It Keeps You Running: Looking at Sixers' Close Game One Loss to Boston

It Keeps You Running: Looking at Sixers' Close Game One Loss to Boston

About three quarters in on this one, where the Sixers had seen their
double-digit lead vanquished, but were still fighting and in fact
managed to build another ten-point lead on Boston, I thought to myself,
"They have to get this one." To win a Game One in Boston would
have been remarkably huge, for all sorts of intangible reasons, but
mostly for the exceedingly tangible reason that you don't get a ton of
opportunities to steal a game at the TD Garden against a very good
Celtics team, and if you have the chance—as the Sixers certainly did
tonight—you'd better hope you can do it.

Alas, no such luck, as the Celtics pulled out the 92-91 comeback win,
and the Sixers may find themselves in deep remorse that they let this
one get away from them.

The Sixers were able to jump out in the first half of this game the way
we thought they might in this series—by running the Celtics ragged in
the open court. The Sixers were racing down the court off every miss and
turnover, creating superior scoring opportunities before the vaunted
Celtics defense could set up, and allowing their energy on the fast
break to infect their half-court defense, which was inspried in the
first two quarters in forcing the Celtics to take long, contested
jumpers. There was nothing easy for the C's in the first half, but there
were a surprising number of easy buckets for the Sixers, for whom
scoring had been at such a premium in the Chicago series. They led for
pretty much the entire half, starting the third with a 47-42 lead.

Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala were the primary catalysts early. Evan
was truly awesome for the first 24 of this one, crashing the boards and
getting the Sixers transition game running early, and scoring on his
typical variety of moves (most notably that up-and-under layup off Jrue
Holiday's feed), and the confidence from his Game Six free throw heroics
seemed to give 'Dre a sharpness on his jumper that we haven't seen from
him in some time. (The two finished with a combined line of 35 points,
16 rebounds and nine assists—not bad for our wings.) Lavoy Allen also
provided a nice spark off the bench, ending with 12 and six in less than
20 minutes, and helping cover for a gimpy Thaddeus Young (who, as in
the Chicago series, was a non-factor.)

But you knew the Celtics would make a push, and push they did in the
second half, a surge keyed by point guard Rajon Rondo and big man Kevin
Garnett. Rondo has been playing arguably the best ball of his career the
last few months, and though I thought the Sixers played him
decently—Turner drew the primary defensive assignment, and as he did
during the season, kept him from getting to the basket, but he still
managed a triple-double, even hitting a couple outside jumpers (the
bug-a-boo for Rondo most of his career) to buoy Boston late. And
Garnett, who has also been playing inspired ball of late, was money all
night with the jumper, ending with 29 (12-20 FG) and 11 boards. The two
of them were incredibly big in this one, and reminded you of just the
incredible amount of talent the C's have on their roster.

Meanwhile, the Sixers had Lou Williams. It's a little unfair to be too
down on Sour Patch Lou in this one—again, it wasn't like anyone else was
really showing anything at the end of this one, and Jrue Holiday in
particular had been miserable all game from the field (eight points on
3-13 shooting)—but man, did he kill us late. Three consecutive
possessions down the stretch saw Lou destroy this team's chances with
his poor decision making:

1. 2-on-1 with Thaddeus Young on the fast break. Lou doesn't even glance
at Thad as he decides to take on premier Boston defender Avery Bradley
at the hoop. Blocked shot, Celtics get an and-one with KG getting
super-deep post-position on Spencer Hawes at the other end.
2. Ball at the top of the key. Lou drives on Bradley again, draws what
he feels to be contact, and lets the ball go. No foul is called, Bradley
easily collects the ball and Boston scores at the other end.
3. Lou pushes the ball in transition, but is shut down at the basket and
forced out to the corner by the Celtics. Rather than wait for his
teammates to catch up and then run a play, Lou jacks up a contested long
two, which rims off. ("Not. The right. Shot at that time." remarks Mark
Fratello.) Boston scores at the other end.

