The Moral Victory to End All Moral Victories: Thoughts on Sixers' Game 4 Win

The Moral Victory to End All Moral Victories: Thoughts on Sixers' Game 4 Win

While leaving the Wells Fargo Center
yesterday after the Sixers' stunning 86-82 victory over the Heat, my
parents and I came to the realization that we had no idea when game five
of this series was going to be played. Probably it would be Tuesday or
Wednesday, but none of us had thought to check. After all, it seemed
irrelevant information—the Sixers were going to lose, and when or where
game five would have theoretically been played was going to be a moot
point. There didn't seem like a point in entertaining any notions to the
contrary—a win yesterday would be the most surprising W in recent
franchise history.

Looking at the first three games of the series, it might have seemed
like an overreaction to deem game four's result a foregone conclusion.
In two out of the three games, the Sixers were within striking distance
at game's end, it certainly shouldn't have been impossible to envision
Philly coming away with one of those games. But it wasn't the amount the
Heat won by that was so discouraging, it was the way that they appeared
to laze in the games, almost handicapping the Sixers to multi-digit
leads, before deciding at some point in the second quarter that eh, OK,
we'll actually win this game now. The Sixers seemed a team not in
control of their own fate, but rather one at the mercy of an opponent
that was absolutely unbeatable when they decided to give a damn.

Game four followed the predictable formula. The Sixers owned the
first quarter, up by 12 at the end, and outplayed the Heat for much of
the second quarter until all of a sudden, Miami decided that fun time
was over. The term "flip the switch" is one of the most overused in the
NBA, but there's really no other way to properly describe the
transformation the Heat underwent in that second quarter—all of a
sudden, the defense was trapping and causing turnovers, Wade couldn't
miss from anywhere on the field, and the shooters who had been bricking
open threes all half finally started to hit. The double-digit lead that
the Sixers spent 20 minutes building and maintaining disappeared in two,
and the Heat seemed to seize control of the game.

Even when the Sixers hung tough for the third and fourth, trailing
for most but never letting the score get out of hand, it was mostly
impressive that the boys looked like they were going to die on their
feet, rather than conceding the inevitable victory ahead of time. So
when Wade threw down the putback on LeBron's miss to put the Heat up six
with 90 seconds to go, I wasn't mad or upset, and I certainly wasn't
disappointed. The boys tried their absolute damnedest, they stood up to a
team that was obviously better than they were, and they were going to
lose with pride in front of a crowd that understood the task in front of
them was just a little bit beyond their grasp. LeBron and Wade—what are
you gonna do, really?

But for one day, the Sixers weren't following the script. I was
surprised enough to see Evan Turner connect on a baseline runner to cut
it to four—figured the Wade putback was spirit-crushing enough that that
would be the end of the Sixers' scoring for the night, and besides,
ET's last couple jumpers had gotten swatted away like badminton
shuttlecocks. But then a Miami miss, and Jrue Holiday dancing around the
three-point arc before squaring up for a three—swish. What the hell? Another
Miami stop, and then Lou Williams, at the top of the arc in single
coverage, pulling up for a three—the kind of three you never want anyone
to have to take, but that if someone has to take, it should probably be
a guy like Sweet Lou—which somehow, someway found twine. A missed
LeBron runner, and a couple Turner free throws, and all of a sudden the
Sixers were heading to game five in Miami, a trip that no one—not at the beginning of the day, and certainly not with 90 seconds to go—expected them to make.

"How did the Sixers win that game?" my dad would ask in
bewilderment afterwards. I had no answer. Sometimes you get lucky. The
Sixers were in many ways lucky, with the Heat missing many of the
putbacks and close-range shots that they'd killed Philly with in the
first three games, and their knockown shooters weren't exactly knocking
down many shots, with designated gunners Mike Bibby, Mario Chalmers and
James Jones going a combined 4-16 from deep, mostly on damn good looks.
And while neither could hardly be considered a desperation heave,
neither of the final shots from Jrue or Lou coud rightly be considered
good shots—just ones that were necessary due to time and circumstance,
and ones that happened to go in.

