Sixers Chat: Wrapping the Bulls Series and Previewing the Celtics

Sixers Chat: Wrapping the Bulls Series and Previewing the Celtics

It's been a crazy couple of weeks for the Philadelphia 76ers, as they
pulled off the weirdest upset in NBA history against the East-best
(though roster-depleted) Chicago Bulls and now face an aging-but-loaded
Celtics team with the chance to make the Conference Finals (!!) for the
first time since 2001. As always, we called in Michael Levin of the
excellent Sixers blog Liberty Ballers to help us put the Bulls series to
bed, see what we have coming with the Celtics, and generally figure out
what the hell is going on.

Andrew: All right, so first and foremost: You stopped laughing about that Game Six ending yet?

Michael Levin, Liberty Ballers: Yeah at some point I had to go to sleep, so eventually, yeah. It was close though.

Our editor at the Level wrote an article about the two FTs being 'Dre's signature moment as a Sixer. You agree?

Yeah
I'd guess that's how he'll make his stamp. When I think signature
moment I think of like something he does often? So maybe a huge dunk to
win it or a big stop. But in terms of meaningful, yeah this was the
biggest moment.

Which would you have said to be more likely before Thursday: The
Sixers winning a playoff series on 'Dre's clutch FT shooting, or the
2008 Phillies winning the world series on Pat Burrell stealing home?

Hahahha Dre's foul shots. I've seen Pat run far too many times to
know he's not stealing home or anything else anymore. Not since he was
like 22. Dre used to be a decent foul shooter. He just tailspinned the
past two years.

But can you think of a more...maybe not ironic, but like,
poetically unexpected way for the Sixers to have won this series? How
many times have we seen 'Dre come up on short in this near-exact
situation?

It was perfect poetic justice. Maybe Turner nailing a three. Or Lou
making a huge defensive stop. But Dre at the line was the ultimate
vindicator for him and for the team. I hate to say "you can't script
this" and that crap, but it was the absolute perfect way to end that
game.

Did it even cross your mind that he might make both, or were you thinking "Just hit one, send it to OT"?

I
don't know that I thought will he make one or two or none, I knew I was
confident. Earlier that game I said he'd been money from the foul line
this series. Which, money for him was like 80%. So I felt better about
his foul shooting at least temporarily, but I've seen him miss so many
late game free throws that it probably crossed my mind that he'll brick
both. But I'm not sure -- in hindsight it feels like I was confident.

It seems like the Sixers, who have struggled all year to close
out close games even against subpar teams, finally figured out how to do
it in this series. Is that legitimate development, a fluke against an
undermanned team, or just odds saying you have to win a couple close
games eventually?

I'd say the last two. Without Rose and Noah, the Bulls don't have
many options to go to. CJ Watson shouldn't have been in the game at the
end, but he had to because he's the only alternative. He shouldn't make
that pass to Omer Asik, who ALSO shouldn't have been in the game. But
when you're that undermanned, you gotta play somebody.

And yeah I've been saying "they're due" all season long. You can
only lose by 4 so many times before something goes their way. And the
Basketball Gods picked a good time to finally give them a few bounces.

How much of an upset, if at all, would you call this win? Were the Bulls still a better team, even without their top two guys?

I'd call it even. The Sixers are as good as the Bulls minus their two best players. Not exactly a confidence booster.

So sad, yeah.

If the Bulls had a few games without
Rose and Noah going into the series, i think it would have been
different. But happening so close together when you have this gameplan
and then it falling apart, I don't think they had time to recover.

What was your primary feeling after the end of Game Six,
excitement and elation over the Sixers' win, or relief that both the
Sixers weren't going to blow the series and you wouldn't have to watch a
Game Seven?

Hahahaha ummm....excitement for Dre. That was the #1 thing. And
yeah, I was really thrilled that we don't have to watch another game
between those two teams. Even if the Celtics series won't be much
better. Or possibly (gasp), worse.

