No Bigs, No Problem: Sixers Blow Out Wiz at Home

No Bigs, No Problem: Sixers Blow Out Wiz at Home

Well, if we know no other thing definitively about the Philadelphia
76ers this season we do certainly know one thing: They are much, much
better than the Washington Wizards. We fretted in the pre-game about how
the Sixers' lack of size could be a major problem against the Wiz, but
it couldn't have been much less of an issue—the Wizards mostly stuck to
the perimeter, and their big men were all but invisible. (Starting
center JaVale McGee scored two points with two rebounds and two blocks
in 21 unremarkable minutes of game action). The Sixers ran off a 15-0
stretch in the first quarter and never looked back; by halftime the game
was over. The Wiz cut the lead a little in garbage time, but still lost
by 20, 103-83, in a game that was never really even that close. Philly is now 12-5 for the season, and have won their three games against Washington by a combined 64 points.

The player of the game—well, not really, but the guy that most people
are gonna be talking about—was rookie Lavoy Allen. The Temple grad got
17 minutes as the team's backup center without Spencer or Nik in the
lineup, and he responded splendidly, scoring ten points (on perfect 5-5
shooting, including the fourth-quarter basket to put the Sixers into Big
Mac territory.) with six boards and an impressive high-low dime to
Thaddeus Young. We probably shouldn't read too much into Allen's fine
night—it was against the Wizards, with the likes of Andray Blatche and
Trevor Booker as his primary matchups—but for one game, at least, it was
a hell of a step-up job from the first-year player.

Lavoy's fine night also illustrates a strength of this team, which the
coaching staff probably should get some credit for—all of their big men
know how to run the pick-and-pop, and all of them can hit an open
jumper. Andre Iguodala pick-and-popped the Wizards to death in the
first, dropping eight assists to the likes of Elton Brand (17 points on
8-14), Allen, and even once with Tony Battie, getting the Sixers off to
that early lead that they held the rest of the way. Our young bigs have
their deficiencies, especially on the defensive end, but as long as they
can nail those open jumpers, they'll always be able to contribute to
this team while on the floor.

There's not too much else to talk about with this one. Thad was a beast
finishing in the paint in the first half, Jrue Holday was hitting his
jumper all night, Evan Turner played brilliantly in the first half but
got sloppy in garbage time, Jodie appears to have found his stroke for
real this time (10-20 from deep over his last four games), and Andres
Nocioni was kept thankfully bench-ridden throughout. It was another good
team win in which all playing contributed, the kind we've been spoiled
with by the Sixers against subpar competition this year.

Grievances are a little petty with this one, but as long as I have the
floor, two things, only one of which is directed at the team itself. But
here it is: Free throws. The team isn't getting enough of them, and
they're not hitting enough of them when they get them. The former is
slightly more worrisome—as good a scoring game as Jrue had with his 17
points, he only got to the line for an and-one, which he missed. All
he's getting these days are jumpers—he's averaging less than a pair of
free-throw attempts a game this year, unacceptable for as good a
penetrator as The Damaja—and so his scoring is entirely reliant on
whether or not he's hitting. He was tonight, but he won't every night.
He wasn't the sole guilty party this game, either—in a combined hour of
floor time, 'Dre and Evan got to the line four times, and missed all
four FTs. (How Evan, a shooting guard, can still be shooting under 70%
from the line at this point in the season is utterly beyond me.)

My second admonishment goes to the fans, and perhaps just as
importantly, the Sixers owners, for this goddamn McDonald's promotion.
It's one thing to give out free Big Macs to a team whose fans should
need a little extra motivation, but given how good the Ballers have been
at home this year—they're 8-1 ferchrissake, with all eight wins by
double digits—it's embarrassing that the fans continue to fixate so much
on getting the free Big Macs that come with the team scoring 100. It's
time to get rid of the whole thing, and have the biggest cheers of the
night come for the team that's got a five-game lead in their division,
and not for a mediocre fast-food product about 1/100th as good as a
Baconator or Gold Rush sandwich. (And might I suggest that if the
prospect of a free hamburger is really swaying you to buy pro basketball
tickets, you might want to rethink your financial strategy some.)

Anyway, another solid clean-up win for the Sixers, and a hell of a way
to return to the WFC after a tough loss in Miami. New Jersey's up next
on Wednesday, and should be moderately easy pickings for the Sixers, who
hopefully will have at least one of their top two big guys back by then
as well. And in case you still need the reminder of how much better the
Sixers are these year than last year—17 games into this season, they
have three times as many wins as they did at this point last year.
Pretty good, Jeff.

