The Best, If Not The Best, Win of the Year: Sixers Thump Bulls at WFC

The Best, If Not The Best, Win of the Year: Sixers Thump Bulls at WFC

Two very convincing cases were made tonight at the Wells Fargo Center. They were as follows:

1. The Sixers deserve to be taken seriously as a threat in the Eastern Conference.
2. Andre Iguodala deserves to be selected for the 2011-12 NBA All-Star Game.

We'll get to #2 in a bit, but obviously, let's concentrate first and
foremost on the more important #1. Simply put, the Sixers were awesome
tonight in their 98-82 win over the Bulls. They did everything you'd
want your basketball team to do, minus another fourth-quarter stretch
where things got a little tighter than need be. They hustled. They
executed. They took care of the ball. They shared the ball beautifully.
They hit from the outside. They scored easy baskets in the paint. They
got out on the break. They finished on the break. They got to the free-throw line. They converted at the free-throw line. No one player dominated, but they got contributions from everyone.

And they defended. Oh, lord, how they defended. Watching the game with
my roommate, we wondered why the Bulls weren't just dumping the ball
into the post, where front line Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah should've
been able to manhandle the undersized Sixers until we realized that
maybe the Sixers defense on the perimeter was just so stifling that they
were never even able to get the ball that far in. It took a world-class
penetrator (chortle) like Derrick Rose to break through, and though
Rose did do that on occasion—oh me oh my, is he a marvelous basketball
player—he didn't take over (18 points on 8-17 FG), he didn't get to the
line (1-3 FT, though he and the rest of the Bulls got jobbed on a couple
calls), and he didn't get any help from his teammates (no other starter
scored in the double digits). The Sixers racked up ten steals, and
seemed to spend the entire third quarter on the fast break.

Heroes for the Sixers were everywhere. Credit must first be given to
Lavoy Allen, turning into perhaps the most pleasantly surprising of all
the Sixers' many pleasant surprises this season. Not only did Lavoy
Allen rack up a career-high 15 points on 7-10 shooting, finishing plays
in the paint for the Sixers where there's been a seven-foot-sized
absence for the Sixers since Spencer went down, even scoring on a couple
Basketball Moves of his own, and not only did grab six boards and swipe
two steals to go with it, but he also distributed an impressive three
assists—tying a career high set Monday against Orlando. Needless to say,
big man got skills.

Jrue Holiday was another leading light for the Ballers tonight, bouncing
back from his rough game against the Magic with 17 points (8-15
shooting), five assists and just one turnover, converting some huge
layups and a game-breaking three to put the Sixers up 20 in the third
quarter. Lou Williams took some terrible shots (duh) but got himself to
the line, scoring 14 and keeping the Sixers afloat in that rocky fourth.
Thaddeus Young added 19 points and eight rebounds in what didn't even
feel like a particularly impressive game for the super-sub. And Evan
Turner, despite a rough 1-6 night shooting, still put up six rebounds,
four assists and two steals, and shut down sharpshooter (and ex-Sixer)
Kyle Korver on the perimeter after it looked like KK might have been on
the way to an Andre Miller/Willie Green-style Revenge Night game against
his old team.

But you guys know who this game was really about. The All-Star candidacy of Andre Iguodala has been a debate
among Sixers fans (and a discussion topic in the Sixers locker room)
for a few weeks now, and after tonight, I believe he's finally gonna get
there. In the Sixers' biggest game of the season, it was Andre Iguodala
and not Derrick Rose who was the most dominant player on the court—'Dre
was absolutely everywhere tonight, keying the Sixers' defensive effort
on the wings, getting two steals, grabbing nine boards, handing out four
assists and pouring in 19 points on 8-13 shooting, including 2-3 from
deep. In one stretch in the third quarter, 'Dre slammed home a
fast-break dunk, hit a step-back three and then slammed home another,
much louder fast-break dunk, whipping the WFC into a frenzy we haven't
seen since Game Four of the playoffs last year.

Look, it wasn't a perfect game from 'Dre—it never is, never has been,
never will be. He still coughed up the ball three times, split his only
two free throws, took a handful of ridiculously ill-advised shots
(though at least he hit a couple of them tonight). But if you ever
needed a demonstration of his value to the 76ers, of what he can and
does do for this team, you saw it on the floor against Chicago. There
aren't five players in the whole league that could've done all of what
'Dre did tonight, and on a team with one of the best records in the East
but no immediately obvious All-Star candidate, it will almost certainly
fall to 'Dre to get his first nomination in his eight seasons of being
one of the league's most underappreciated players. (By the way, look
back on that 2004 draft sometime. Besides Dwight Howard and maybe Josh Smith–another likely first-time AllStar this year—is there anyone you'd rather have on your team than Andre Iguodala?)

