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 Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers forward Kevin Hayes will miss two to three weeks with a lower-body injury.

The team announced the timeline Monday after Hayes underwent an MRI in the morning. Hayes left the Rangers' game Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period.

Hayes had seven points in his previous six games and is third on the team in points with 35. The 24-year-old has 13 goals and 22 assists in 47 games this season.

His injury is a major blow to New York, which holds the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The silver lining for the Rangers is that Hayes will miss fewer games because of the upcoming All-Star break.

Senators sign Zack Smith to 4-year, $13 million extension
OTTAWA, Ontario -- The Ottawa Senators have signed forward Zack Smith to a four-year contract extension worth $13 million.

The Senators said that the extension goes through the 2020-21 season and carries an annual average value of $3.25 million.

Smith, 28, has 11 goals and 11 assists in 43 games this season and is averaging a career-high 16 minutes, 13 seconds per game.

He set career highs with 25 goals and 36 points in 2015-16. He has 75 goals and 61 assists in 443 games, all with the Senators.

Smith was Ottawa's third-round pick (79th overall) in the 2008 draft.

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

In the eighth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 8 is Mathews to Means.

Ryan Mathews
Cap hit: $5M

Roob: The Eagles have to get better, younger, faster, healthier, more durable and more reliable at running back. I love the way Mathews runs when he’s healthy. The guy runs hard and he runs physical and he's aggressive. Then he always gets hurt. Mathews actually has the third-highest per-carry average among running backs in Eagles history, but they just can’t rely on him anymore. How can you count on a running back who misses significant time every year? Time to move on. Factor in the cap savings — $4 million if the Eagles release him — and it’s a no-brainer.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $4 million in cap room to cut the running back who needed serious neck surgery after his season was ended in the Giants' game. Mathews played pretty well in his two seasons with the Eagles, but, as has been the case during his career, health was an issue. And now he’s 29 and will turn 30 early into next season. Time to move on. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Matthews
Cap hit: $1.57M

Roob: Matthews is going into Year 4 and I’d still like to see him make a jump and become a 1,200-yard type of receiver. Maybe it will happen with another year under his belt with Carson Wentz. Matthews has the 11th-most catches in NFL history by a player in his first three seasons — 225, or 75 per year — but his 2,673 yards are 50th most. Matthews is as hard a worker and as committed a player as you’ll see. He'll get the most out of his ability. I’d just like to see him take his game up one more level, and I think he will.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s a shame the Eagles don’t have any legitimate threats at their outside receiver positions, because if they did, so much of the burden wouldn’t fall on Matthews. No, he’s not a great receiver, but he’s a very good one who has been solid in his first three years in the league. In his first three seasons, Matthews has 225 catches for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns. There have been just 10 receivers in the league to put up those numbers or better: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Doug Baldwin, Mike Evans, Randall Cobb and Brandon Marshall. Matthews isn’t going anywhere and it’s time to think about an extension. 

Verdict: STAYS

Alex McCalister
Cap hit: $557K

Roob: McCalister, a seventh-round defensive end, spent the year on injured reserve but considering the Eagles’ lack of pass-rush potency, he’ll definitely get a look this summer. McCalister had 17½ sacks at Florida, so he’s got that going for him. Still a long shot.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: This is tough because McCalister was a seventh-round draft pick who was placed on IR with a injury that didn’t appear to be serious. The last year was a redshirt season for the defensive end who has some pass-rush ability but needed to work on packing more muscle onto his frame. Haven’t seen enough to think he sticks. 

Verdict: GOES

Leodis McKelvin
Cap hit: $3.45M

Roob: The Eagles have to do better than McKelvin. He made a few plays, gave up a lot more, and as far as I’m concerned, the Eagles should hang onto Jalen Mills and get rid of all their other corners. Not to mention the $3.2 million in cap savings the Eagles would gain if McKelvin is released. See ya.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $3.2 million by cutting McKelvin, which will probably happen. If it doesn’t, it’ll be because the Eagles think his lingering hamstring issue played a big role in his play and because defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz goes to bat for him. Ultimately, I think McKelvin’s days in Philly are over. 

Verdict: GOES

Rodney McLeod
Cap hit: $5.6M

Roob: McLeod played really well most of the season, tailed off the last few weeks, and goes into next year a question mark because of that inconsistency. When he’s right, McLeod is a sure tackler, willing run supporter, big hitter and capable in coverage. But those last few weeks raised some eyebrows. There were times you just wondered what he was doing out there. If the Eagles can have the first-10-games McLeod for a full season, they’re fine. But he has to be consistent. He’ll be here through 2017 but after that is anybody’s guess. Another mixed year will likely spell the end here for McLeod.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: There were a few plays that showed questionable effort from McLeod this season, which was shocking based on his past. He was an undrafted rookie who worked his way into the league and into a contract with the Eagles. This ended up being a pretty good signing; he had a nice season. He’s under contract through 2020 and the Eagles hope he hasn’t yet fulfilled his potential. He and Malcolm Jenkins should only get better after more time playing together. 

Verdict: STAYS

Steven Means
Cap hit: $690K

Roob: Means, a veteran journeyman defensive end, played only 36 snaps all year. He did pick up one sack against the Vikings, but as far as his future? Most likely, he won’t be back.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Means did everything in his power last training camp to make the 2016 roster. He flashed every day and in the preseason games. But in 2016, he didn’t get to play very much and was clearly buried on the depth chart behind Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith. The Eagles need to upgrade at the defensive end spot, which might be bad news for Means if more bodies come in. But for now, he's a good depth piece. 

Verdict: STAYS