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.

Eagles' QB-rich support system for Carson Wentz paying dividends

Eagles' QB-rich support system for Carson Wentz paying dividends

In the wake of the Sam Bradford trade, the Eagles' announcement a week before the opener that Carson Wentz would start Week 1 was met with some skepticism and overwhelmingly tempered expectations.

But it looks like the kid can play.

And the Eagles aren’t just looking smart for drafting and playing Wentz. They’re also looking pretty smart for filling their coaching staff and quarterback room with decades of quarterback experience.

“It's a tight room,” head coach Doug Pederson said.

It’s also a knowledgeable one.

Pederson is a former NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich is a former NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is a former college quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. And backup Chase Daniel has been in the league since 2009 and in Pederson’s offense since 2013.

If Wentz has a question, he has plenty of guys to ask. And it seems like this support system, which at one time looked like overkill, might be one of the keys that has allowed the rookie to take the NFL by storm.

“There’s no doubt. There’s no doubt,” the veteran backup Daniel said. “Obviously, he’s a very bright young mind, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the coaching in the quarterback room has played a good part into his maturation and his bringing along so fast. There’s no doubt about it.”

Through three games, Wentz has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 769 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's the first rookie in NFL history to put up those numbers in the first three games of a career. Oh yeah, and the Eagles are 3-0.

It’s hard to believe that about a month ago, Wentz was gearing up for a redshirt year as the third quarterback behind Sam Bradford and Daniel. Now, he isn’t just the future franchise quarterback. He is the franchise quarterback.

And Wentz gives his quarterback-heavy coaching staff plenty of credit.

“It’s huge having them,” Wentz said. “I could never say enough how much they understand the game. They get it. They know what it’s like. As a former quarterback, they know what I’m going through and how I’m seeing things, so it’s been huge.”

The Eagles were clearly smitten with Wentz from the time they saw him in Alabama for the Senior Bowl. Eventually, de facto GM Howie Roseman was able to maneuver to the No. 2 pick to draft Wentz.

But Wentz went No. 2 and not No. 1, so it’s almost impossible to not peek over at Los Angeles and see how first overall pick Jared Goff is doing. So far, he isn’t doing much of anything. It doesn’t mean that eventually Goff won’t be a good quarterback, but through three games, he’s been inactive once and hasn’t yet played. The Rams are sticking with Case Keenum for now.

NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling compared the support system for Goff with the Rams and Wentz's with the Eagles. We’ll take a deeper look into what he started:

Rams
• Head coach Jeff Fisher: Defensive coach

• OC Rob Boras: Never a QB coach; coached tight ends in NFL from 2004-15

• QB Coach Chris Weinke: Former NFL QB for seven seasons; was highly-thought of QB draft guru with IMG academy for four years

• Vet QB Case Keenum: In league since 2012; best QB he's played with is Matt Schaub

Eagles
• Head coach Doug Pederson: 12 years as NFL QB; QB coach in Philly; OC in KC

• OC Frank Reich: 14 years as NFL QB; QB coach in Indy with Peyton Manning in 2009-10; QB coach and OC in San Diego

• QB Coach: John DeFilippo: College QB; QBs coach at Fordham, Columbia; QBs coach with Raiders, Jets, OC with Browns

• Vet QB Chase Daniel: In league since 2009; learned under Drew Brees; has been in Pederson's offense since 2013

It’s very possible if Wentz becomes a great quarterback that other teams copy the Eagles’ quarterback-heavy approach.

But it’s not just about getting a bunch of smart people and a talented rookie in the same room. Everything else has to work. The rookie has to be a diligent learner and all of the teachers have to check their egos and work together.

“I let John (DeFilippo), I let the quarterback coach run the meeting,” Pederson said. “If I interject, I interject. The way it works is I send my message through Frank (Reich), Frank through the position coaches. At the same time, if I want to interject something, I will interject. Just making sure there's one voice in the meeting room and they are not hearing three different answers from three different people, the message is the same.”

Practice squad quarterback Aaron Murray, who joined the team a couple weeks ago, thinks the quarterback room has “definitely” helped Wentz achieve his early success. While he is just a practice-squader, go ahead and add Murray — who was in the offense for two years in Kansas City — to the list of quarterback minds happy to help Wentz.

Murray, a fifth-rounder out of Georgia in 2014, has been impressed with Wentz’s ability to pick up protections and schemes at a young age. He compared him to Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in that regard. While Murray, along with everyone else, is happy to give Wentz tips, he tries to not overload him.

“You still want him to just go out there and play,” he said.

Murray is the newcomer to the room, but he’s been impressed with the dynamic so far. He’s not the only one. It looks like this quarterback experiment might just work.

