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.

Hakstol intrigues with pairing, potential of Konecny, Couturier, Voracek

Hakstol intrigues with pairing, potential of Konecny, Couturier, Voracek

VOORHEES, N.J. — Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek styled matching green jerseys during Friday’s practice at Flyers Skate Zone.

Together, they whipped around the ice in what head coach Dave Hakstol called a “physical, grinding, competitive day, probably the most competitive of camp … and that was for a purpose.”

Flyers fans are likely crossing their fingers, hoping the trio in green holds a purpose, as well.

The line of Konecny, Couturier and Voracek was a new wrinkle to 2016 training camp, a day before the team’s fifth preseason game. Maybe an experiment of sorts by Hakstol, but one that exudes all kinds of potential leading up to Saturday night’s contest against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.

“It’s one day of practice,” Hakstol said. “They were fine. I wasn’t keying on that line in any way, I was keying on a lot of our team play. They were fine, they worked hard. To really see what kind of chemistry they have and how productive they can be, we’ll have to wait until the game [Saturday] if they’re together.”

Will we see that?

“You might,” Hakstol said. “I don’t have anything set yet.”

Konecny played left wing Friday, next to Couturier at center and Voracek on the right. If that is in fact the case Saturday, the 19-year-old Konecny will see another golden opportunity to woo management in his push for a roster spot. The Flyers purposely paired Konecny with NHL forwards Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl in Wednesday’s 2-0 preseason win, and the 2015 first-round pick responded with a goal and an assist.

Friday marked a new day with new possibilities.

“It felt good,” Konecny said. “Just like the game [Wednesday] night, you’re playing with good players and it makes the game easier. I was just trying to keep things simple and work hard.”

Couturier and Voracek are two of the Flyers’ most skilled passers and playmakers. Combine them with Konecny — a prized prospect with the same traits — and it’s hard to measure the upside.

“It opens up a lot of space,” Konecny said. “Those guys are big out there, so when they’re going to the corners, it creates a little room for me. I’ve just got to find the holes and find the spots and the puck kind of just comes to you.”

Left wing is Konecny’s best shot at making the team’s roster and snagging a top-six role. The Flyers are heavy at right wing while light at left. Among the Flyers’ group of forwards, it’s the position of greatest need.

Like Hakstol said, Friday’s practice had purpose. So Konecny’s trying out left wing had substance, too.

“I think it’s a possibility,” Hakstol said. “I wouldn’t say that’s an absolute, but that’s one area that we’re looking at — not just for him, but for other players. So that’s one possibility.”

Konecny, more of a right winger and/or center, has no qualms with playing left. Really, a player of his ilk can make an impact regardless of position.

“I’ve played all positions through junior,” he said. “I’ve played right, middle and left, so wherever I fit in, I’d play there. I’m trying not to look too far ahead, though, just trying to play every day, and wherever I am that day, I’ll focus on that position and get the job done that day.

“I usually end up on the left wing when I’m coming across the ice anyway. I enter the zone on that side of the ice, so it helps me. I actually think I see the ice better when I play on that side of the ice.
 
“I got another day to play today. It’s just about earning each and every day.”

Voracek and Couturier, both of whom have yet to play in a preseason game because of World Cup of Hockey competition, looked at Friday as just another practice with new elements — such is life in training camp.

“It needs some work, obviously we need to get used to each other but if we skate and play with the puck, we should be fine,” Voracek said.

“Even last year along with this year, every game [Konecny has] been very solid. He’s a hard-working kid for his size. He’s very greedy, he’s not scared and he’s skating well. For a 19-year-old, he’s looking very, very sharp.”

Roster talk
According to a report by generalfanager.com, the Flyers waived forwards Petr Straka, Andy Miele, Chris Conner and Greg Carey, as well as defenseman and South Jersey native T.J. Brennan. None of the five were seen practicing Friday and the Flyers did not have an announcement. If they clear waivers — which seems likely — they’ll report to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

With the reported moves, the Flyers’ roster stands at 34, including injured players Nick Schultz, Mark Alt and Cole Bardreau. The Flyers will have to be at 23 by the season opener Oct. 14.

Goalie situation
Hakstol said whomever is in net Saturday will play the entire game. He would not say if it would be Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth. An announcement will be made Saturday morning. Neuvirth is back from the World Cup and has yet to play a preseason game.

Gudas update
Defenseman Radko Gudas (wrist), who said Wednesday he’s “pretty close” to 100 percent, will “definitely” play in a preseason game, Hakstol said. The coach would not say whether it would be Saturday or next week.

Carson Wentz named Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week

Carson Wentz named Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week

As Carson Wentz rolls out of bed, he wins an award. Brushes his teeth, wins an award. Eats breakfast, award.

This time, the Eagles' rookie quarterback has been named the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week for his performance against the Steelers in a 34-3 Week 3 win.

Against the Steelers, Wentz completed 23 of 31 passes for 301 yards, two touchdowns and a 125.9 passer rating. He beat out Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott, Browns CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun and teammate Wendell Smallwood.

This is the second time in three weeks that Wentz has been named the NFL Rookie of the Week.

Here are the awards Wentz has won so far this season:

- NFL Rookie of the Week for Week 1
- NFC Offensive Player of Week 3
- NFC Offensive Rookie of the Month for September
- NFL Rookie of the Week for Week 3

Wentz won't have any chances to win more awards this weekend as the Eagles are on their bye. They'll play again on Oct. 9 in Detroit.