Phew: Sixers Win Game They Absolutely Had To, Take Care of Limping Celtics

Phew: Sixers Win Game They Absolutely Had To, Take Care of Limping Celtics

There was no real getting around it: This was as close to a Must-Win
game for the Sixers as they were likely to have this regular season. The
Sixers have been struggling so mightily to find their groove recently
that if they couldn't do it at home, on National TV, against a division
rival missing a handful of key rotation guys...you'd have to start doing
a whole lot of wondering about this team in general. And from the first
two quarters, it looked like the New York game all over again—struggles
scoring out of the gate, inability to get momentum-building stops,
Spike Lee yammering from the sidelines
. (Maybe not the last one.) But
the second half saw the Sixers born anew, and they rattled off 37 points
in the third to put the C's firmly in their rearview, winning 99-86.

And wow, was that third quarter something. It was a reminder—our first
in a few weeks, at least—that when this team is sharing the rock and
playing free-flowing, up-tempo basketball, it can be one of the most
exciting and dangerous teams in the league. Elton Brand gets a lot of the
credit for being the team's primary finisher in the quarter—he scored 12
in the third alone, ending with a team-high 20 for the game—and just
about everyone got into the act before the end of the quarter, Evan
Turner was making last-second dishes to Thaddeus Young under the
basket for easy twos, and even Lou Williams was finding an open Spence
for a jumper or two. (Williams provided the capper with an alley-oop
slam off a 'Dre lob—forgot the Sour Patch could get up that high.)

[VIDEOS: watch Will Smith congratulate Doug Collins on his 400th win | watch Mickael Pietrus' brutal fall, get carted off on stretcher]

For me, though the lion's share of the credit goes to Spencer Hawes,
whose ability and willingness to make the extra pass spread through this
team like a virus in the second half. He only ended with three assists
for the game, but he made at least three more brilliant passes to find
cutters and open men. I had forgotten what a luxury it was to be able to
run the offense through Hawes when he was healthy during the first
third of the season, and to have that weapon back at our disposal for
the last third could prove invaluable for Philly. Having Spence for more
minutes helps, as well—he played nearly 28 tonight after playing
between 19-24 in his first four games back from injury. (No Nik Vucevic
tonight, which resulted in an interesting amount of Tony Battie, a trend
we all hope not to continue.) 

It's far from the Sixers' most impressive win of the season—as
previously mentioned, the Celtics were undermanned to begin with,
missing starting two-guard Ray Allen and losing defensive ace Mickael
Pietrus to a terrifying head injury partway through the game, along with
all their other season-ending tragedies (Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox,
Jermaine O'Neal). But from a practical standpoint, it was one of their
most important—it keeps the C's at bay, with a one-and-a-half game
cushion in the Atlantic, and it also pushes the Sixers to four games up
on the Knicks, who lost tonight to the lowly Raptors. Almost as
importantly, it means that Philly wins the season series (and thus the
Atlantic tiebreaker) against Boston, a key buffer for the Sixers in a
potentially close division race.

The other reason getting a win was so key tonight? Next up, the Sixers
head south to San Antonio for what might be their toughest non-Miami
matchup of the season against the 30-14 Spurs. Not that they can or
should dump that one now, but winning tonight takes a little of the
pressure off them for Sunday, and maybe even gives them a little
confidence and momentum (assuming both are real things and not just
inventions of Kenny Smith) going into the game. At the very least, The
Sixers can rest easy tonight knowing that one way or the other, they
will finish the weekend once more as princes of the Atlantic. Go team.

Philly Mayor goes to bat for Eagles fans, cheesesteaks against John Oliver

john-oliver.jpg
HBO's Last Week Tonight

Philly Mayor goes to bat for Eagles fans, cheesesteaks against John Oliver

Charter schools. They're complicated!

After watching John Oliver's segment on them over the weekend, you'd agree there is plenty of nuance involved in the charter school debate. But also that some of them are dirty as all get out. An underground nightclub at a SCHOOL? Jeez. That can't be okay anywhere.

It's a solid segment. But it also took a couple of unneeded digs at the city of Philadelphia, its cuisine, and its sports fans.

That irked the Mayor of Philadelphia and he fought back today on Twitter.

"Agree on charter oversight but English soccer fan who eats fish from newsprint can't judge Eagles fans, cheesesteaks," Jim Kenney tweeted.

Take that you fish-eating Brit!

You can also watch the entire John Oliver segment from Last Week Tonight below.

