Slaughterhouse 3: Sixers Destroyed at Home, Fall 2-1 in Series

Slaughterhouse 3: Sixers Destroyed at Home, Fall 2-1 in Series

Sad to say it like this, but this is just what happens in a series when you play a team that's better than you a bunch of times—occasionally, they're really, really gonna show it. There were some semi-fluky things that went wrong for the Sixers, but generally, they were just thoroughly outplayed by a team with better players. Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce ate the Sixers alive tonight, and the result was a dispiriting 107-91 blowout that wasn't nearly as respectable as the final score indicated.

The really crazy thing was that after one, things were actually looking up for the Sixers in their first home game of the series. Jrue Holiday was beastly early, hitting some threes and distributing well, and Lou Williams hit a classic away-from-his-body trey as the buzzer sounded to put the Sixers up 33-28 at the end of the quarter. But the floodgates opened for the C's in the second quarter, as they pounded the Sixers down low and turned the tables on them in transition, and completely shut them down on the other end. The Sixers were outscored 32-16 in the second, and it only got worse from there, with the Celtics pulling away at the end of the third, and by pretty early in the fourth, it was pretty clear this was not going to be the Sixers' fourth straight game decided by one point.

Here's the (biggest) problem with the Sixers: They have no interior defense. Lavoy Allen gave the team some good minutes again early, but he quickly got in foul trouble in the second, and the C's took over from there. Thaddeus Young had by far his best offensive game of the playoffs tonight, scoring 22 points on 10-16 shooting, but he just can't hold off Garnett and he can't bang with any of the Celtics bigs—he had just five boards in the game. That's one more than starting center Spencer Hawes managed to grab, in a game where he was miserable on offense (just four points on 2-8 shooting) and even worse on D, not only getting over-powered by Garnett all over the court, but not even bothering to get out to contest most of his 15-18-foot jumpers.

Hardest to watch among our bigs in this series, though, is Elton Brand. After being our best post defender all year, Elton—who has been playing through injury for as long as he can probably remember—finally seems to be wearing down. Not only is he being over-powered by Garnett in the post, he can't even stay in front of him when he's driving. Throw in the Old School Chevy's running-on-empty offense—just 1-6 tonight, including a couple momentum-killing misses on wide-open eight-footers—and I'm starting to wonder if he can even be starting for this team anymore. Love you like my name was Doug Collins, Elton, but...you're a liability in this series.

The guards were more of a mixed bag tonight. After his previously mentioned big first quarter, Jrue (as he is wont to do) turned passive, and only scored five points the rest of the way—though he did augment that with nine assists and six rebounds, and probably gets absolved from most of the blame tonight. Evan Turner, however, does not get let off the hook, scoring just four points on 1-10 shooting, including missing some jumpers that were nearly as easy as Brand's. He did grab a bunch of rebounds (eight) and played sporadically good defense, but we need scoring from Evan in this series, and if he's scoring single digits and missing gimme jumpers, we're probably not gonna win the game. I keep hoping that we're getting to a point where Evan doesn't have games like this, but... (By contrast, Lou Williams was decent enough in this one.)

But rather than get too deep into the many ways the Sixers came up short on this one, attention should probably be paid to just how good the Celtics were tonight. Paul Pierce's 6-17 line doesn't exactly scream "breakout game," but he also willed his way to the line 14 times (making 11), grabbed 12 boards, and had a couple huge dunks in the first half to get him and the team really into the game. After a bum game two, Rondo was magnificent, playing the scorer early (a role he embraces only with great reluctance) and ending with 23 points, 14 dimes, six rebounds and just one turnover. And Garnett...man, I just don't know what we do with this guy when he's playing like this, scoring 27 with 13 boards and just sucking out the Sixers' will to live. We have no answer.

Game Four this Friday. This still counts as just one game, and as good as they looked tonight, there's certainly no guarantee that this'll be the team that shows up in Game Four, rather than the one that played the first two in Boston. But man, the Sixers are gonna have to figure out a way to prevent KG from getting to own the game like this again—even if it means unchaining Nik Vucevic from the bench (who did play the last three minutes in this one, his first post-season burn, notching one point and one board). Not that I think it'll help, but hey, gotta exhaust all options when you're getting killed by one guy this badly. Let's free Craig Brackins while we're at it. And is Tony Battie still loitering on the bench, somewhere? All hands on deck, people.

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

The Sixers had been burned by point guards before. Many times, actually. 

Just a week ago, Kyrie Irving dropped 39 points in the Cavs' 112-108 win. Nineteen came in the decisive fourth quarter. 

On Saturday Isaiah Thomas did the same damage. The undersized All-Star tied his season-high with 37 points in the Celtics' comeback 107-106 victory (see instant replay).

“Isaiah’s an All-Star,” Jahlil Okafor said. “He showed us why tonight. He’s the head of their team and came up big for them like he usually does.” 

Thomas made his impact in spurts. During the Celtics' 9-0 second quarter run, he scored six of those points. In the fourth quarter, in which the game was decided, he dropped 12 straight Celtics points. Thomas finished the night 11 for 19 for the field and only 2 of 3 from three. 

