One More For the Win: Jrue, Spence, Refs Help Sixers Take 3-1 Lead Over Bulls

One More For the Win: Jrue, Spence, Refs Help Sixers Take 3-1 Lead Over Bulls

Another ugly game, and this time, an ugly win to match for the Sixers.
It was looking like a pending feel-good W for Philly when Jrue Holiday
hit consecutive threes to put the Ballers up seven with just about 3:30
to go, but a Boozer three-point play and a CJ Watson jumper quickly cut
the lead to two, and the Sixers ended up needing a little help from the
refs to escape with the Game Four win. 
Still, it was a huge win for the
Sixers, and with the 3-1 series lead, you have to feel like now they're
actually—gasp!—the favorites to win in this series.

After a game three that saw the Sixers' guards balling and their
frontcourt go bone-dry from the field for the first three quarters,
matters were reversed for the Sixers today, with their backcourt
struggling enormously through the first three—Jrue was a horrific 1-14
at the half, with Evan Turner and Lou Williams not doing much
better—while the Sixers' bigs actually came through. Spencer Hawes in
particular was even stronger than he was yesterday, hitting from all
over the court (including a three at the end of the half that brought
Evan out of his seat on the bench) and ending with 22 points and eight
rebounds—the first Sixer center since Moses Malone to have to straight
post-season 20-pointers, apparently.

The Bulls, again missing their star point guard in Derrick Rose and
defensive anchor in Joakim Noah, just didn't have the weapons to put
away the Sixers today. Overpaid forward Carlos Boozer had a decent
enough game as the Bulls' featured scorer, putting up 23 points (but
needing 24 shots to do it), but their guards again struggled, with their
starting backcourt of C.J. Watson and Rip Hamilton shooting a combined
8-27 from the field, and all-star swing Luol Deng continuing to no-show
offensively, scoring just 11 points on as many FG attempts. (Partial
credit must go to the Sixers' back-court for the Bulls' continuing
shooting woes as well, with Turner and Holiday making up for their
lackluster offense with clampdown D.)

It seemed like the two teams' strengths and weaknesses canceled each
other out nearly all game, so it was no surprise to see the game go down
to the wire as it did on Friday. But the key sequence of the game might
have been one where the refs unfortunately took over the game with
their own erratic officiating, as a Carlos Boozer drive with about a
minute left, in which he appeared to be clocked by both Elton Brand and
Spencer Hawes, was not whistled, while a bump on Jrue Holiday at the
other end was, allowing the Sixers to go up four and take control of the
game. It took a little wind out of the joy of the victory for it to be
so zebra-influenced, but props to the Sixers for actually making their
free throws down the stretch—7-8 again down the stretch, including a
jaw-dropping two-for-two from Andre Iguodala—and it's not like the Bulls
were playing brilliantly down the stretch anyway, committing careless
turnovers and performing some Reid-worthy clock management.

I've taken the approach this series that it's more important that the
team really figures out who they are, rather than doing whatever it
takes to move on to the next round. 
This series already has so many
asterisks next to it that it almost doesn't matter long-term who ends up
winning, though it would be cool and somewhat hilarious to see this
team have a shot at getting to the conference finals—and as far as
looking towards the future, today wasn't quite as encouraging as
yesterday. Still, even if Evan had a rough day on offense, you liked
seeing him attack the basket on nearly every possession and shutting
down CJ Watson on D, and even if Jrue had a miserable showing from the
field in the first half, those two threes were absolutely cold-blooded,
and the converted final-minute free throws were nearly as huge. And
Spencer Hawes...well, a couple more games like this and we might have
some tough decisions to make in the off-season about our
flawed-but-versatile big man.