And I wasn't so worried that the Sixers would blow the series,
because I'm not exactly invested in their success this postseason, but
it's fun to watch them win, even with the knowledge that no, all of this
doesn't matter because they're not good enough.

Was there one unreserved positive that we could take from the
series win, besides just "Hey, we won a series for the first time in a
decade"?

Initially, it was the success of [Evan] Turner and
Jrue [Holiday]. But that kind of tailed off towards the end, so....I'm
not sure. I guess the positive would be - they won a series, and now
people in Philadelphia might watch them play. That could be nice. I
think it would take another series win for people to actually care. But
we'll see if it's at least temporarily meaningful for the state of
professional basketball in the city.

What grades would you give Evan and Jrue's performances in this series?

Both
of them were pretty terrific defensively, especially Jrue. And they did
take the ball to the basket a lot, which I liked. So I'd give Jrue a B+
and Evan a B. But I might be going a little easy on them because I'm in
love with both of them. So take that into consideration too.

What grade would you give Coach Collins?

C-. Got the wins, but I disagreed with so many of his calls that it makes me hyperventilate.

Were you disappointed that in the end, he trusted Lou and 'Dre over Jrue and Evan again?

Yeah especially because of how the series started. It was very
promising and then...Boss. Dre in Game 5 was more on him than it was
Doug, in my opinion, but I'm bitter about him benching Evan in favor of
Lou towards the end.

Are you worried about the win sidetracking the Sixers'
development? That maybe it'll be an excuse to get the band back together
yet again in the off-season?

My opinion is that if the
owners watched this series and think this team deserves to be kept
together, then we have a bigger problem than just one year of not
rebuilding. They'd have to be batshit crazy to think this team that
barely beat the Bulls minus their two best players is worth keeping
together.

But do you think that now, Andre Iguodala, Playoff Hero is untradeable in the off-season?

No I think he's still gone. What they get for him I'm not sure. I'm hoping a pick, a contract, and a prospect.

What about Spencer Hawes? Did he make himself money in this series, and will it be the Sixers giving it to him?

I
can't imagine the Sixers bringing him back. I'm operating under the
assumption that Doug is the coach next season, and I'm pretty sure he
will be. That's why I don't think Andre or Spence will be back.

Lou [Williams]...... I'm worried. Really worried. My hope is that he
wants to start somewhere and he'll go where the money is. But if he
likes being here and doesn't mind coming off the bench, then we're in
trouble.

Who do you think the Celtics were hoping came out of this series?

Sixers. The Bulls would still give them trouble inside.

Even with the young legs and the 2/3 wins and everything?

Yeah
I'm sure they don't really care about the 2 out of 3 wins in the
regular season. One game was when Pietrus went down. And both games had
the Celtics at the end of long stretches. They know they're the better
team.

But do you think the youth will be any kind of advantage for the
Sixers? Can they win a game or two running the C's out of the gym?

Yeah
I think they've certainly got a chance to, providing one of the bigger
Celtics gets hurt. Youth is mostly on their side, and if they commit to
pushing it in transition and a few shots go in, we could be talking
about a series.

How do you think the Sixers deal with [Celtics Point Guard Rajon] Rondo? How would you have them do it?

I'd
put Turner on him. Have a bigger guy handle him, disrupt passing lanes
and such. Get Jrue on [Avery] Bradley and make him as annoyed as he'll
make Jrue on the other end.

Is [Celtics Forward Kevin] Garnett the toughest matchup for the Sixers in this series? How do they handle KG?

I
think Brand/Thad/Spencer/Lavoy will all take turns on him. He'll get
his but I don't think he'll be the problem. I'm more worried about the
Sixers not being able to score than the Celtics scoring a lot.

Who's the key for the Sixers offensively, then? Is there one?

It's
everybody. They need help from everyone. I think Sugar Bear [Elton
Brand] will have a big series because he's crazy like that. If Thad can
break out that would be huge. Dre making Pierce work on the other end
would certainly be nice. And obviously Evan and Jrue. Get to the basket,
get people in foul trouble. Find Elton for open jumpers. Gotta hit
shots, gotta keep moving. Can't dribble yourself into trouble.