On Eagles' roster bubble, Marcus Smith finally showing signs of improvement

On Eagles' roster bubble, Marcus Smith finally showing signs of improvement

Final cuts are a little over a week away. Marcus Smith is trying to impress a coaching staff that didn't draft him. Steven Means has had a very good preseason. Smith has little to show for his first two NFL seasons.

If time is running out on the former first-round pick from Louisville, it's not weighing on him.

"I try not to think about those things," Smith said. "Just go out there every single day and not worry about what's going on around me because everything will take care of itself."

Smith, in his first year as a 4-3 defensive end after struggling in two seasons as a 3-4 linebacker, missed the preseason game against the Bucs with a concussion but actually played very well Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with four tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry.

It didn't count. But it was the kind of performance the Eagles have been waiting for since they made Smith the 26th pick in the 2014 draft.

Smith played just 68 snaps as a rookie, getting more than seven snaps in only four games. Last year, he played five or fewer snaps in nine of 16 games.

But new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has given Smith every opportunity to shine, and he liked what he saw in Pittsburgh.

"The thing I'm most proud about with Marcus is that he's done a good job in the run game," Schwartz said.

"He's a very skilled athlete. He's fast and he's smooth. I think he was a quarterback when he first went to Louisville. I mean, that stuff shows. Where he's really making good improvement is setting the edge of our defense [and] attacking tackles.

"He did that against a physical group from Pittsburgh. That was a great sign."

Smith was asked about his run defense being an underrated part of his game, and he disagreed with the assessment.

"For myself, it's not an underrated part,  but everybody else thinks that it's underrated because they see me as just a pass rusher," he said.

"But I also know that I can play the run and stop the run and rush the passer at the same time, and when you have both those tools then it allows the coaches to be able to put you in the game more."

When the preseason began, it was just kind of a foregone conclusion that Smith's time in Philly had run out.

Now, he's battling not only for a roster spot, presumably with Means, but also for playing time behind defensive ends Vinny Curry, Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham.

Smith insists he's not worried about where he fits in on a roster that's loaded on the defensive line.

"I don't think about those things because if you think about things you can't control you tend to not do the things that you're supposed to do," he said.

"So I just worry about what I can control and just get better and play well."

Smith is on three special teams units — kickoff, punt and kickoff return — which gives him a few more opportunities to show he belongs.

More than anything, for the first time since he got to the NFL, he's brimming with confidence.

That, more than anything else, was missing the last two seasons.

"I feel really comfortable just because the scheme and the type of defense that we're playing, it allows me to just be a defensive end and go make plays," he said.

"My confidence level is really high. I feel that when I'm out on the field I can't be stopped."

Russell Wilson still affecting Eagles' decision-making

Russell Wilson still affecting Eagles' decision-making

By now, most Eagles fans have probably heard stories that the team coveted Russell Wilson in the 2012 NFL draft but waited too long and wound up watching helplessly as he went to the Seahawks. Doug Pederson was just an offensive quality control coordinator with the Birds back then, but even he realizes how losing out on a franchise quarterback altered the course of history.

“If we’d have drafted Russell Wilson in 2012, we’d still be here as coaches,” Pederson said with a smile.

That's what Pederson told Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com, and there might be a bit of truth to it. Despite concerns over his stature, it turns out Wilson was an outstanding NFL signal-caller from the jump. And while he was surrounded by a dominant defense and ground attack, he likely would've been a winner just about anywhere.

Actually, Wilson may not have been good enough to save Andy Reid's head coaching job in Philadelphia or his staff — after 14 years, it was time, and an offensive line depleted by injuries was the real reason behind a 4-12 final season. Regardless, Pederson learned something from waiting too long on Wilson in the draft, and based on the Eagles' aggressive move for Carson Wentz this year, the organization did too.

Simply enough, if you like a quarterback, Pederson says, “Take him. Take him. Take the best available one. If you’re not planning for the quarterback position, you’re probably not going to win many games.”

...

“There’s a lesson there. Seattle, they felt like we did with Russell Wilson,” Pederson said. “We got Nick Foles right after that, and I love Nick Foles and think he’s gonna be a good quarterback in this league and do well for Kansas City. But if you’re not planning for that position ...”

For as much criticism or questioning as the Eagles have faced for their plan at quarterback this year, "take him" certainly was not the issue. In addition to all of players and draft collateral they gave up for Wentz, they also invested large sums of money into current starter Sam Bradford and long-term backup Chase Daniel.

If you think Pederson and executive vice president of personnel Howie Roseman's experience of missing out on Wilson didn't play a role in those moves, the head coach made it quite clear to the contrary. While Eagles fans would prefer the known quantity and proven Super Bowl champion under center, you can't say this regime hasn't done everything in its power to erase that mistake.