So, a hell of a win for the Sixers—"The best, if not the best, win of
the year," Zumoff adroitly put it as the Sixers pulled away in the
third. Sure, you could say that it's not a 100% on-the-level win—the
Bulls were, after all, missing two starters in Luol Deng and Rip
Hamilton—but eventually, you have to ask yourself: Who are the really
good, totally healthy teams in the East this year? Not the Bulls. Not
the Hawks. Not the Pacers. Not the Heat, until very recently. Nobody,
including the Sixers, have had all their key parts available for all (or
even most) of this season, yet it's the Sixers who are now 5-1 against
playoff-bound East teams. In the words of Mike McDermott from Rounders, if you look at your schedule and can't spot the real Eastern Conference contenders, then you are one of those Eastern Conference contenders. 

Next up, then: The Miami Heat, dispensers of the only decisive Sixers
loss this season, on Friday at the Wells Fargo Center. Despite the good
feeling from this win, I still can't feel too great about facing
Miami—mostly because with the players on their team, I'm not really sure
why they should ever lose to anyone, ever—but they've already made
their point in the first two games of this tough seven-game swing. We've
still got a long way to go, but the 16-6 Sixers—just one game behind
the pace of their finals-bound 2001 season—are for real. Time to get
with this, people.

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor pushed an RBI single through Washington's drawn-in infield with one out in the ninth inning, and the Cleveland Indians rallied for three runs in their final at-bat to stun the Washington Nationals 7-6 on Tuesday night in a matchup of two first-place teams with sights on October.

Down two runs and three outs from their losing streak reaching a season-high four games, the Indians rallied against Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon (2-4), who did not get an out before he was pulled by manager Dusty Baker.

With the bases loaded, Lindor fisted his base hit into right field and danced his way up the first-base line as the Indians celebrated an improbable victory.

Bryan Shaw (2-4) got two outs in the ninth and picked up the win as Cleveland won its first home game since July 10 (see full recap).

Cardinals take first game of doubleheader with Mets, 3-2
NEW YORK -- Jedd Gyorko homered again, hitting a two-run drive off Noah Syndergaard that sent the St. Louis Cardinals over the New York Mets 3-2 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.

Gyorko connected for the sixth time in eight games, giving him 13 this season. The Cardinals lead the NL in home runs with 137, matching last year's total.

The Mets played at home for the first time since the All-Star break and lost in a matchup of NL wild-card contenders. Citi Field was nearly empty at the start, a day after a rainout forced the twinbill.

Carlos Martinez (10-6) gave up a two-run homer to Rene Rivera and left after the fifth inning with a 3-2 lead. Three relievers finished, with Seung Hwan Oh getting his fifth save in six chances.

Syndergaard (9-5) has won only one of his last five starts (see full recap).

Colon, Mets top Cards, 3-1, for doubleheader split
NEW YORK -- Bartolo Colon pitched three-hit ball for seven sharp innings and the New York Mets overcame another home run by Jedd Gyorko to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 Tuesday night for a doubleheader split.

Gyorko homered in both ends and has connected seven times in nine games. His two-run shot helped St. Louis win the opener 3-2.

Colon (9-5) struck out eight and walked none. After Gyorko homered in the second and Alberto Rosario doubled in the third, Colon set down 14 of his final 15 batters.

Addison Reed worked the eighth and Jeurys Familia closed for his 36th save this year and 52nd in a row during the regular season.

White Sox avoid Chapman, down Cubs 3-0 behind Shields
CHICAGO -- James Shields allowed four singles in 7 2/3 innings, Adam Eaton homered and the White Sox stayed unbeaten since Chris Sale's suspension by beating the Cubs 3-0 Tuesday night in Chicago's crosstown rivalry.

The Cubs lost their second straight and never got to use new closer Aroldis Chapman hours after he joined the team and struggled answering questions related to an altercation last year with his girlfriend.

Shields (5-12) struck out five and continued an impressive turnaround from a terrible first three starts after being acquired from San Diego last month. Nate Jones finished the eighth and David Robertson worked the ninth for his 24th save in the White Sox's fourth straight win since their ace was sent home for destroying throwback jerseys.

Jose Abreu had two hits, including an RBI single in the first off Kyle Hendricks (9-7) that ended his streak of 22 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run (see full story).

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — The Phillies enjoyed a three-week stretch before the All-Star break when they were the best hitting team in baseball.

In the final 19 games before the break, they hit .308 with a .871 OPS. Both marks were tops in the majors over that span. They averaged 5.63 runs per game in that stretch.

The run of sturdy offense created some excitement and anticipation heading into the second half of the season. But that excitement and anticipation has now dissipated. Since coming back from the break, the Phillies’ offense has retreated back to invisibility.