Then again, sometimes your guys just make plays. Despite the
fourth-quarter rejections, Evan had already put together another fine
game (ending with 17 points on 7-13 shooting), again playing a stellar
two-guard off the bench, catching and shooting, creating off the
dribble, penetrating unafraid. While Jrue had struggled some, shooting
just 4-11 with four TOs, he'd already proven his clutch-shooting
bonafides earlier in the series with some big threes in Game One, and
you felt good about him being the one taking such a pivotal shot. And
while Lou Will had some epic struggles in the game's first three
quarters, he came alive in the fourth (as he frequently seems to, though
still not as frequently as we'd like), the final basket just three of
his 11 final-quarter points. Even Elton Brand, who'd played solid
defense on Chris Bosh all game and abused him on the other end for 15
points on 6-11 shooting, made a huge play in tipping LeBron's final shot
so it went high off the backboard and fell off the rim. As surprising
as all the big plays were collectively, individually they were arguably
all fairly overdue.

As Kate Fagan astutely pointed out,
though, the main reason this win feels so good isn't just the
unpredictability of the whole thing—it's that it feels like the Sixers'
future is validated somewhat (and we should probably stress, only sliightly
somewhat) by the result. The way Jrue and Evan, the guys who are
supposed to give this team life for the next decade, have stepped up in
this series is immensely encouraging, and perhaps Exhibit A for the "try
for post-season" side in the perennial "try for post-season" vs. "tank
for draft picks" mediocre-team debate. It doesn't mean that Turner has
necessarily turned the corner in this league, or that Holiday will show
up next year as an all-star out of training camp, but it'd be hard to
argue that this won't be huge for either player in terms of building
confidence and gaining valuable experience for the years moving forward.
How could it not be?

Now as much as we'd like to make like this is now a series, the fact
remains that as unlikely as it was that the Sixers would win yesterday
at home, it's twice as unlikely that they'll grind out a W at game five
in Miami. The Heat will very probably close out the series on Wednesday,
making this little more than a moral victory. But as far as moral
victories go, it's hard to top this—a surprise come-from-behind win
against a bitterly detested opponent, one with contributions from nearly
everyone you'd hope for, one which prevents an embarrassing sweep and
proves that as superior as the Heat may be to the Sixers in nearly every
way, the Sixers have heart, character, and yes, even talent enough to
steal a win from them on occasion. Who's getting excited for game five?

NHL Playoffs: Sharks win to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

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NHL Playoffs: Sharks win to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and the rest of the San Jose Sharks gathered around the Campbell Bowl for a celebratory picture after winning the Western Conference final.

In that moment, all those past playoff disappointments and collapses were forgotten. It will take four more wins to put to rest those questions about if they had the fortitude to win it all.

Captain Joe Pavelski scored an early goal, Joel Ward added two more and the Sharks advanced to their first Stanley Cup final in franchise history by beating the St. Louis Blues 5-2 on Wednesday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference final.

"It's a pretty cool feeling," Thornton said. "Obviously it's our first time. It was pretty neat to get this done at home. The fans here have waited so long, 25 years. We've waited 18 years or so. So it's a great feeling."

Joonas Donskoi also scored, Logan Couture had an empty-netter and Martin Jones made 24 saves as a Sharks team notorious for postseason letdowns will play for the championship that has eluded Thornton and Marleau since they entered the league as the top two picks in 1997.

Thornton assisted on Pavelski's goal less than four minutes into the game to set the tone and Marleau had two assists in the third period that set off chants of "We Want The Cup! We Want The Cup!"

"We're just enjoying the ride right now," Marleau said. "We've had some really good teams over the years."

Despite making the playoffs 16 times in 18 seasons and winning the second-most games in the NHL since the start of the 2003-04 season, the Sharks have been known for their soul-crushing playoff disappointments.

They won just three games in three previous trips to the conference final, were knocked out twice in four seasons by a No. 8 seed and most notably blew a 3-0 series lead to lose in the first round to Los Angeles in 2014.

The impact of that loss lasted for a while as San Jose missed the playoffs entirely last season. But led by first-year coach Peter DeBoer and bolstered by some key acquisitions by general manager Doug Wilson, the Sharks recovered this year and are now only four wins from a championship.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final will be Monday night. The Sharks will either host Tampa Bay or visit Pittsburgh, depending on which team wins Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

"It's a great moment for those guys who have put in a lot of work but we still have another series to go," Couture said. "We still have four more wins to try to get. It's another step. This is the third one now. We're ready for that next challenge."