“It’s awesome. It’s great,” Daniel said. “Everyone has a say in there and everyone in the room, it’s pretty crazy, everyone in the room, really except Carson, has been around it, has been in it and played. Obviously, he’s played, but been around for a while. He’s just a sponge, he’s just taking it all in.

“Maybe some stuff he doesn’t need to take in. Maybe some stuff he wants to do his own way, which is great. You want your own personality out there. But yeah, he’s been great. It’s been great for us too as players. We have almost a 2-to-1 coach-to-player ratio. It’s been great. Everyone has little tidbits here and there and we roll.”

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Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies’ bullpen continued its ugly, late-season collapse on Tuesday night. It was tagged for six runs in a 7-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves rallied for the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth inning (see Instant Replay).
 
The loss came two days after the bullpen gave up 14 earned runs in four innings in a 17-0 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday and it left manager Pete Mackanin more than a little bit frustrated.
 
“The bullpen has just not been doing the job,” Mackanin said.
 
Jerad Eickhoff gave up just one run (on a solo homer by Freddie Freeman) over four walk-free innings to open the game. He was up 6-1 after four innings when the rains came and stopped the game for an hour and 53 minutes.
 
With Eickhoff bounced by the weather, Mackanin had to go to his bullpen. He used four relievers — Severino Gonzalez, Luis Garcia, Joely Rodriguez and David Hernandez — and all gave up runs.
 
Phillies relievers have pitched 77 1/3 innings this month and allowed 69 earned runs for an ERA of 8.03. So that’s one more thing Matt Klentak has to fix this winter, along with the offense that Mackanin wants to see addressed (see story).
 
Ultimately, Hernandez took the loss when he gave up three hits and a run in the bottom of the eighth. The other run in the inning was charged to Rodriguez.
 
As unbelievable as it may sound with rosters being expanded in September, the Phillies played this game shorthanded.
 
They did not have reliever Edubray Ramos. He had a sore elbow, Mackanin said.
 
They did not have outfielder Peter Bourjos, who had gone home to be with his wife for the birth of their child.
 
They also did not have outfielder Tyler Goeddel, who is out with a concussion.
 
Not having Bourjos or Goeddel forced Mackanin to use Darin Ruf in left field after Roman Quinn went out with an oblique injury in the sixth inning. Ruf failed to make a catch on a long fly ball by Tyler Flowers to the gap in left-center. The non-play extended the eighth inning and fueled the Braves’ comeback.
 
“It should have been caught,” Mackanin said. “If Quinn's out there, he catches it. He wasn't out there.”
 
Hernandez was the only free agent that the Phillies signed to a major-league contract this winter. The Phillies signed him with an eye toward using him as the closer. But Hernandez struggled much of the season and slipped into the middle innings while Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez rose to high-leverage roles.
 
Gomez lost the closer’s job last week and Mackanin was saving Neris to close out this game. That meant Hernandez had to pitch the eighth. He couldn’t protect the lead. He gave up the game-tying hit to Mallex Smith and the go-ahead hit to Emilio Bonafacio.
 
“Neris was going to close for us,” Mackanin said. “I thought about using him with two outs in the eighth. But, at some point, somebody else has to do a (bleeping) job. Somebody else has to (bleeping) step up. In two games now, every reliever I brought in has given up a (bleeping) run. That's unheard of.”
 
The bullpen’s unraveling threw cold (rain) water on Eickhoff’s solid start and Ryan Howard’s big night. Howard belted his 24th homer, a grand slam in the first inning, to highlight a 14-hit attack and help the Phils jump to a 6-0 lead.
 
“Eickhoff looked like he was having one of his best games and then the rain came. So that was our first disappointment,” Mackanin said. "Other than that, Howie swung the bat great. Hit that grand slam. We got 14 hits, but we stranded 12 runners. We have to keep adding on.”
 
Quinn had three of the Phillies’ 14 hits then added to his collection of injuries with the oblique strain that bounced him from the game in the sixth. He hurt himself taking a swing.
 
Oblique injuries generally keep a player sidelined for at least three weeks, so Quinn’s season is likely over. He missed six weeks with a similar injury at Double A Reading this summer. The 23-year-old outfielder came up from the minors on Sept. 11 and has been auditioning for a spot on next season’s opening day roster.
 
“It looks like it,” Mackanin said when asked if Quinn was done for what remains of the season.
 
Injuries have been a consistent hurdle for Quinn ever since he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft. He has missed significant time with a ruptured Achilles tendon, a wrist injury that required surgery, a torn quad muscle and an oblique strain. Now he has another one.
 
“It’s the same one I hurt before,” Quinn said. “It’s frustrating.”
 
Right now, just about everything is frustrating with this team. Good thing there are only five games left.

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