SIXERS BACK, SIXERS BACK, ALL THESE BES SCREAMING THAT SIXERS BACK

SIXERS BACK, SIXERS BACK, ALL THESE BES SCREAMING THAT SIXERS BACK

What is going on with this professional basketball team. Just
when you think they're gonna zig, they zag, just when you think they've
got it figured out, they post a 12-point first quarter, and just when
you think they're gonna roll over, they get to the line a whole bunch of
times in the third quarter, start to gain some momentum, and complete
one of the most unlikely comebacks in an NBA post-season absolutely full
of them. Now all eyez are on the Celtics as they return to Boston,
still with the home-court advantage but missing out on a clear chance to
finish out the league's most perplexing bunch o' scrappers.

And once again, the comeback win was sealed by that clutchiest of clutch
clutchsters, Andre Iguodala. With the Sixers and Celtics tied at 83,
Iguodala scored five enormous answered points in the final 90 seconds of
this one to put the Sixers firmly in control of their own destiny.  All
of those memories of clanked jumpers, layup-drive no-calls, and general
late-game meltdowns are quickly fading to black as Andre Iguodala, Guy
You Can Count on To Do Shit starts getting chest-puffier with each
unlikely playoff victory.

First and foremost, the Sixers deserve salutations for powering through
one of the worst shooting nights in playoff history, courtesy of
second-year goofball Evan Turner. The box score says that he ended at
5-22, but we all know that he was actually 2-67 in this one, missing
from just about every possible spot on the court, on predominantly open
looks to boot. We generally love Evan here at the Level, and we're sure
he was just acting on Coach Collins' orders to "Be Aggressive, B-E
Aggressive," but hoooooly hell would it be nice if the Extraterrestrial
actually made some jumpers. (Turner did finish with 16 and 9, with only
one turnover in 36 minutes, so it wasn't all bad from ET.)

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, back to praise for Andre
Iguodala. Specifically, praise to him (and perhaps Coach Collins as
well) for figuring out a way to really help this team on
offense—spotting up in the corner for catch-and-shoot threes. 'Dre's
pull-up three game has never been phenomenal, but he's shown an aptitude
all year for connecting off the catch-and-shoot, helping to contribute
to his career-high 39% rate from deep this season. Tonight, he went
three for three on such shots, including the biggest shot of the night,
when he converted on a Lou Williams drive-and-kick from behind the arc
to put the Sixers up two possessions with less than a minute to go.

Speaking of Sour Patch Lou, it was easily the Sweetest game of the
post-season for our Sixth Man of the Year runner-up, as he scored 15
points on 5-11 shooting—including a stretch in the second quarter where
he elbowed the Ballers back into the game on a three and two straight
three-point plays—as well as handing out a team-high eight assists. I
give Lou a whole lot of crap on this website, and a lot of the time he
deserves it, but if he played more games like he did tonight—scoring,
but not forcing the issue, and making all the right passes—I wouldn't
even consider joining the monastery when we give him 5 years, $35
million in the off-season.

Besides 'Dre and Lou, the heroes of the game for the Sixers were the
closing frontcourt for the Sixers, Lavoy Allen and Thaddeus Young. Elton
Brand and Spencer Hawes were as miserable tonight as they have been all
series, combining for a mere five (FIVE!!) points tonight, but the
Sixers got energy, hustle, rebounding, and (by comparison anyway)
scoring from the Allen/Young duo, and Collins was wise to ride them down
the stretch, as they were able to hang and bang with Garnett, who was
finally kept in check tonight, scoring a mere nine points on 3-11
shooting (with seven turnovers!) as Lavoy & Thad combined for 20 and
19 rebounds. It'll be interesting to see if one or both of these guys
gets stuck in the starting lineup for Game Five, given how much more
effective they've been than the dinged-up Brand and the, uh, generally
deficient Hawes.

Of course, I'd be a little remiss if I didn't mention another MVP for
Philly tonight—our boys in black and white. The Sixers shot 36 free
throws to the Celtics' 19, many of which came in the second and third
quarters as it seemed like the Sixers were never going to hit another
field goal again. It felt like the Ballers were almost getting pity
calls for a while, with the C's getting clobbered on a couple layup
drives on their end while the whistles remained silent. It'll all
basically even out in time so I'm not gonna cry too foul (NPI) on it or
nothing, but it has to be mentioned in explaining how the Sixers were
able to win this game after starting out down 18-3 and still trailing
51-33 at half.

How else were they able to win this game? Well, we maybe never really
know for sure. It was a little like that Grizzlies-Clippers Game One
where you were watching it thinking "Hah, that's funny, the Sixers are
only down 14," "Hah, that's funny, the Sixers are only down eight,"
"Wait a minute...the Sixers are only down four?" "Did the Sixers just
take the lead?" "HOLY CRAP ARE THE SIXERS GOING TO WIN THIS GAME??" It
was like a Robb Stark sneak attack—by the time that the Celtics (or
anyone else) know what was happening, it had already happened. And
really, how can we be surprised by anything this team does at this
point? What a weird post-season.