With the loss, the Blues' postseason woes continue as the franchise still seeks its first championship and first trip to the Cup final since 1970. Coach Ken Hitchcock's second goalie change of the series did not work as Brian Elliott allowed four goals on 26 shots in his return to the net.

Vladimir Tarasenko, a 40-goal scorer in the regular season, got his first points of the series when he scored twice in the third period but it was too late for the Blues, who still trailed 4-2.

"It stings right now," captain David Backes said. "Six more wins and we're having parades on Market Street. Right now ... not enough."

This was the first time in San Jose's history that the team played with a trip to the Stanley Cup final on the line. The atmosphere in the Shark Tank reflected the high stakes with the fans at a frenzy during pregame introductions and the "Let's Go Sharks!" chants starting soon after the puck dropped.

The Sharks fed off that energy and were buzzing early as Hitchcock predicted before the game. St. Louis nearly silenced the crowd when Alexander Steen got a chance in the slot early in the period but Jones robbed him with a glove save.

That led to a breakaway for Thornton, who missed the net on his chance. But Pavelski recovered the puck behind the net and before Elliott knew what was happening, Pavelski tucked the puck in on a wraparound for his NHL-leading 13th goal of the playoffs.

San Jose added to the lead early in the second when Ward tipped a point shot from Brent Burns past Elliott to make it 2-0.

Ward's second goal and another by Donskoi in the third period removed any drama and allowed the fans to celebrate and the Blues to ponder their missed opportunity.

"They're hurting right now," Hitchcock said. "We're all hurting. "You don't want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block."

Notes
Marleau played his 165th career playoff game, the most ever for someone who never played in the finals. Thornton is next on the list with 150 games, followed by Curtis Joseph with 133. ... The only franchise that has played longer than San Jose without going to a Cup final is Arizona, which began NHL play as the Winnipeg Jets in 1979-80.

NBA Playoffs: Cavs respond to destroy Raptors in Game 5

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NBA Playoffs: Cavs respond to destroy Raptors in Game 5

BOX SCORE

CLEVELAND -- Back home, the Cavaliers were not hospitable.

They rudely roughed up the Raptors again.

LeBron James scored 23 points then sat the fourth quarter, Kevin Love scored 25, and Cleveland unleashed tenacious defense on Toronto to regain control of the Eastern Conference finals with a 116-78 rout of the Raptors in Game 5 on Wednesday night.

On their court in front of 20,000-plus screaming fans following two straight losses in Canada, the Cavs opened a 34-point lead in the first half and never slowed while taking a 3-2 series lead.

They can clinch their second straight conference title and trip to the NBA Finals with a win in Game 6 on Friday night in Toronto.

"We ought to be able to transfer that on Friday," James said. "Playing in that beast of an arena that we're going to we got to be composed, we got to be tough and we got to be sharp."

The Raptors, who came in with momentum and confidence after winning Games 3 and 4, left Quicken Loans Arena shaken and one loss from having their deepest playoff run stopped.

"They kicked our butts, bottom line," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "That's been all three ballgames."

James had eight assists and six rebounds in 31 minutes before checking out late in the third quarter with the Cavs up 37. He spent the fourth quarter resting on the bench while Cleveland's reserves finished the romp.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points and he, James and Love outscored the Raptors 43-34 in the first half. Cleveland has won its three games in the series by a combined 88 points.

"They are a different team here," Casey said. "We came in here with a chance to do something special and we didn't get it done. They pushed us around and took what they wanted."

DeMar DeRozan scored 14 points and Kyle Lowry had 13 for the Raptors, who were overwhelmed from the start. Bismack Biyombo had just four rebounds after getting 40 the past two games. The only positive for Toronto was center Jonas Valanciunas, who returned after missing eight straight games with a sprained right ankle. He scored nine points in 18 minutes.

Playing defense as if every possession was the game's last, Cleveland held Toronto to 34 points in the opening half while building a 31-point halftime lead -- the largest in conference finals history. Since their expansion arrival in 1993, the Raptors had never been down by 30 before in any game -- regular or postseason -- at halftime but they have rarely seen a defense like this either.

The Cavs were all over the court, swarming and stifling DeRozan and Lowry, who combined for 67 points in Game 4.