The Phils were blanked, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night, wasting a terrific start from Jerad Eickhoff (see Instant Replay).

After the game, manager Pete Mackanin was peeved.

“The only thing positive I can say about this game is Eickhoff,” Mackanin said. “He was outstanding. He had a great curveball, hit his spots, pitched well. It was a pitchers' duel up until the end. I’m real happy about that. 

"But that’s about all I’m happy about.”

Marlins starter Tom Koehler and a trio of relievers held the Phillies to just four singles.

Phillies hitters struck out 10 times. They have averaged 9.5 strikeouts in 12 games since coming back from the break and hit just .208. They are averaging just 2.75 runs in the 12 games since the break and carrying a 4-8 record.

“Poor plate discipline,” Mackanin said. “Poor plate discipline. Swinging at too many bad pitches. We get ourselves out too often. That’s about all I can think of.

“Koehler pitched well. But we helped him out a lot. We didn’t give him a chance to walk us. We swung at too many bad pitches. That’s our problem. We just get ourselves out too often. That’s what it boils down to.

“If you’re a free swinger who’s going to hit 30-plus home runs and drive in 100 runs, that’s acceptable to me. But if you’re not a power hitter, it’s unacceptable. You’ve got to make adjustments. You’ve got improve on it. You’ve got to work on it.”

Peter Bourjos offered his thoughts on the Phillies’ offensive struggles since the All-Star break.

“It's almost like it was probably bad timing for that break,” he said. “Everything was rolling. We were swinging the bats really well. Everyone looked comfortable in the box and feeling good and it's tough right now. You can see what there was with the offense. I think it's going to come back. We just need to get back into the rhythm that we had and everything's going to be all right.”

Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight, a big improvement over his previous start when these same Marlins tagged him for nine hits and six runs in five innings.

“I was more aggressive,” Eickhoff said. “It’s amazing what being aggressive will do for your game and how hitters will react. I threw my fastball inside and that set up my curveball so much more.”

The poor run support was nothing new for Eickhoff. He entered the game receiving an average of just 3.53 runs per game, 10th worst in the majors.

It was a scoreless game until there were two outs in the sixth. That’s when Giancarlo Stanton swatted a two-out RBI single to right, scoring Martin Prado from second. Stanton’s hit rolled untouched through the second base area because the Phillies’ defense was shifted to the pull side.

“We’ve got to play a shift on him,” Mackanin said of baseball's most fearsome power bat.

The game got out of hand when the bullpen was tagged for four runs in the eighth. Ichiro Suzuki stroked career hit No. 2,997 to get the Marlins’ late rally started.

In the first inning, Suzuki launched a long drive to the gap in right-center. Rightfielder Bourjos ran the ball down and made a terrific catch while crashing into the wall. He left the game with a jammed right shoulder and could miss some time (see story).

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jerad Eickhoff pitched seven innings of one-run ball, but still came away with a loss as the Phillies were shut out, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.

Giancarlo Stanton drove in the Marlins’ first two runs with a single and a double.

Stanton gave the Marlins a 1-0 lead with a two-out base hit to right field against Eickhoff in the sixth inning. Stanton’s groundball hit rolled through the second base area, which had been vacated by the shift.

The Marlins blew the game open with four runs against the Phillies’ bullpen in the eighth.

The Phillies are 4-8 since the All-Star break and 46-56 overall.

Starting pithing report
Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight.

Miami manager Don Mattingly pulled Tom Koehler after the right-hander pitched six shutout innings and had allowed just three hits. Koehler walked one, struck out five and threw just 73 pitches. He exited with a 1-0 lead.

Koehler pitched eight innings of two-run ball in a win over the Phillies last week.

Bullpen report 
Andrew Bailey was charged with three runs in the eighth.

Mike Dunn, David Phelps and Nick Wittgren completed the shutout for the Marlins. 

At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits, all singles, and struck out 10 times. They were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position and are 1 for 13 the last two nights.

Stanton had been just 3 for 35 against the Phils this season before his shift-beating RBI hit in the sixth. He hit the ball much harder in the eighth inning when he clouted an RBI double to right-center against Bailey.

Adeiny Hechavarria padded the Marlins’ lead with a two-run single in their four-run eighth inning.

Ichiro Suzuki’s eighth-inning single left him three hits shy of 3,000 in his big-league career.

Health check
Rightfielder Peter Bourjos injured his right shoulder making a catch against the wall in the first inning and left the game (see story).

Minor matters
Ranger Suarez, a 20-year-old left-hander from Venezuela, pitched a seven-inning no-hitter for the Phillies’ Single A Williamsport club on Tuesday night.

Up next
The series concludes on Wednesday afternoon. Zach Eflin (3-3, 3.40) pitches against Miami lefty Adam Conley (6-5, 3.58).