No Good: Sixers Hang Tough in Game Three But Ehhhhhhhh

No Good: Sixers Hang Tough in Game Three But Ehhhhhhhh

Man, this is tough. Not as tough as losing as a favorite, not as tough as getting barely outplayed by a peer, but tough all the same. To see your guys do their best, to play hard, to execute, to hang in there, and still come up short...it's not heartbreaking, it's not even depressing, it's just damn dispiriting. It's hard to say that losing two games the way the Knicks have, off bad ref calls, late-game flubs and last-second Celtics shots, would be preferable—it probably wouldn't be—but you do have to be a little envious of the Knick fans for at least being able to feel some sort of righteous indignation for feeling they were the better team in both games that they lost. With the Sixers, there's no such feeling of injustice: They keep losing to the Heat—as they did tonight, 100-94—simply because they're not as good as the Heat are.

In a way it's not so bad, because none of the Sixers really have to feel bad about the way they played in tonight's loss. Elton Brand was a beast, going for 21 and 11, helping to keep the team afloat in the second half. Lou Will penetrated and scored as he failed to do in the first game, ending with 15 and four assists, with a couple threes and no turnovers. Spencer Hawes was often the Sixer that the Heat sagged off of defensively, and he did a decent job of making them pay, going 6-11 for 12 points. Andre Iguodala had his struggles—and believe me, we'll get to them later—but he also handed out 10 assists to only one turnover, and played hounding defense on LeBron, who was "held" to 24 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. (It could have been a lot worse, sadly.)

And the player of the game, the series, and possibly the season for the Sixers would have to be Jrue Holiday. Scoring 20 points with the versatility we've come to expect of him (jumpers, bankers, up-and-unders, threes) and handing out eight assists with only two turnovers, he looked like the Sixers' best offensive weapon on the court all night. Most encouraging to me was the open top-of-the-arc three that he stepped into with the Sixers trailing late in the fourth—it wasn't the smartest shot, but it was a shot that the team desperately needed, and one that Holiday would never have had the confidence to take earlier in the season. Getting Jrue that kind of big-game experience might end up being our biggest takeaway from this series, and seeing him respond to it like he has is a real positive. You'd like to see Evan Turner, who got just seven first-half minutes after scoring a team high 15 in game two, get some of that good stuff as well, but with Coach Collins needing 'Dre's defense on LeBron pretty much the whole game, it's not terribly surprising that ET got the snub.

And ah yes, let us talk a little further about Mr. Iguodala. 'Dre's performance tonight was a microcosm not only for this Heat series at large, but his entire run in Philly since graduating to the role of franchise player. He did so many things on the court—without his defense and playmaking, the team's probably not even close in this game—but all that most Sixer fans are likely to remember from his effort tonight are the trio of wide-open threes that he spotted up for, badly bricking all three. It sucks for such a great player to forever be remembered for the one thing he can't do, but the team needed so badly for him to hit one of those shots, and he just couldn't make it happen. With his 10 points tonight, 'Dre has a mere 19 points combined in the first three games of this series. Damning, to say the least, and yet another illustration why as much as 'Dre does for this team, he'll never be the guy to lead them to the promised land on his lonesome.

Meanwhile, another guy whose lack of shooting tough is coming back to haunt him is Thaddeus Young. After being the Sixers' biggest (only) weapon in Game One of the series, the Heat appear to have made it a point of emphasis for Young to get no easy lanes to the basket, forcing him into a variety of hook shots and jumpers, none of which have been dropping for him. He was able to pad his stats in garbage time in game two, but Thad had no such luck in this contest, and only a late scoop prevented him from posting an 0-fer in the field goal column, ending with four points total. Ironically, Thad's tailing off in this series might end up being a good thing for the Sixers long-term, as it might either prevent him from demanding an over-inflated contract on the open market in the off-season, allowing Philly to afford keeping him, or it might persuade them to let him walk, saving the Sixers from tying up their precious little remaining cap space to keep him. (Of course, a lackluster '08 post-season didn't stop the Sixers from giving 'Dre $80 million, so who knows, really.)

So now what? The Sixers threw their best punch and still lost, Miami's Big Three (a combined 77 points and 31 rebounds) displaying too much firepower for the Liberty Ballers to contain, and their size on the offensive boards (20 offensive / 50 total to Philly's 11 / 34) proving too much to match up with. They'll try again on Sunday to stave off the sweep, and we certainly hope they'll be able to, but we're not really holding our breath at this point. You can't really get on the guys or the coaching staff for it, since they're legitimately doing the best they can, but the best the Sixers can do at this point is just to try to delay the inevitable as long as possible. The 76ers' '10-'11 season will be coming to an end sooner rather than later.

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).