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.

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A.J. Ellis’ first game as a Phillie certainly went a lot better than Carlos Ruiz’s first game as a Dodger.

Ellis’ first hit with his new club helped the Phils salvage one game of a weekend series with the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon. The Phillies won it, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), behind a solid start from Vince Velasquez, excellent bullpen work and Ellis’ big hit, a tie-breaking, two-run double in the top of the seventh.

The Phillies had lost the first two games of the series by a combined score of 21-5. Their pitchers gave up eight homers in the first two games.

On Sunday, Velasquez and a quartet of relievers held the Mets to seven hits, all singles.

Ellis joined the Phillies just 24 hours earlier after being traded from the Dodgers on Thursday. He had been with that club his whole career.

Ruiz, of course, had been with the Phillies his whole career.

Ruiz’s first game with the Dodgers did not go nearly as smooth. The veteran catcher had trouble handling the pitches of closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning Friday night and that contributed to the Dodgers blowing a one-run lead and losing to the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings.

Leaving the Dodgers was difficult and emotional for Ellis. He was able to bury himself in the game Sunday and came away feeling pretty good.

“It’s just great to be playing baseball again,” he said, standing in front of his locker, a blue Dodgers equipment bag (that will soon be swapped out for a Phillies bag) at his feet. “You kind of lose yourself in the competition and then just play again.

“Regardless of what’s happened in the last four days, it feels good to drive in runs, feels good to help put your team ahead and help contribute to a team win.”

During his 24 or so hours with the Phillies, Ellis has immersed himself in learning a new staff of pitchers. He caught starters Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Thompson in the bullpen before Saturday’s game and warmed up several relievers during that game.

On Sunday morning, he arrived at Citi Field, saw his name in the lineup and immediately began prepping to catch Velasquez, the hardest-thrower on the Phillies’ starting staff.

Velasquez bounced back from three poor outings in which he gave up 19 runs in 17 1/3 innings and held a hot Mets lineup to a run over five innings. The only negative was that Velasquez could not pitch deeper into the game because his command was poor and needed 103 pitches to complete the five innings.

Nonetheless, Ellis, who was the personal catcher for Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles, liked what he saw of Velasquez.

“His pitch count got elevated the first two innings and he was able to grind through the last three,” Ellis said. “The stuff is electric. He has so many weapons, so many options. When he keeps growing and keeps polishing that gift up, it’s going to be really, really special.

“So I’m excited to be able to continue to work with him, excited to work with him and (pitching coach) Bob McClure and (No. 1 catcher) Cameron Rupp, kind of talk to them about things, things he sees, things we see, and together we can build a plan for him going forward in his career.”

Two things are going to help the 24-year-old Velasquez reach his potential.

First is good health. He’s had arm problems in the past and there remain concerns about his long-term durability. That’s why the Phillies are closely monitoring his workload as this season winds down.

Second is command, control, economy of pitches – whatever you want to call it. Velasquez needs to be more efficient. Too many times he’s left games in the middle innings because of a high pitch count.

“Definitely,” he responded when asked if lowering his pitch counts and working deeper into games was the key to his improvement. “It’s going to help the longevity, it saves the bullpen, it helps out everybody. Not just on my end, but the whole team in general.

“And,” he joked, “then I can also work on my swing by getting some more at-bats.”

Despite the high pitch count, Velasquez walked just one. He struck out seven. He is up to 129 innings for the season. That includes five innings in a rehab game at Double A Reading. The Phillies will look to keep him at about 150 innings for the season. That could be three, four or five more starts, depending on how long the right-hander lasts. He’s averaged just over five innings in his starts this season.

“I think that would be the right move,” Velasquez said of the 150-inning target.

NFL Notes: Chiefs S Eric Berry signs franchise tender

NFL Notes: Chiefs S Eric Berry signs franchise tender

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Chiefs safety Eric Berry signed his franchise tender and reported to camp Sunday, though he is almost certain to miss Kansas City's preseason finale against Green Bay this week.

Berry was given the franchise tag early in the offseason but had not signed the deal, which means he could skip all of training camp without being fined. The deal will pay him just over $10.8 million this season, making him the league's highest-paid safety.