If there's one thing you want to see from the team in this series short of them actually winning it, what would it be?

Evan
and Jrue. Efficient and being used frequently. Attacking the basket,
playing good defense, and getting the call when it matters most.
Everything else is gravy.

How confident are you feeling that they'll be the ones Collins leans on?

Not very!

All
right, give me a prediction of winner and games, and then give me the
odds you think the Sixers have of pulling out the upset.

Hahah this is going to contradict everything I've said but
Sixers in 6. And I have no clue what the odds are. That's my pick, for
better or worse.
 
Where is that pick stemming from?

Cuz
Fuck Me, that's why. Everything the Sixers do is to spite me
personally. So they'll win, resign Lou and Spencer to max contracts, and
I'll be here shaking my head. Oh and then they'll get plastered by
Miami. Before resigning those guys, obviously.

Maybe LeBron and Wade get hurt and the Sixers make the finals
just by virtue of still having seven or eight competent basketball
players to dress.

That's going to be how it has to happen. Then they'll win it all and we'll be like What the Fuck just happened.

---

8:00 tip on Game One form the TD Banknorth Garden tonight. Go Sixers.

NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder push Warriors to brink of elimination

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NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder push Warriors to brink of elimination

BOX SCORE

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Suddenly, these Golden State Warriors who have been compared all season to the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s are on the brink of elimination.

Russell Westbrook had 36 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Warriors 118-94 on Tuesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Golden State, which won a league record 73 games in the regular season, lost consecutive games for the first time this season.

The Warriors must win Game 5 on Thursday in Oakland to keep their season alive.

"We all have to bounce back," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "The good news is, we go home. Obviously we play well at home. The idea now is to go home and get one win. Do that, and we put some pressure on them and we'll see what happens."

Klay Thompson led Golden State with 26 points, but two-time league MVP Stephen Curry was limited to 19 points on 6-for-20 shooting. Curry's shooting performance was so uncharacteristic that reporters asked if he was hurt.

"He's not injured," Kerr said. "He's coming back from the knee, but he's not injured. He just had a lousy night. It happens, even to the best players in the world."

The Warriors lost consecutive playoff games by at least 20 points for the first time since Games 2 and 3 of the 1972 Western Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks. Golden State's Draymond Green, who was fined for kicking Steven Adams in the groin in Game 3, finished with six points, 11 rebounds and six turnovers.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma City got a boost from an unlikely source. Andre Roberson, a player the Warriors have ignored at times during the series, scored a career-high 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Kevin Durant added 26 points and 11 rebounds and Serge Ibaka added 17 points and seven rebounds.

As for Westbrook, it was his first triple-double of the playoffs after posting 18 in the regular season. It was his fifth career playoff triple-double.

"I play every game like it's my last, regardless of who's in front of me," he said. "That's my job, and my job is to worry about my team, and that's all I do."

The Thunder know they have to close. Nine teams have rallied from 3-1 deficits to win.

"I think we're in a good place, but like I said, this game is over," Westbrook said. "We've got to move on to the next game. Every game is different."

The Thunder led 30-26 at the end of the first quarter, then gained control in the second. In the most unlikely of connections, Adams threw a bullet pass to Roberson near the basket for a dunk that gave the Thunder a 56-43 lead with just over four minutes left in the first half.

Oklahoma City finished with a flurry and led 72-53 at halftime. The Thunder matched the most points they have scored in a first half in franchise playoff history, a mark they set the previous game against the Warriors. It also matched the most points Golden State has allowed in a half this season for the second straight game.

Westbrook had 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds in the first half, and Durant had 18 points and six boards.

Thompson tried to keep the Warriors in it, scoring 19 points in just over seven minutes to start the third quarter. But the Thunder maintained their composure, led 94-82 at the end of the period and remained in control in the fourth.

"This is a tough situation to be in, but the series isn't over," Curry said.