Game Five from Boston this Monday. Who knows what other crazy twists and
turns this post-season takes from here? Dunno, but hope they don't
involve anymore 2-67 shooting nights from Evan Turner. They give me the
saddies.

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

OKLAHOMA CITY -- James Harden scored 21 points, and the Houston Rockets overcame Russell Westbrook's seventh consecutive triple-double to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-99 on Friday night.

Harden also had 12 assists and nine rebounds to help the Rockets win their fifth straight. Houston withstood Harden's 6-for-23 shooting effort.

Westbrook finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He has the longest triple-double streak since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. The most in a row is nine by Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain in March 1968.

It was Westbrook's 12th triple-double this season and the 49th of his career. He is the NBA's active leader in the category and ranks sixth all-time.

The Thunder had won the previous six games during Westbrook's triple-double binge (see full story).

James moves into 9th on scoring list as Cavs top Heat
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 27 points to move into ninth place on the NBA scoring list, and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Miami Heat 114-84 on Friday night.

James passed Elvin Hayes on a driving layup with 6:58 remaining and has 27,315 career points. The four-time MVP was removed about a minute later and received a loud ovation from the Cleveland crowd.

Kevin Love, a game-time decision because of back spasms, scored a team-high 28 points and had 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers. He missed the morning shootaround but was in the lineup after warming up on the court about an hour before tip-off.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points for the Cavs, who have won three straight after losing three in a row.

Derrick Williams scored 17 points to lead the short-handed Heat, who have lost four straight (see full story). 

Schroder has career-high 33, Hawks rally past Bucks
MILWAUKEE -- Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 33 points and the Atlanta Hawks rallied from 20 down in the second half to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 114-110 on Friday night.

Paul Millsap had 23 points and 14 rebounds for Atlanta. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18.

The Hawks, who ended a seven-game losing streak Wednesday with a win over Miami, trailed by 20 at halftime. A 40-point third quarter put them back in the game.

Jabari Parker scored 27 for Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo, in foul trouble throughout the game, had 14.

Atlanta pulled ahead 105-103 on Kyle Korver's jumper with 3:15 remaining, giving the Hawks their first lead since early in the game (see full story). 

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

DETROIT -- Brandon Dubinsky scored a tiebreaking goal in the second period and the surging Columbus Blue Jackets won their fifth straight game, 4-1 over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

Lukas Sedlak got his first NHL goal for the Blue Jackets, who have earned at least a point in 12 of their last 13 games. Cam Atkinson contributed a short-handed goal in the first period for Columbus.

Dylan Larkin's power-play goal in the second was the only scoring of the night for the Red Wings. Sergei Bobrovsky had 32 saves for the Blue Jackets.

Sam Gagner scored into an empty net with 13.9 seconds remaining (see full story). 

Staal scores in 6th round of SO to lift Wild over Oilers
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Eric Staal scored in the sixth round of a shootout and the Minnesota Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 on Friday night.

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker scored in regulation for Minnesota, which has won three straight.

Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves. He entered with a league-best .946 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average.

Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had goals for the Oilers, whose four-game losing streak began with a 2-1 home overtime loss to the Wild last Sunday.

Staal scored on a backhand deke before Nugent-Hopkins fired wide in the sixth round (see full story). 

Raanta, Rangers beat Blackhawks, 1-0, in overtime
CHICAGO -- Nick Holden scored 55 seconds into overtime, Antti Raanta made 26 saves against his former team and the New York Rangers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 1-0 on Friday night.

Derek Stepan passed from the boards to a streaking Holden in the middle of the ice, and he beat Scott Darling on the stick side for his fourth goal of the season.

Darling was going for his second straight shutout while subbing for injured starter Corey Crawford but had to settle for another solid performance.

Raanta, who made his NHL debut with Chicago in 2013 and played for the Blackhawks for two seasons before he was traded to New York, improved to 15-0-3 in 20 career appearances at the United Center.

The 27-year-old Raanta had 17 saves in Thursday's 2-1 victory at Winnipeg, and coach Alain Vigneault opted to give him a second straight start over Henrik Lundqvist because of his recent play and his success in Chicago (see full story).

Oshie, Johansson, Grubauer lift Caps over Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson each scored a goal, Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves and the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Friday night for their third straight win.

Jakub Vrana and John Carlson also scored, helping Washington beat Buffalo for the third time in 15 days.

Kyle Okposo scored and Robin Lehner made 25 saves for Buffalo. The Sabres have lost three of their last four.

Oshie gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead 6:43 into the second period when he lifted a shot from the right edge of the crease past Lehner. Jay Beagle drew two defenders into the corner and sent the puck back to a wide open Oshie for his ninth goal of the season (see full story).