Game five in Chicago on Tuesday, with a chance to close out (!!!) the
Bulls and not see the WFC crowd again until round two. 
It's a weird
post-season, and if they do win the series, lord knows most people
aren't going to give the Sixers much credit for an upset. But to all
those people who may eventually be harping about how you can barely
consider it an upset consider the Bulls' injuries, I ask you this—how
many of you actually predicted the Sixers to win after Rose went down? I
certainly didn't, and I seriously doubt you did either. 
It will still
be a huge accomplishment for the Sixers if they win a fourth game in
this series, and though I don't know where they'd go from there, I'm
very proud of our boys for getting that far.

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles vs. Vikings
1 p.m. on FOX

Eagles +3

A familiar face comes to town on Sunday when the Eagles host the Vikings, the NFL's last unbeaten team at 5-0.

There's more to this matchup than a certain jilted quarterback returning to Lincoln Financial Field though. After an inspired 3-0 start, the Eagles have come out flat in two consecutive games, both losses. If this squad has any hope of getting back on track in Week 7, they can't afford to focus on the high-profile former teammate in purple sleeves.

Grinding it out
How good is the Vikings' defense? Even though they're ranked fourth in the league against the run and eighth in yards per carry allowed, they've faced the second-highest number of rushing attempts. Simply put, between a fierce pass-rush and ball-hawking secondary, offenses are afraid to put the ball in the air against this team.

Opponents have decided the best way to beat the Minnesota defense is by keeping the ball on the ground — shorten the game, try to create manageable third downs and play the field position game. Of course, the best way for the Eagles to beat Washington's 28th-ranked run defense last week, with a fifth-round rookie right tackle making his first career start mind you, also would've been to hand the ball off early and often, which wasn't exactly the game plan that we saw.

As good as Carson Wentz is, the Eagles probably aren't going to beat this team by airing the ball out. It may be inefficient and look ugly, but this time, head coach Doug Pederson needs to lean on the ground attack and take the pressure off of his first-year quarterback and tackle. Otherwise, a Vikings defense that ranks third in the NFL in sacks and fourth in interceptions can take this game over.

Self-inflicted wounds
Ticky-tack calls or not, you can't blame the judgment of the officials for all of the penalties the Eagles have taken the past two weeks. Last week in Washington, they drew 13 flags for 114 yards. The week before, it was 14 flags for 111 yards. Is it really any coincidence in two losses the Eagles have been penalized 27 times for 225 yards? Unlikely.

Were one or two or even a handful of those calls excessive? Have officials missed some potential calls that could have gone the other way? Yes and yes, as is always the case. When it's that many penalties for that many yards though, you can only place so much blame on the refs.

Simply put, the players need to clean up their acts. According to, the Eagles are committing the most penalties per game at 9.8. Only one other team is above 9.0. All excuses aside, the Eagles lack discipline right now, and it's hard to beat anybody when they are continuously shooting themselves in the foot, let alone the only undefeated squad in football.

No gimmes
There is no bigger indicator of winning and losing in the NFL than turnovers. So what happens when the two teams who cough the ball up the least are going head-to-head?

One thing the Eagles did correct in Washington was the little giveaway problem that cost them the game in Detroit. After losing their first fumble and throwing their first interception of the season in the final three minutes of their loss at Detroit, the offense went back to playing turnover-free football on Sunday, one of the positive things that could be said for the performance.

Yet the only team that's committed fewer turnovers than the Eagles is the Vikings, who have just one through five games. The ball security these clubs have displayed is remarkable bordering on unheard of. So what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object? The first one to blink, or in this case make a mistake, might just cost themselves the game in what could be a tightly contested tilt.

Just a pit stop
If it feels like the Eagles' 34-3 romp of the Steelers at the Linc was a long time ago, well, it has been almost a month. Since then, there's been a bye week followed by trips to Detroit and Washington, putting the last home game at exactly four weeks ago.

Don't get used to the feeling either. After their game against the Vikings on Sunday, the Eagles go back on the road for two contests against the division rival Cowboys and Giants.