Quotable
Kerr, on the pressure of trying to win a title after setting the regular-season wins record: "We had a tremendous regular season, our guys competed every single night and did something no one has ever done and they're proud of that. But in the playoffs, everybody starts 0-0. So there's no extra pressure, whether you're talking about defending our title or trying to back up the regular season."

Stat lines
According to Thunder Public Relations, the last team to score 72 or more points in the first half of two straight playoff games was the 1987 Los Angeles Lakers.

Tip-ins
Warriors: Curry went 1 for 7 in the first quarter, and made just 1 of 4 3-point attempts. ... Thompson committed his third foul with 7:55 left in the second quarter, and C Andrew Bogut committed his third about two minutes later. ... Curry made a 3-pointer for his 48th consecutive playoff game, extending his NBA record. ... The Warriors were 12-0 this season the game after a loss.

Thunder: Westbrook had five points, six assists and three rebounds in the first quarter. ... Oklahoma City forced 13 turnovers in the first half. ... The Thunder improved to 19-0 this season when Westbrook gets a triple-double. ... The Thunder outrebounded the Warriors 56-40 and outscored them 31-19 from the free throw line.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins fight off Lightning to force Game 7

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NHL Playoffs: Penguins fight off Lightning to force Game 7

BOX SCORE

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins made good on Evgeni Malkin's pledge to force Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final.

Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist, and Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored Tuesday night in a 5-2 victory that evened the best-of-seven series with the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-3.

Game 7 is Thursday night, with the Penguins hoping to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009 and the Lightning looking to advance to the Cup Final for the second straight year.

"I just told them to embrace the moment. It's a great opportunity for us. These are the type of circumstances to where you have an opportunity to write your own story," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan.

"They had a certain mindset going into this tonight: `We're going to leave it all out there and do everything we can to bring this back to Pittsburgh,'" Sullivan added. "And, certainly that's what they did."

Malkin was the most demonstrative of the players expressing confidence the Penguins could take the series back to Pittsburgh, saying he believed in himself, his teammates and that they could return home for a seventh game "for sure."

Crosby stepped up with his third game-winning goal of the series. The Penguins captain assisted on Kessel's 5-on-3 power-play goal in the opening period and later skated around Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman into the clear before sending a wrist shot between goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy's legs for a 3-0 lead in the final minute of the second period.

"We know the circumstances. It makes you go out there with a mindset of playing desperate," Crosby said. "I think we had confidence in the whole group. I think everyone played great.

"Everyone contributed in their own way. In a big game like this you, don't do anything special, just do your job. I think that's gotten us this far."

Rookie goaltender Matt Murray returned to the lineup after being replaced as the starter for Game 5 by Marc-Andre Fleury, but his 10th playoff victory did not come without a bit of suspense.

Brian Boyle scored twice in the third period for Tampa Bay, with one of the goals bouncing off Kessel before getting past Murray, who finished with 28 saves. The second score drew the Lightning within one goal with 7:17 remaining.

Instead of flinching, the young goalie who turns 22 on Wednesday retained his composure down the stretch to help the Penguins avoid relinquishing a third-period lead for the second straight game.

"I just think it's part of his DNA. He has a calming influence. He doesn't get rattled if he lets a goal in. He continues to compete," Sullivan said.

"That's usually an attribute that takes years to acquire. And to have it at such a young age is impressive. I think one of his biggest strengths is just his ability to stay in the moment."

Rust's breakaway goal at 17:52 of the third gave Pittsburgh breathing room, and Bonino added an empty-netter to finish it off.

"We had a great chance tonight and just tip-toed around a little bit," Boyle said. "We were tentative and weren't aggressive."

Kessel's goal was his team-leading ninth of the playoffs. Crosby had the primary assist, his first point since delivering game-winners in Games 2 and 3, and Malkin also had an assist to extend his point streak to four games after a slow start in the series.