Kansas City plays its first regular-season game Sept. 11 against San Diego.

Berry played in every game last season, less than a year after he was diagnosed with cancer. He made 55 tackles, a pair of interceptions and resumed his role as the heart and soul of the defense.

Falcons: 2-time Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson signs
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons signed veteran free-agent safety Dashon Goldson on Sunday.

The Falcons will be without rookie starting strong safety Keanu Neal, the first-round pick, for at least the first two regular-season games with a right knee injury. He will have arthroscopic surgery on Monday.

Coach Dan Quinn has said that backup Kemal Ishmael would fill in for Neal as the starting strong safety.

Goldson, a 2012 All-Pro with the 49ers, had 110 tackles in 15 starts with the Redskins in 2015. He spent his first six seasons with San Francisco and played with Tampa Bay in 2013-14 (see full story).

Bills: Ryan says standing for anthem pays respect to military
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan believes standing for the national anthem is a way for NFL players and coaches to show respect and give thanks to members of the armed forces.

Ryan says he can appreciate how some players have personal or religious beliefs that lead them to not stand for the anthem. However, he adds people should appreciate the "gift" they have in playing football, which is the result of "the men and women that serve our country."

He was asked about his opinion before practice Sunday, a day after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he is refusing to stand for the anthem because he believes the United States oppresses African Americans and other minorities.

Ryan did not specifically reference Kaepernick in his response (see full story).

Colts: Former Patroits RB Steven Ridley signs
INDIANAPOLIS -- Free agent running back Steven Ridley signed with the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

Ridley was cut Thursday by Detroit, which had signed the sixth-year veteran in April.

Ridley, 5-11, 220 pounds, has played in 60 career NFL games with 26 starts. He went to a Super Bowl with New England in 2011, his rookie year, when he was a third-round selection, and again in 2014, when he was hurt.

Indeed, he's been injury prone, appearing in six games for the Patriots in 2014 and nine for the Jets last year.

He has 685 carries for 2,907 yards and 22 touchdowns in his career.

Indianapolis also waived wide receiver Justin Berger, safety Alden Darby, guard Eric Herman, defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin, tight end Mike Miller, running back Chase Price, cornerback Winston Rose, defensive end Delvon Simmons, wide receiver Josh Stangby and inside linebacker Junior Sylvestre.

Union's Alejandro Bedoya called up to U.S. national team for key World Cup qualifers

Union's Alejandro Bedoya called up to U.S. national team for key World Cup qualifers

Throughout their seven-year history, the Philadelphia Union have had very few active players called up for U.S. national team duty.

That’s about to change now that Alejandro Bedoya is on the team.

On Sunday, it was announced that Bedoya — Philly’s marquee summer acquisition — is one of 26 players selected for important World Cup qualifiers vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago.

The U.S. travels first to face St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Sept. 2 (3:30 p.m., beIN SPORT) and will close out Group C action against Trinidad & Tobago on Sept. 6 (8 p.m., FS1).

That means Bedoya — who’s started the last four games for the Union, helping the club to a 3-1 mark in that stretch — will miss Philly’s road game vs. the Chicago Fire on Saturday (8:30 p.m., TCN). 

All-star goalkeeper Andre Blake also won’t be available for that contest, traveling with Jamaica for their World Cup qualifiers.

That will leave the Union, who are also managing injuries to midfielders Maurice Edu, Brian Carroll and Ilsinho, a little bit thin as they look to extend their winning streak to three games this weekend. 

But Bedoya’s inclusion on the USMNT roster is something the Union expected. The midfielder has been one of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s steadiest players over the past couple of years, as a starter in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Copa America Centenario. 

He’s already made 53 appearances with the U.S. national team and figures to make his first as a member of the Union on Friday.

If he does, he’ll be the second active Union player ever to play for the USMNT, following a Maurice Edu appearance in April 2014 in the buildup to the World Cup (he was later cut from the preliminary roster, along with Landon Donovan, before the U.S. left for Brazil). Prior to Edu’s appearance, the closest a Union player had come to earning a USMNT cap was when Jack McInerney was selected to the 2013 Gold Cup squad but didn't play in any games.