Again, not totally on Lou, especially since Coach Collins gets some
credit for giving him such an ill-conceived green light in such a
situation. (Even after all three disaster plays, Lou was still in the
lineup for the team at the end.) But man...as much as it hurts when your
team isn't making shots, it's way worse to see them make poor
decisions. And you could say that Thad might not have been in prime
position to score on the break anyway, or that Bradley really did bump
Lou and he should have shot free throws, but to see Lou attempt to take
the game over and fail this miserably (while Rondo, Garnett and Paul
Pierce responded at the other end) is a pretty good demonstration of why
a large chunk of us hope that the Sixth Man of the Year runner-up is
wearing a different uniform next year.

Really, though, it might be Collins who deserves the lion's share of the
blame for blowing this one. Not just the way he rode the frostbitten
hand with Lou Williams, but for going super-small at the end (with the
perennially outworked Spencer Hawes the lone big) while the C's were
tearing Philly apart on offense, and for not calling a timeout with the
team down three with only six seconds left, allowing the Celtics to burn
a couple seconds off the clock before fouling Jrue and sending him to
the line. (You could also argue that he goofed in not having Jrue miss
the second one, as the Sixers never touched the ball again after Rondo
dribbled out the clock off a back-court in-bounds the next possession.)
I'm not a Collins hater, and I still think he wins us more games than he
loses us, but his late-game management this season has often left
something to be desired, and tonight might have been his worst showing
yet.

There are two ways to look at a game like this. The more
cynical—skeptical at the very least—would be to say that the Sixers had
their chance to steal a game, and likely won't get another one this good
again. The C's had a rough night shooting from the field, with a ton of
shots just rimming out, and it's unlikely that Paul Pierce and Ray
Allen will continue to shoot a combined 33% for the series, while the
Sixers were uncharacteristically efficient, with players like Turner,
Iguodala, Hawes (15 on 6-12 shooting) and Allen likely to see their
production drop in subsequent games. This might have been the Liberty
Baller's best punch, and Boston weathered it.

Of course, the other, more optimistic way to look at it, would be to say
that we now know the recipe for beating this team. Their transition
defense just isn't as good as Chicago's, and our athletic playmakers
like Holiday, Turner and Iguodala appear to really be able to cause
havoc against them in the open-court (and to a lesser extent, in the
half-court, with the team spacing and moving the ball well), with Hawes
and Allen proving willing and capable finishers. The Celtics escaped
this one, but just as some of our guys will probably regress to the
mean, KG hasn't scored 29 points all season, and probably won't again,
while our own Jrue Holiday is too good a shooter to go 3-13 again. We
put a scare into Boston, let 'em know that we're for real, and maybe we
can play them tight for a whole, long series.

I tend to gravitate towards the former explanation—sorry, been let down a
lot by this team this year—but both are possible. We'll have a much
better understanding of the situation after Game Two, of course—if the
Sixers lose in convincing fashion, it's going to be exceptionally
difficult for them to make this a series, but if they again keep it
tight or somehow even get the win they coughed up this time, then we
just might be in for an epic second-round series. I look forward to
finding out which one it is this Monday.

Sixers-Grizzlies 5 things: Walking wounded duel in Memphis

Sixers-Grizzlies 5 things: Walking wounded duel in Memphis

The Sixers (4-17) open a three-game road trip against the Memphis Grizzlies (14-8) at FedEx Forum on Tuesday night (8 p.m./TCN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Walking wounded
There will be enough players between both teams for the Sixers and Grizzlies to play on Tuesday ... barely.

The Sixers, losers of seven straight, have several key players sidelined for the opener of this road trip. The biggest absence will obviously be Joel Embiid, who will sit out for rest after struggling Monday in the first game of the back-to-back set.

Joining Embiid on the shelf for Tuesday's game will be Jahlil Okafor and Robert Covington while Jerryd Bayless is questionable to suit up. That's in addition to Ben Simmons and Nerlens Noel having yet to play this season.

The Sixers won't find much sympathy in Memphis as the Grizzlies' injury situation is actually worse.

