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.

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint during a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds in the second period.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 5-foot-10, 184-pounder deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front off a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a real problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more enjoyment is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.