The Lightning had an apparent goal by Jonathan Drouin waived off a little more than five minutes into the game, when Sullivan successfully challenged that the young Tampa Bay winger was offside on the play before tapping in a rebound off Ondrej Palat's shot that bounced off Murray's pads.

Sullivan announced the decision to go back to Murray following Tuesday's morning skate.

Murray started the first four games of the series. Fleury replaced him during the third period of Game 4, then made his first start in nearly two months in Game 5, which Tampa Bay won 4-3 in overtime.

Before Game 5, Fleury had not started a game since March 31, when he suffered a concussion.

Tampa Bay entered the game determined to not come out flat in Game 6 of the conference final for the second straight year.

The Lightning beat the New York Rangers on the road to go up 3-2 in that series, but were badly outplayed at home the next game and had to return to Madison Square Garden to finish the series.

Now, they'll have to win on the road again to make the third Stanley Cup appearance in franchise history.

"I know we can. I've got confidence in this group. We believe we can do that," Tampa Bay's Ryan Callahan said. "We've had success on the road in the playoffs. We've had success in their building already. It's going to be a good one."

Notes
The Penguins were 1 for 3 on the power play and are 4 for 19 in the series. The Lightning were 0 for 1, dropping to 2 for 12. ... Malkin was penalized in the first period for slashing Tampa Bay Bay's Ryan Callahan in what appeared to be retaliation for the Lightning forward whacking him across the wrist with his stick. ... Murray improved to 4-0 following a loss. He's 10-4 overall in the playoffs.

Best of MLB: Jackie Bradley Jr. extends hitting streak to 28 games

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Best of MLB: Jackie Bradley Jr. extends hitting streak to 28 games

BOSTON -- David Price scattered five hits over seven innings and Jackie Bradley Jr. had a pair of hits to extend his streak to 28 games as the Boston Red Sox beat the Colorado Rockies 8-3 on Tuesday night.

David Ortiz had a two-run double and a two-run single, and Dustin Pedroia added three hits to help Boston win its third straight game. Price (7-1) allowed three runs, walking one and striking out six to earn his third consecutive win.

Colorado lost for the fifth time in six games.

Jorge De La Rosa (1-4) made his first start after spending almost a month on the disabled list with a left groin strain. He gave up two runs in the first, two more in the second and left with one out in the fourth with two on and one run already in (see full recap).

Polanco, Pirates crush Diamondbacks
PITTSBURGH -- Gregory Polanco hit a three-run homer and drove in a career-best five runs as the Pittsburgh Pirates rolled by the Arizona Diamondbacks 12-1 on Tuesday night.

Polanco's shot to the concourse in right-center field off Shelby Miller (1-6) in the first inning gave Pittsburgh an early boost. Francisco Liriano (4-3) scattered two hits in 5 2/3 innings and added an RBI single as the Pirates improved to 6-2 during a 10-game homestand.

After a short adjustment period, Polanco has thrived batting third in the lineup, hitting .317 (20 of 63) with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 15 games. The Pirates spread their 17 hits among 11 batters.

Miller's recent recovery from a miserable start with the Diamondbacks took a step backward. Less than a year removed from an All-Star appearance with Atlanta, Miller's ERA ballooned to 7.09 after surrendering six runs in five innings (see full recap).

Strasburg strikes out 11 in Nationals' win
WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg remained unbeaten with an 11-strikeout performance, and the Washington Nationals hit three of their season-high five home runs off struggling Matt Harvey in a 7-4 victory over the New York Mets on Tuesday night.

Strasburg (8-0) gave up two runs and four hits over 6 2/3 innings in defeating Harvey and the Mets for the second time in six days. Strasburg has five games this season with at least 10 strikeouts and 26 over his seven-year career.

Harvey (3-7) stumbled through a third straight ineffective start, allowing five runs and eight hits over five rocky innings. The right-hander has yielded 16 earned runs and 31 hits over his last three outings.

Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon hit successive solo shots to put Washington ahead in the fourth inning, and Daniel Murphy added a two-run drive off his former teammate in the fifth for a 5-1 lead (see full recap).