The most telling stat was at the free throw line. Thomas shot 13 for 15 after attacking and drawing fouls, a point of emphasis by head coach Brad Stevens for the second half. 

Thomas scored 15 points in the first half. He noticed a change in the Sixers defense in the second and capitalized on it. The Celtics ability to stretch the floor with their three-point shooting bigs also created opportunities for Thomas to get to the rim. 

“In the second half they sat back a little bit and they were switching a lot,” Thomas explained, also noting, “We wanted to put Okafor in a pick-and-roll. He sits far back. I just wanted to attack him downhill. It’s hard for bigs to move those bigs legs they’ve got. So I just tried to stay in attack mode and I saw we were in the bonus.”

The Sixers have had problems defending the one spot all season. Isaiah Thomas is the fifth starting point guard to score 30 points or more against them. He joins Russell Westbrook (32), Jeff Teague (30 in overtime), James Harden (33) and Irving. Another five (Kemba Walker, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry) have scored 20 or more points. 

The oneness of these high-scoring point guards doesn’t fall solely on the Sixers backcourt, where Sergio Rodriguez has been assuming the starting role in place of the oft-injured Jerryd Bayless. These opponents have been doing their work inside the arc. Of the five who have scored 30, only two (Harden and Irving) attempted more than three treys. 

“We’re all working hard trying to stop them, but it’s easier said than done,” Okafor said. 

The next point guard the Sixers will face is Emmanuel Mudiay when they take on the Nuggets Monday. Last season Mudiay hit the game-winning, buzzer-beating three in Denver. 

Instant Replay: No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31

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Instant Replay: No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31

BOX SCORE

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State got bullied a bit Saturday, but never gave up its lunch money. 

It spent the second half taking control of the schoolyard.

After getting pushed around for much of Saturday night’s first half, the Nittany Lions were anything but punchy after the break. Penn State (No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings) got its high-powered offense into gear in the second and roared back for the school’s first victory in the Big Ten Championship game, 38-31, over No. 6 Wisconsin.

The Nittany Lions (11-2) are bound for the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2009 season and are outright conference champions for the first time in 22 years.  

Penn State trailed by three touchdowns midway through the second quarter but allowed just three points the rest of the night. Quarterback Trace McSorley threw for 384 yards and a title-game record four touchdowns to spark a comeback that saw the Nittany Lions outscore the Badgers 24-3 in the second half. McSorley was named Big Ten Championship game MVP.

Wisconsin missed a 48-yard field goal early in the second half and Penn State needed just 11 seconds to take advantage. McSorley (22 for 31) hit Saeed Blacknall with a 70-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to a touchdown. Saquon Barkley tied it at 28 later in the third with a 1-yard scoring run.

Blacknall ended the night with six catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns while DaeSean Hamilton had eight grabs for 118. 

Wisconsin retook the lead with a short field goal in the final seconds of the third quarter but Penn State went ahead for good on the ensuing drive, which ended with McSorley’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Barkley.

Tyler Davis added a 24-yard field goal later in the fourth and the Penn State defense sealed the victory when Grant Haley stuffed Wisconsin’s Corey Clement on fourth-and-1 with 1:01 to play.

The Nittany Lions fumbled the ball away twice in the opening half — one was returned for a short Badgers touchdown — but only trailed 28-14 at intermission after McSorley hit Blacknall for a 40-yard touchdown with under a minute to play in the half. 

Mike Gesicki caught McSorley’s first scoring pass, a 33-yarder, late in the first quarter.

Clement finished with 164 yards and a touchdown on the ground for the Badgers (10-3), who also got scoring runs from Bradrick Shaw and Dare Ogunbowale. Bart Houston was 16 for 21 for 174 yards. 

Smelling the roses?
Penn State is likely off to Pasadena for the fourth time in school history and is seeking to reach .500 in college football’s longest running postseason game. The Nittany Lions defeated Oregon 38-20 in the 1995 game but fell to Southern California in their other two trips, in 2009 and 1923.

It appears the Trojans might be their opponents once more; No. 4 Washington won the Pac-12 championship Friday night but appears headed for the playoff. The Rose Bowl gets its choice of Pac-12 runner-up Colorado (10-3) or 9-3 USC.

There is a chance Penn State could be selected to the College Football Playoff, but No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington all won this weekend, while No. 2 Ohio State was idle. The playoff will be announced at noon on Sunday.

He’s fine
Sophomore running back running back Saquon Barkley showed no ill effects of a right foot injury suffered during a Nov. 26 win over Michigan State. He added the go-ahead touchdown — and another mention in Penn State’s record book — for good measure.

Barkley, who left in the third quarter of Nittany Lions’ penultimate victory, hauled in a touchdown pass from McSorley in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to give Penn State the lead for good. He had a short scoring run earlier in the period.

Barkley broke Evan Royster’s sophomore rushing record with a 19-carry, 83-yard night to push his season total to 1,302 yards. He set the mark for Penn State freshman (1,076) last fall.

Nice run
Wisconsin’s Andrew Endicott’s 23-yard field goal late in the third quarter snapped a shutout streak that had seen Penn State outscore its opponents 82-0 in the second halves of games. The last scoring play before Endicott’s boot came in the second half of a 45-31 win over Indiana on Nov. 12.