What does it all mean? Besides a travel-heavy stretch, it suggests this sandwich game with the Vikings is an especially significant spot on the Eagles' schedule, particularly given the slow starts they've jumped out to as the visiting team of late. That can't be blamed entirely on going on the road of course, but it certainly hasn't helped. Vikings or not, the Eagles could use a positive showing on Sunday before they go away again.

The Bradford Bowl
You didn't really think we were going to completely gloss over Sam Bradford, did you? Not even mention his name?

It's interesting, because right now, the trade that sent Bradford to the Vikings and cleared the way for Wentz to start at quarterback for the Eagles looks like a win-win. Both head coaches agreed with that sentiment as well. Mike Zimmer says Bradford gave the Vikings an energy back after starter Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season with an improbable injury, while despite coming back down to earth a bit the last two weeks, it's obvious the Eagles' future is bright with Wentz.

That being said, there are some additional bragging rights at stake for both signal-callers this week, whether they acknowledge it or not. If the Eagles win, it shows their gamble on Wentz being prepared to start right away was justified. If the Vikings win, pundits could argue the Eagles never should've traded Bradford in the first place.

These are only narratives of course, and the Eagles' investment in Wentz and the Vikings' desperation trade for Bradford are both left to be judged somewhere down the road, long after this game has been played. Nonetheless, the result on Sunday is sure to spark some interesting debate in the coming days.

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21


STATE COLLEGE – As his team slogged through back-to-back 7-6 seasons in his first two years as Penn State’s head coach, Langhorne native James Franklin heard time and again that he was in need of a signature victory.

Now he has one, even if he refuses to admit it.

Junior cornerback Grant Haley returned a blocked field goal 60 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:27 left as the Nittany Lions stunned second-ranked Ohio State 24-21 on Saturday night.

“That’s for you (media) guys, all that signature stuff,” Franklin said.

Not exactly.

“It’s just a game that put Penn State back on the map,” Haley said. “We needed that signature win, and we did it tonight.”

The fans stormed the field after the Lions, 5-2 after their third straight victory this season, beat a ranked team for the first time since 2013 (Wisconsin). It was also PSU’s first victory over a team ranked in the top five since 1999 (Arizona) and its first over a team slotted as high as No. 2 since 1990 (Notre Dame).

Ohio State (7-1) saw winning streaks of 20 straight road games and 17 straight Big Ten road games come to an end, despite building a 21-7 lead through three quarters.

The Lions whisked 90 yards in five plays to cut the gap to seven with 13:32 left in the game, with quarterback Trace McSorley running two yards for the TD.

Freshman linebacker Cam Brown then blocked Cameron Johnston’s punt to set up a 34-yard field goal by Tyler Davis with 9:33 remaining, making it 21-17.

Ohio State mounted a drive behind J.T. Barrett, their splendid quarterback, moving from its own 13 to the PSU 28. Barrett’s 34-yard connection with wide receiver Noah Brown was the big play.

But the Buckeyes stalled, and Tyler Durbin came on to attempt a 45-yard field goal. Penn State safety Marcus Allen made a leaping block, however, and Haley scooped up the bouncing ball and beat Durbin and Johnston, the holder, down the left sideline for the go-ahead score.

Ohio State’s final drive of the night ended with a pair of Penn State sacks, the last a combined effort by defensive linemen Kevin Givens and Evan Schwan with 1:02 left.

When the final gun sounded, several Penn State players sprinted toward the south end zone and launched themselves into the front row of the stands, Lambeau Leap-style, among the delirious students. And thousands of fans, all clad in white for PSU’s traditional White Out, flooded the field.

“This is for everybody,” Franklin said later. “This community’s been through so much in the last five years (a reference to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal and its aftermath), and this is a big step in the right direction, in terms of healing. I said very, very early on that for us to get where we want to be, we need this entire community together, and a win like tonight – I know I’m biased – but I believe that football has the ability to bring a community together like nothing else.”

Moments later, he caught himself and said he “didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the big picture.”

Rather, he added, “I just want to enjoy tonight.”