Game One Thoughts: Sixers Surge Late, Come Up Short in Miami

Game One Thoughts: Sixers Surge Late, Come Up Short in Miami

For a mintue there, it looked like the Sixers
were following the script of 2009's game one in Orlando to the letter.
Down double digits for most of the second half in a game where it seemed
like they were just a little bit out of their league, Philly surged in
the fourth quarter to cut the lead to a one-possession game with just a
few minutes to go. But there would be no Andre Iguodala go-ahead
18-footer in the final seconds of this one, as the Sixers failed to
capitalize on a few key opportunities, and the Heat were able to do just
enough to keep the team at arm's length and secure the 97-89 victory.

All in all, it was an admirable effort. There were times in the third
quarter where Miami's big three seemed to be taking turns hitting shots
they had absolutely no business making, and you start thinking to
yourself "This isn't fair—Miami are just so much better than we are!"
But the Heat were also one of the few teams this NBA season with as many
late-game meltdowns as the Sixers, and just by hanging tough (thanks
mainly to Thad and Jrue), the Liberty Ballers were able to make much
more of a game out of it than anyone could have expected. Now, you end
up walking away from this game not thinking "Oh God, we're gonna get
swept!" but "Hey, a couple different things go our way, who knows?"

Now, there's been a lot of talk about the foul disparity in this game,
which was indeed considerable—the Heat shot 39 to our 15, and for a
strech in the second quarter it seemed like Miami was getting whistles
every time they trotted down the lane, apparently regardless of contact
level. But I'm not going to put all that much stock in this—the Heat
have two of the greatest free-throw drawers of all-time, guys who are
going to get calls that they probably shouldn't on name alone, whereas
no one on the Sixers averages even five free throw attempts a game, the
team ranking 26th in the NBA for the season. Besides, the home team is
always gonna get a bit of an advantage in a series like this. A couple
instances were pretty egregious, and if the trend persists all the way
to Philadelphia, then I'll get on my high horse about it. But for the
time being, I'm not gonna call conspiracy, and I'm not gonna hang this L
on the refs.

Rather, I think we have to hang this one on our guys being a little
over-amped on occasion. After that dynamite first quarter, where the
team outscored the Heat 31-19, out-hustling them seemingly at every
opportunity, the adrenaline seemed to get the best of them, as the guys
blew more layups and close-range jumpers than I've seen them do maybe
for any stretch all year. And in the final minutes, even as they made
some incredible plays to get back in the game (namely that Thad
alley-oop across his body and falling down), they failed to convert on
the easy ones–Thad going 0-2 from the line on a key trip before his oop,
Iguodala rimming out a good-looking elbow jumper, Elton missing an open
free-throw-line jumper that he hits with ease 80% of the time—any one
of which could have ended up making the difference in this game. You
can't criticze the effort, but the execution after that first quarter
was often very sloppy.

Still, as out-of-their-depth as they seemed at times, the Sixers
deserve credit for doing what they had to do to keep the game in reach.
Despite the incredible number of free throws they gave up, Philly did a
fairly respectable job on the defensive end, 'Dre doing an impressive
job of checking LeBron (with Evan Turner getting some good minutes in
against him as well), Jrue and Jodie doing their part to make Wade take
some tough jumpers (many of which he made, but still) and the entire
team doing a good job of closing out on the team's shooters, holding
them to just 4-17 from beyond the arc. If anyone really caused problems
for the Liberty Ballers yesterday—and who might continue to for the rest
of the series—it's Chris Bosh. Bosh (25 points, 12 rebounds) had a
couple inches on each of his most regular offenders (Elton and Thad),
and when he's hitting his jumper, and getting them off good feeds from
Wade and LeBron off Sixer double-teams, it's awful tough to stop him.
But you can't shut down everyone on this team, and if you want to let
any of Miami's Big Three beat you, it's probably Bosh, who at the very
least will occasionally have games when he just isn't hitting,
regardless of defense (*cough* 1-18 *cough*).