After using an NBA record 28 different players last season because of injury, the Grizzlies have already received a hardship exemption from the league this year to sign guard Toney Douglas. That's because the Grizz are currently down five players, including star guard Mike Conley and swingman Chandler Parsons.

2. One big problem
One player who will be suiting up for the Grizzlies is Marc Gasol, which is certainly bad news for the Sixers.

Now in his ninth season, Gasol is playing some of his best basketball. Despite the center's rebounds dipping to 5.7 a game, he is putting up career highs in points (18.9) and assists (4.2).

The Sixers know all too well just how good Gasol has been this season. The two-time All-Star went off for 27 points, four rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocks in the Grizzlies' double-overtime win over the Sixers on the night before Thanksgiving.

That was before the Sixers got hit even harder by the injury bug. There's no telling what Gasol will do against a team with one available center in Richaun Holmes.

3. Foul play
With so many players not able to take the floor, the Sixers -- Holmes in particular -- would be wise to stay out of foul trouble.

The Sixers average 22.0 fouls per game, the fifth-highest mark in the league.

On the flip side, the Sixers could benefit from attacking the Grizzlies. Memphis is obviously limited with players because of its own injury issues and actually averages 23.8 fouls per game, the second-highest rate in the NBA.

4. Injuries
Bayless (wrist) is questionable. Embiid (rest), Okafor (illness), Covington (knee/illness), Noel (knee) and Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Zach Randolph (personal) is a game-time decision. Conley (back), Parsons (knee), Vince Carter (hip), James Ennis (calf) and Brandan Wright (ankle) are out for the Grizzlies.

5. This and that
- The Sixers have lost eight straight to the Grizzlies.

- The Grizzlies are 10-0 in games decided by five points or less or have reached overtime.

- The Sixers are 1-6 in games Embiid has sat out this season.

Baylor hires Temple's Matt Rhule as next head coach

usa-matt-rhule-temple-title.jpg
USA Today Images

Baylor hires Temple's Matt Rhule as next head coach

Just when it hit its peak, the Matt Rhule era at Temple is over.

Rhule has accepted the open job at Baylor, a Big 12 school. The news was first reported by Fox Sports and was confirmed by Baylor football’s official Twitter account.

Rhule, who became the head coach of the Owls in 2012 after Steve Addazio left for Boston College, left an indelible mark on a downtrodden program with a 28-23 record in four seasons. While that may not look like a spectacular record, it's a remarkable job for a program that was a mere board of directors vote or two away from extinction just over a decade ago. Temple is 20-7 over the past two seasons, the best two-season mark in school history. Rhule's 28 wins tie him with Bruce Arians for sixth most in school history.

Rhule spent parts of 10 seasons at Temple as he filled various roles on the coaching staffs of both Al Golden and Addazio. He left in 2011 for a role on Tom Coughlin's staff with the New York Giants before coming back to North Broad Street.

"I am truly honored and humbled to join the Baylor Family," Rhule said in a press release sent by Baylor Tuesday afternoon. "I can't thank President (David) Garland and (athletic director) Mack Rhoades enough for this incredible opportunity. Baylor is a tremendous institution with a history of football success and I know the passion that so many have for the Bears will help bring the community together to reach even greater heights. I am excited to get started."

Tuesday's news comes just three days after Rhule lead the Owls to victory over No. 19 Navy in the AAC title game. It was the program's first conference title since 1967 and just the second in school history.

Though the Owls missed out on the Cotton Bowl at-large berth that went to undefeated Western Michigan, they are set to face Wake Forest in the Military Bowl on Dec. 27 in Annapolis, Maryland.

Baylor has been mired in controversy in recent years as sexual assault scandals have rocked the program and ultimately cost head coach Art Briles his job.

Baylor went 6-6 this season.

According to a report by ESPN's Matt Fortuna, tight ends coach Ed Foley will be the Owls' interim head coach.

Temple has set a 1:30 p.m. press conference on Tuesday to discuss today's news.