A courtside doctor might have stopped this one in the first half.

Love found his shooting touch after it went missing during the lost weekend in Toronto, where he went just 5 of 23 and was benched for the fourth quarter of Game 4. He finished 8 of 10 from the field, a confidence-boosting performance that should temporarily quiet his critics.

"Kevin Love being Kevin Love," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "He had two bad shooting games and we made a big deal out of it. Nothing he does amazes me. We gotta keep him aggressive all the time."

The Cavs made a point of getting Love the ball right away and he responded by making all four field goal attempts, dropping a 3 late in the first quarter that pushed the Cavs to a 37-19 lead.

"He was just locked in," James said. "We saw that and just wanted to keep giving him the ball. The easiest one he had tonight, he missed."

Cleveland's onslaught continued in the second quarter, and when James got free for an easy two-handed dunk, Cavs fans could relax and begin making TV viewing plans for Friday.

These looked more like the Cavaliers who opened the postseason with 10 straight wins, obliterated the Raptors by a combined 50 points in Games 1 and 2 and given a chance to beat whomever survived in the West.

Center of attention
Valanciunas hadn't played since May 7. He scored two quick baskets in the first quarter when the Raptors were still close.

Tip-ins
Raptors: Dropped to 2-7 on the road in this postseason. ... Played a game every other day since April 29, going 7-7. . Biyombo and Valanciunas are the only teammates with at least 120 rebounds this postseason.

Cavaliers: Trumped their 31-point win in Game 1, which was the previous most lopsided playoff victory in team history. ... James played in his 191st career postseason game, moving him ahead of Magic Johnson for 12th place on the all-time list. ... James (1,320) is tied with Kobe Bryant (1,320) for the second-most free throws in postseason history. Michael Jordan made 1,463. ... Improved to 7-0 at home in these playoffs.

Up next
Game 6 is Friday night in Toronto.

Best of MLB: Walk-off single gives Giants 13th win in last 14 games

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Best of MLB: Walk-off single gives Giants 13th win in last 14 games

SAN FRANCISCO -- Brandon Crawford singled in Matt Duffy with two outs in the 10th inning, and the surging San Francisco Giants beat the San Diego Padres 4-3 Wednesday for their 13th win in 14 games.

Duffy singled off Brad Hand (1-2) with one out, pinch-hitter Hunter Pence popped out, Duffy advanced on a wild pitch and Crawford hit a 1-2 offering over center fielder Jon Jay as Duffy scored standing up.

Crawford also singled and scored after some alert baserunning in the second inning. Duffy and Denard Span drove in runs for the NL West-leading Giants.

San Francisco completed a three-game sweep, extended its winning streak to five and improved to 9-0 against the Padres this season. The Giants' two walkoff wins in the series were against Hand (see full recap).

Arrieta moves to 9-0 in Cubs' win over Cards
ST. LOUIS -- Jake Arrieta remained unbeaten on the season despite allowing as many as four runs for the first time in nearly a year and the Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 9-8 on Wednesday.

Arrieta (9-0) joined the White Sox's Chris Sale as the only nine-game winners in the majors.

Arrieta allowed four runs in a regular-season game for the first time since June 16, 2015.

Arrieta became the first Cub to win his first nine decisions since Kenny Holtzman in 1967 and it is the best start to a season for the franchise since Jim McCormick went 16-0 in 1886.

Kris Bryant hit a three-run homer and Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist each drove in two for the Cubs (see full recap).

Bradley extends hit streak to 29 in BoSox victory
BOSTON -- Jackie Bradley Jr. extended his major league-best hitting streak to 29 games, Xander Bogaerts homered to extend his hitting streak to 18 games and the Boston Red Sox beat the Colorado Rockies 10-3 on Wednesday night for their fourth straight win.

Travis Shaw had three RBIs and Boston moved to a season-best 12 games over .500. The Red Sox have scored eight or more runs 10 times in their last 14 home games.

Steven Wright (4-4) had another solid outing, giving up three runs, two earned. He has now given up three runs or fewer in eight of his nine starts.

Chad Bettis (4-3) held the Red Sox scoreless through three innings but was responsible for seven runs over the next two innings before getting pulled.

The Rockies have lost six of their last seven -- all on the road (see full recap).