And despite a couple of the dumb misses on the other end of the
floor, it's hard to fault any of the Sixers' individual offensive
performances yesterday too much either. Elton carried the team early,
ending with 17 points on 8-14 shooting, and Thad proved as much of a
handful for the Heat as Bosh was for us late, scoring double digits in
the fourth and motoring the team's huge comeback. Jrue hit some huge
threes, and wisely took advantage of his size and speed over Heat PG
Mike Bibby, getting to the foul line a team-high six times and posting
the Sixers' best-overall statline (19 points, five boards, five dimes,
three steals, no turnovers). And while some have gotten on 'Dre for only
scoring four points (and only taking seven shots), I'm fine with
that—if #9 is still doing everything else on the floor (nine assists,
eight rebounds, fine defense on LeBron), I think it's probably for the
best if he doesn't get into Hero Mode on offense, a role which has never
suited 'Dre particularly well and has often had disastrous results this
season.

Ultimately, though it's disappointing that the team wasn't able to
complete the comeback and officially put the Heat on notice in this
series, you really can't walk away feeling too bad about this one. The
Heat proved that they were the more talented team, no doubt, but they
also showed a vulnerability in those first and fourth quarters that's
probably making Miami fans across the country (chortle) loosen their
collars a little bit. Does it mean that the Sixers actually have a
legitimate chance in this series? No, not yet, not really. But it does
mean that they have a chance to at least make it a series, to
steal a game or two and see what happens from there. A couple more
converted layups, a couple less foul calls, and we're right there. You
gotta respect the heart, and you gotta keep the faith a little.

Game two Monday in Miami, 7:00 on TNT. I can't wait for our boys to get back out there.

Penn State not going to College Football Playoff, likely headed to Rose Bowl

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USA Today Images

Penn State not going to College Football Playoff, likely headed to Rose Bowl

Penn State's wild comeback win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship was not enough.

The Nittany Lions were not selected to the four-team College Football Playoff, finishing fifth in the rankings.

Undefeated Alabama takes the top spot and will play No. 4 Washington. No. 2 Clemson will face No. 3 Ohio State.

Penn State earned its signature win of the season, handing felllow Big Ten member Ohio State its only loss of the season. 

However, Penn State sputtered in the beginning of the year, losing to unranked Pittsburgh and was thrashed by Michigan — who finished sixth in the College Football Playoff rankings — 49-10.

The Nittany Lions likely will play in the Rose Bowl, facing either USC or Colorado. The official announcement will be made later Sunday.

Dario Saric halts slump with 'best game as a 76er'

Dario Saric halts slump with 'best game as a 76er'

Dario Saric came into the NBA knowing his rookie season would be one of ups and downs. He would have successes based on his talent and struggle because of the newness of the league and matchups.

Saturday’s performance against the Celtics was one of those highlight nights. Saric scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, both tying career-highs, for his third double-double. He was efficient in his performance, playing 27 minutes off the bench in the Sixers' 107-106 loss.

“I thought that was his best game as a 76er,” Brett Brown said.

Saric had struggled the night before against the Magic. He barely made a dent in 16 minutes, posting just two points (1 for 5 from the field) without a single rebound. The poor showing was on his mind Saturday, as he got ready for the second game of the back-to-back. He went in early to get up extra shots, met with coaches, studied film and thought about the matchup throughout the day.

“I prepared a little bit more for this game,” Saric said. “After I have some bad rhythm of five or six, maybe, games. Now I concentrate more. I try to give my best, try to play my best, try to think before everything happens.”

Saric showed his aggressiveness in crunch time in the fourth quarter, when he scored seven points and five rebounds in eight minutes. He nailed a three to cut the Celtics' lead to 92-91 with 4:28 to play. Then with 1:09 remaining, Saric’s free throws cut the Celtics' lead to two points. On the other end of the court, he snagged the rebound off an Isaiah Thomas miss and scored a game-tying layup from Jahlil Okafor.  

“He played great,” Okafor said. “He’s working hard every day, getting used to the NBA process. It was good to see hard work paying off for him.”

Saric has been adjusting to new roles throughout the season. He was thrown into the starting power forward spot when Ben Simmons was injured, and then moved to the bench when the team acquired Ersan Ilyasova. On Saturday, Brown also played Saric at small forward in Robert Covington’s (knee) absence, a shift the Sixers may try again.

“He’s a good teammate,” Brown said. “He’s biding his time. He understands he’s a rookie. Incrementally, he’ll be given these opportunities. Tonight he did and he responded and you’re seeing continued growth.”

Saric still is early in his NBA career, and Saturday's showing was a game he can look back on and study for the rest of the season. 

“I feel like tonight … you’d walk away and say, ‘Shoot, that’s a hell of a player for playing 20 games in the NBA and he did what he just did against a hell of a team,’” Brown said. “I’m proud of what we saw all over the place from Dario.”