Instant Replay: Celtics 107, Sixers 106

Instant Replay: Celtics 107, Sixers 106

BOX SCORE

Rewind 24 hours.

The Sixers were walking off the court Friday night after a dismal blowout loss to the Magic that left Brett Brown reflecting on Saturday, “Here in Philadelphia, at home, that’s not good enough.”

The Sixers had lacked fire and grit, especially with Joel Embiid on the floor against a sub-.500 Magic team that had played the night before in Memphis. 

They had a day to turn it around. A playoff contending Celtics squad was coming to town and Embiid wasn’t available because of his back-to-back limitations. The shorthanded Sixers (see below) had a tall task ahead of them. 

The Sixers reacted by jumping out early and kept the Celtics at bay in the first half. Even when the Celtics cut their lead to three midway through the second quarter, the Sixers responded with an 8-0 burst to go up by a game-high 11 points. 

The Celtics exposed the Sixers' defensive void in the paint without Embiid in the third. With the Sixers up 65-58, Isaiah Thomas drew a foul against Jahlil Okafor. That play sparked a 9-0 Celtics run over the next two minutes, in which Thomas scored six of those points (including four at the line). The Celtics took back the lead during that stretch and forced the Sixers to play catchup.

The Sixers cut the Celtics lead to one in the fourth with a three from Dario Saric, who played one of his most aggressive games of his short NBA career. After the Celtics jumped back up by seven, the Sixers kept fighting and tied the game 100 apiece. The Celtics were able to pull away and finished with a one-point win, 107-106, after Ersan Ilyasova drained a three at the buzzer. 

Inside the stats
Thomas exploded for 37 points (11 for 19 from the field, 2 for 3 from three, 13 for 15 from the line), four rebounds, and seven assists.

Saric recorded a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds off the bench, both tying career-highs. 

Ersan Ilyasova dropped 18 points, including three treys, and six rebounds.

Okafor and Sergio Rodriguez scored 15 apiece, with Rodriguez adding eight assists. 

Avery Bradley dropped 20 points and nine rebounds. 

Stauskas starts in place of Covington
Brown turned to shooting guard Nik Stauskas to slide over to the three spot in place of the injured Robert Covington (see below). 

“Boston’s perimeter defense is as good as it is in the NBA,” Brown explained. “I think you need to have more ball handlers, people who can make a play, on the perimeter … I feel that Nik has that ability to put it to the floor and disrupt that aggressive pressure that the Celtics backcourt can put on you.”

Broken ankles
Saric came up with the Sixers' highlight play of the game when he did this to Jonas Jerebko in the third quarter for an instant highlight reel moment. 

Always a student
Not playing, still learning. Embiid has been praised for being an eager student of the game. During warmups he sat courtside to watch film on a laptop even though he wasn’t suiting up. 

Injury updates
Joel Embiid is not playing in back-to-back games and sat out the back end of this home-home series for rest … Robert Covington sat out with a sprained left knee he suffered on Friday after colliding with T.J. McConnell chasing a ball out of bounds … Jerryd Bayless missed his fourth straight game with left wrist soreness. 

Up next
The Sixers host the Nuggets on Monday night.

Eric Semborski, from Temple club hockey to NHL goalie for a day against Flyers

Eric Semborski, from Temple club hockey to NHL goalie for a day against Flyers

Eric Semborski woke up Saturday and drove to work in Voorhees, New Jersey.

It was just an ordinary morning for the 23-year-old, a Temple graduate with a bachelor’s degree in sports management.

Little did he know, in a couple of hours his world would turn upside down.

Semborski, who works for Snider Hockey and at Flyers Skate Zone running goalie clinics and roller leagues, hadn’t played competitively since suiting up for the Owls’ club team in the spring of 2015.

That was until Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, where, someway, somehow he was draped in a Chicago Blackhawks jersey and squaring up blazing shots off the sticks of Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith, just to name a few.

Quite the promotion, huh?

“It’s surreal, really,” he said. “I can’t explain it.”

Could anyone?

“I couldn’t imagine the rush,” Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling said.

Incredibly and astonishingly, Semborski turned into an NHL goaltender for a day as Chicago’s second string to Darling, who suffered a 3-1 loss to the Flyers.

