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.

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies are still looking for the real Aaron Nola, but they may have found a useful bat Thursday night.

Aaron Altherr had the kind of season debut he’d dreamed about for the four months he was on the disabled list as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Altherr was one of three Phillies to hit home runs on a night when the offense awakened after generating just one run the previous two days in Miami. Altherr, who came off the disabled list earlier in the day after missing four months with a wrist injury that required surgery (see story), drove a two-run homer to left in the fifth inning. Earlier in the game, Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph had back-to-back homers to headline a five-run first inning.

Franco leads the team with 19 homers and Joseph, hitting .375 with six homers in his last 17 games, has 14 in just 57 games with the club.

Altherr, who batted fifth behind Franco and Joseph, also had two hard singles in the game.

“He had a really good night in his debut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He provided a spark for us. He added to the offense. So I'm happy for that. It's good to get a win. We scored some runs, finally.”

Altherr was projected to be a starter in the Phillies’ opening day outfield until he suffered the wrist injury in spring training. He spent the last four months in Clearwater, rehabbing and, well, dreaming of a night like this.

“Definitely, especially sitting around thinking about how that first game's going to be being back,” he said. “For it to be like this, it was definitely special and I have to thank the Lord above for getting me back here as fast as He could.

“I was hoping to get a home run in the first game, but I definitely wasn't expecting it. Just hopeful. To have it happen like that was definitely awesome.

“It definitely surprised me a little bit because I hadn't really been driving the ball like I had wanted to down in my rehab stints. I'm just glad to know I've got [the power] in there somewhere.”

The Phillies hit all three of their home runs and scored all their runs against Atlanta right-hander Matt Wisler. He received a ticket to Triple A after the game.

The Phillies batted around against Wisler and scored five runs in the first inning. That was a welcome cushion for Nola, who desperately needed a win after failing to get one in his previous seven starts. The right-hander did manage to earn his first win since June 5, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. He lasted just five innings and threw a whopping 95 pitches as he continued to experience command issues that have been plaguing him in recent weeks.

Nola gave up eight hits and three runs. He walked three and hit a batter. That’s not Aaron Nola’s game. At least it wasn’t in his first 12 starts this season. He recorded a 2.65 ERA over that span and walked just 15 while striking out 85. He has walked 14 in his last eight starts.

“He's not the same guy,” Mackanin said. “He's just struggling with command once again. He's not dotting his fastball like he normally does. His curveball is erratic. He needs to get back on track.

“Sometimes it's harder to pitch when you have a big lead. You know you don't want to blow it. That can affect a pitcher as well. You have to have that mental toughness either way, whether it's a one-run game or an 8-0 game. You don't want to pitch poorly. There's a tendency, well, you have a five-run lead, should I throw more fastballs and challenge? But it was good to see he got a win. I'm happy for that. That should help him. He just needs to get to where he was. He's not there yet.”

Nola described his outing as “fairly OK,” which was probably right on. He got the win, but overall was not sharp. He allowed three runs in the fifth inning.

“I ran into some jams there,” he said. “I left some balls over the plate for them to hit. They took them the other way. The plan was to try to hit the outside part of the plate and they took it away.

“I feel like I have the command for the most part, but there’s some areas I still need to get better at and work to get better at.”

The Phillies used four relievers to close out the game. Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris pitched well. David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez did not. Gomez allowed three base runners and a run, but still managed to get the save. Hernandez allowed a hit and a pair of two-out walks before giving up an RBI double. A number of scouts from teams looking for bullpen help were on hand. Hernandez and Gomez probably did not help their trade value. Four days before the deadline, starter Jeremy Hellickson is still the Phillie most likely to be dealt.

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale returned from his jersey-trashing suspension and threw six effective innings, but John Lackey outpitched him and Aroldis Chapman got the final four outs to save the Cubs' 3-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago's rivalry series Thursday night.

Sale (14-4) was greeted with smiles and hugs from his teammates following a five-day ban for tearing up 1976-style uniforms he didn't want to wear before his previous scheduled start. He had command issues, but worked out of trouble while allowing two runs and six hits.

Lackey (8-7) allowed one run in six innings for his first win since June 8. Chapman, in his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees, struck out two and consistently hit 102 mph in his first save for his new team.

Kris Bryant, who homered against Sale in the All-Star Game, hit an RBI double off the center field wall in the first inning (see full recap). 

Diaz's homer helps Cardinals beat Marlins and Fernandez, 5-4
MIAMI -- Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs against childhood pal Jose Fernandez, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 Thursday.

Fernandez gave up five runs in five innings and fell to 26-2 at Marlins Park.

Miami's Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting and stolen bases champion, returned from an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test and went 0 for 4. Ichiro Suzuki doubled as a pinch hitter in the seventh for Miami and needs two hits for 3,000.

Diaz and Matt Holliday homered in the third inning against Fernandez (12-5), who had never previously given up more than one homer in a home game. His only other loss at Marlins Park came on opening day this year against Detroit.

Michael Wacha (6-7) allowed three runs in six innings, and three relievers completed an eight-hitter. Seung Hwan Oh pitched around a one-out single in the ninth for his seventh save (see full recap). 

Familia falters again, Rockies rally for 2-1 win over Mets
NEW YORK -- Mets steady closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for a second straight game, allowing two runs in the ninth inning as the Colorado Rockies beat New York 2-1 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games.

Less than 24 hours after Familia's streak of 52 consecutive regular-season saves was snapped, the right-hander entered in the top of the ninth with a 1-0 lead, and couldn't hold it.

Trevor Story had a leadoff single and stole second. After fellow rookie David Dahl walked, Daniel Descalso bunted up the first base line. Mets catcher Rene Rivera watched as the ball spun toward foul territory but it stopped fair, loading the bases with no out.

With one out, Familia (2-3) got pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to hit a slow grounder to the right side. First baseman James Loney booted the ball and Story scored to make it 1-all. Familia then threw a wild pitch, allowing Dahl to cross the plate with the go-ahead run (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Aaron Nola picked up his first win since June 5 as the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field on Thursday night.

Nola was supported by some strong offense. After scoring just one run in losing the previous two games in Miami, the Phils erupted for five runs in the first inning. They hit three homers in the game.

The Phillies had been winless in Nola’s previous seven starts.

The Phillies are 47-57.

The Braves have the worst record in the majors at 35-67.

Starting pitching report
Despite leaving with a 7-3 lead after five innings, Nola was not particularly sharp. He gave up eight hits (one was a fly ball that was lost in the twilight sky), walked three and hit a batter. He needed 95 pitches to get through the five innings.

Nola is 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA in 20 starts.

Atlanta’s Matt Wisler gave up seven hits and seven runs in five innings. Five of the runs came in the first inning when the Phillies batted around. Wisler allowed two homers, two singles and walked two in the inning.

Bullpen report
David Hernandez was the first Phillies reliever out of the bullpen. He struggled. But Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez combined to close it out.

Gomez allowed two hits, a walk and a run in the ninth, but earned his 27th save.

At the plate
Aaron Altherr, activated off the disabled list earlier in the day (see story), had a big night in his first game of the season with the big club. He hit the ball hard all night and had three hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth.

Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph hit back-to-back homers in the first inning. Franco’s was a three-run shot. He leads the club with 19 homers. Joseph has 14 homers in 57 games.

Adonis Garcia had two hits and two RBIs for the Braves.

Transaction 
Peter Bourjos was placed on the disabled list and Altherr was activated (see story).

Up next
The series continues Friday night. Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.34) pitches against Atlanta right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-2, 6.17).