight and just tip-toed around a little bit," Boyle said. "We were tentative and weren't aggressive."

Kessel's goal was his team-leading ninth of the playoffs. Crosby had the primary assist, his first point since delivering game-winners in Games 2 and 3, and Malkin also had an assist to extend his point streak to four games after a slow start in the series.

The Lightning had an apparent goal by Jonathan Drouin waived off a little more than five minutes into the game, when Sullivan successfully challenged that the young Tampa Bay winger was offside on the play before tapping in a rebound off Ondrej Palat's shot that bounced off Murray's pads.

Sullivan announced the decision to go back to Murray following Tuesday's morning skate.

Murray started the first four games of the series. Fleury replaced him during the third period of Game 4, then made his first start in nearly two months in Game 5, which Tampa Bay won 4-3 in overtime.

Before Game 5, Fleury had not started a game since March 31, when he suffered a concussion.

Tampa Bay entered the game determined to not come out flat in Game 6 of the conference final for the second straight year.

The Lightning beat the New York Rangers on the road to go up 3-2 in that series, but were badly outplayed at home the next game and had to return to Madison Square Garden to finish the series.

Now, they'll have to win on the road again to make the third Stanley Cup appearance in franchise history.

"I know we can. I've got confidence in this group. We believe we can do that," Tampa Bay's Ryan Callahan said. "We've had success on the road in the playoffs. We've had success in their building already. It's going to be a good one."

Notes
The Penguins were 1 for 3 on the power play and are 4 for 19 in the series. The Lightning were 0 for 1, dropping to 2 for 12. ... Malkin was penalized in the first period for slashing Tampa Bay Bay's Ryan Callahan in what appeared to be retaliation for the Lightning forward whacking him across the wrist with his stick. ... Murray improved to 4-0 following a loss. He's 10-4 overall in the playoffs.

Best of MLB: Jackie Bradley Jr. extends hitting streak to 28 games

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Best of MLB: Jackie Bradley Jr. extends hitting streak to 28 games

BOSTON -- David Price scattered five hits over seven innings and Jackie Bradley Jr. had a pair of hits to extend his streak to 28 games as the Boston Red Sox beat the Colorado Rockies 8-3 on Tuesday night.

David Ortiz had a two-run double and a two-run single, and Dustin Pedroia added three hits to help Boston win its third straight game. Price (7-1) allowed three runs, walking one and striking out six to earn his third consecutive win.

Colorado lost for the fifth time in six games.

Jorge De La Rosa (1-4) made his first start after spending almost a month on the disabled list with a left groin strain. He gave up two runs in the first, two more in the second and left with one out in the fourth with two on and one run already in (see full recap).

Polanco, Pirates crush Diamondbacks
PITTSBURGH -- Gregory Polanco hit a three-run homer and drove in a career-best five runs as the Pittsburgh Pirates rolled by the Arizona Diamondbacks 12-1 on Tuesday night.

Polanco's shot to the concourse in right-center field off Shelby Miller (1-6) in the first inning gave Pittsburgh an early boost. Francisco Liriano (4-3) scattered two hits in 5 2/3 innings and added an RBI single as the Pirates improved to 6-2 during a 10-game homestand.

After a short adjustment period, Polanco has thrived batting third in the lineup, hitting .317 (20 of 63) with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 15 games. The Pirates spread their 17 hits among 11 batters.

Miller's recent recovery from a miserable start with the Diamondbacks took a step backward. Less than a year removed from an All-Star appearance with Atlanta, Miller's ERA ballooned to 7.09 after surrendering six runs in five innings (see full recap).

Strasburg strikes out 11 in Nationals' win
WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg remained unbeaten with an 11-strikeout performance, and the Washington Nationals hit three of their season-high five home runs off struggling Matt Harvey in a 7-4 victory over the New York Mets on Tuesday night.

Strasburg (8-0) gave up two runs and four hits over 6 2/3 innings in defeating Harvey and the Mets for the second time in six days. Strasburg has five games this season with at least 10 strikeouts and 26 over his seven-year career.

Harvey (3-7) stumbled through a third straight ineffective start, allowing five runs and eight hits over five rocky innings. The right-hander has yielded 16 earned runs and 31 hits over his last three outings.

Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon hit successive solo shots to put Washington ahead in the fourth inning, and Daniel Murphy added a two-run drive off his former teammate in the fifth for a 5-1 lead (see full recap).