How Semborski was found and summoned by the Blackhawks is still somewhat of a mystery, even to the Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, native himself. Once Chicago received word that regular starter Corey Crawford had to suddenly undergo an appendectomy at a Philadelphia hospital, the Blackhawks started scrambling for an emergency backup to Darling.

“I was at work, at the rink in Voorhees just coaching,” Semborski said. “My boss called me and I missed it. I walked off the ice and started talking with someone from the Flyers, he started asking me, ‘Where’d you play hockey, what’s your playing history?’” 

Semborski was confounded.

“I didn’t even know what he was getting at,” he said. “I asked, ‘Why are you asking me this?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Chicago needs a goalie.’ I just lost it. He said, ‘Go home, get your stuff and if they’re going to use you, they’ll call you.’ I left right away.

“I was like, OK, this probably isn’t going to happen, there’s no way.”

Ten minutes later …

“I’m in the truck and I got a call from Chicago,” Semborski said.

Who was it?

“I just know his name’s Tony,” Semborski said. “That’s all I know.”

How the heck did the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of three Stanley Cups since 2010, find a regular, hard-working guy living in Manayunk to be their reserve netminder?

“No idea,” Semborski said, still in awe talking after the game outside the locker rooms. “I think it had something to do with me working with Snider Hockey, working at Voorhees. They asked around and people just threw my name out I guess. I really don’t know how it happened. I’ll have to get to the bottom of that and thank some people. I have no idea who gave them my info, but whoever did, thank you, because it was awesome.”

So Semborski hustled from Voorhees to Manayunk, packed up his gear — including his old Temple mask, sporting the words “Philly Proud” and “Temple Tuff” — and quickly made his way to the Wells Fargo Center. He arrived around 12:30 p.m. before puck drop at 1.

“I hit some traffic on 76 (Schuylkill Expressway), of course,” Semborski said. “I got here as fast as I could in my street clothes. No time to put on a tie.”

Once Semborski signed his amateur tryout, it became real. He walked into the visiting locker room and there were the Blackhawks and his NHL jersey, a makeshift uniform with Crawford’s No. 50.

“It was hanging up when I got in there,” he said. “I guess they took Crawford’s and threw a name on it and made it work.”

Prior to hitting the ice for warmups, Semborski got acquainted with his teammates.

“Dream come true,” he said. “That was so cool, just hanging out with those guys. They made me feel welcomed right away, started joking around.

“When I got there, they put my number on the board and said I’m throwing in $200 for the holiday party. That was pretty good. I told them, ‘You better take credit because that’s all I got.’”

What about his big-money contract?

“No, I should be paying them for this,” Semborski said. “That was awesome.

“I signed some stuff when I came in, I don’t know what it was. I’m happy with a hat and the memories.”

Especially taking the net in warmups.

“I was a bit rusty, but no matter how much I play, I’m not going to be ready for them,” he said. “It was fast and I couldn’t even catch my breath because I was trying to take it all in. That was the best 20 minutes of my life out there skating with them.

“You’re playing against the best guys in the world. I knew I wasn’t going to stop most of them. I was lucky if it hit me.”

As for the game, Semborski didn’t play.

“Well you almost saw it,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said, referring to his frustration with a three-goal second period by the Flyers.

“That probably would have been a big mistake,” Semborski said with a laugh.

“That would have been so cool, but I wouldn’t change a thing. The experience was awesome.”

What did Quenneville think?

"That’s part of the process with all of the teams, they have the local amateur guys or sometimes guys who have played pro before," he said. "But with our cap situation, we needed an amateur, so he fit all the criteria and it was a good opportunity for him. ... It’s kind of a cool experience for the kid."

So Semborski sat on the bench, padded and ready. He smiled and watched, supporting his new team.

He, of course, is a Flyers fan, but …

“Not today,” he said with a smile. “Every other day, yeah, but not today.

“When I first got out there, I was like, ‘All right, if [the Flyers] score, don’t stand up. Just relax.’”

Semborski admitted to Chicago breaking his heart in 2010 when it beat the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final.

“That was one of the hardest things I ever watched,” he said. “But today, that’s all forgotten. I’m a ‘Hawks fan today.”

Afterward, Semborski said his phone was flooded with 70-something text messages and 20-plus phone calls.

“I’m going to have to start calling some people,” he said.

His first will probably be to a special loved one.

“It’s my dad’s birthday,” Semborski said. “So, happy birthday, Dad. Best present ever for you.”