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?

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Jeremy Hellickson made his final start of the season for the Phillies on Thursday night.

Now he becomes the team’s first big offseason decision.

Hellickson had long left the game with a sore right knee by the time struggling reliever Jeanmar Gomez was tagged for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning in what ended up as a 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves (see Instant Replay). The Phillies were swept in their final trip to Turner Field — the Braves will move into a new ballpark in April — and have lost six of their last seven games heading into the final weekend of the season and a three-game series against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

“It’s a bad time to be in a rut and we’re in a rut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “We’ve got to go home and snap out of it.”

Besides supporting his rotation mates, Hellickson won’t make any contributions this weekend. The 29-year-old right-hander, acquired in a November trade with Arizona, finished his season 12-10 in a career-high 32 starts. He tied a career high with 189 innings. His final ERA of 3.71 was his best since he recorded a 3.10 ERA in 31 starts for Tampa Bay in 2012.

Though he left the game in the fourth inning after tweaking his knee while running the bases (see story), Hellickson achieved his season goal.

“This isn’t anything that’s going to linger,” he said, looking down at his knee. “So I came out healthy. That was my main thing, try to throw 200 innings — I fell just short of that — and stay healthy. So as far as those two goals go, it was good.”

By staying healthy and pitching well, Hellickson built himself a nice free-agent platform. But before Hellickson heads out on the open market, the Phillies must make a decision: Do they offer him $17 million to retain him in 2017 or simply let him go. As a rebuilding team, the Phils would love to get a draft pick as compensation for Hellickson’s leaving. But to get that pick, they must make Hellickson that one-year qualifying offer and he must reject it and sign elsewhere. 

It seems likely that the Phils will make the offer to Hellickson. If he takes it, he will return in 2017 and fill the same veteran stabilizer role he did this season. If he rejects, the team will get a pick between the first and second rounds of next year’s draft. The value of that draft pick is significant and was seen as a reason the Phillies did not trade Hellickson in July.

Qualifying offers go out in early November, but general manager Matt Klentak isn’t ready to tip his hand on what he’ll do.

“Both are valuable,” he said, weighing Hellickson's returning on a one-year deal versus picking up a draft selection between the first and second rounds. “For the same reason Jeremy Hellickson was valuable to us this year, Jeremy Hellickson or a player like that could be valuable to us again next year. The draft pick at the end of the first round has a real, measurable, tangible value.”

After Thursday night’s game, Hellickson was asked if he believed he’d made his final start with the Phillies.

“I hope not,” he said. “But I don’t really know how to answer that. I would love to be back here next year. I think everyone knows how much I’ve enjoyed my time here and I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

The pitcher was pressed as to whether he could envision himself accepting the qualifying offer if the Phillies made one.

“Yeah, I mean I definitely could see it,” he said. “But …"

Hellickson paused. Then a reporter broke the silence by suggesting the pitcher would rather get a multi-year deal on the open market.

“Yeah, I would love that actually a little bit more,” he said.

The Phillies could look to strike a multi-year deal with Hellickson before he hits the open market five days after the World Series, but that does not appear to be in the club’s plans. The Phils seem to be interested mostly in short-term deals for veterans as they let their kids develop.

In time, this thing will play out.

But for now, the Phillies head home looking to stop a losing streak and scuttle the Mets’ postseason hopes.

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule. 

Best of MLB: Cardinals top Reds on Molina's disputed double in 9th

Best of MLB: Cardinals top Reds on Molina's disputed double in 9th

ST. LOUIS -- Yadier Molina hit a disputed double that drove in the winning run with two outs in the ninth inning Thursday night, sending the St. Louis Cardinals over the Cincinnati Reds 4-3.

The Cardinals began the day one game behind San Francisco for the second NL wild-card spot.

Matt Carpenter drew a one-out walk from Blake Wood (6-5). With two outs, Molina's one-hop hit appeared to bounce off a sign above the left-field wall and carom back into play.

Carpenter kept running and scored from first. Reds manager Bryan Price ran after the umpires, who left the field as soon as Carpenter touched the plate.

Price later said umpire crew chief Bill Miller told him that teams have 10 seconds to appeal on a game-ending play, and that the complaint wasn't made in time.

"I'm not blaming the umpires. I'm blaming the system," Price said.

Molina and Jedd Gyorko hit solo homers for the Cardinals.

Seung Hwan Oh (6-3) wound up with the win (see full recap).

Jimenez delivers strong start, Orioles blank Blue Jays 4-0
TORONTO -- Ubaldo Jimenez and two relievers combined on a three-hitter and the Baltimore Orioles beat the Blue Jays 4-0 on Thursday night, moving into a tie with Toronto in the AL wild card race with three games remaining.

When he started at Toronto on June 12, Jimenez allowed five runs and six hits in 1/3 of an inning, the shortest start of his career.

The right-hander returned Thursday and carved up the Blue Jays. The only hit he allowed was Ezequiel Carrera's single to begin the first. Josh Donaldson followed with a walk but Jimenez retired the next six batters in order.

Devon Travis walked to open the third and advanced on Carrera's sacrifice, but that was the first of 11 consecutive outs for Jimenez, a streak that ended with Edwin Encarnacion's two-out walk in the sixth. Jose Bautista flied out to end the inning.

Jimenez (8-12) allowed one hit in 6 2/3 innings, improving to 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA in five September starts. He walked three and struck out five (see full recap).

Cubs, Pirates play to rare MLB tie
PITTSBURGH -- The Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates played a rare major league tie on Thursday night when their game was called off due to rain with scores level at 1-all in the sixth inning.

With the Cubs and Pirates not scheduled to play again this season, officials decided the game would not be made up, since its outcome will not affect postseason positioning. Chicago long ago clinched the National League Central, while Pittsburgh is out of playoff reckoning, sitting third in that division.

So instead of becoming a suspended game, the match was declared a tie -- the first since Houston and Cincinnati went seven innings on June 30, 2005, before rain halted them.

Willson Contreras had two hits and scored for the NL Central champion Cubs, who have already clinched the best record in the majors. Josh Bell hit a sacrifice fly for the Pirates.

The game was called in the top of the sixth after a delay of 1 hour, 23 minutes.

Tim Federowicz hit a sacrifice fly in the Cubs second. Pittsburgh tied it in the third.

Cubs rookie Rob Zastryzny gave up one unearned run in 3 2/3 innings in his first major league start after beginning his career with seven relief appearances (see full recap).

Buxton doubles, triples in Twins' 7-6 victory over Royals
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Byron Buxton tripled, doubled, drove in two runs and scored twice as the Minnesota Twins defeated the Kansas City Royals 7-6 on Thursday night.

After Salvador Perez's pinch-hit RBI single with two outs in the ninth pulled the Royals within a run, Terrance Gore ran for him. With Paulo Orlando, who had four hits to match his career high, hitting, Brandon Kintzler picked Gore off first base.

Gore was initially called safe, but after a 1 minute, 15 second review, the call was reversed to end the game.

Buxton's one-out double triggered a three-run ninth off Kelvin Herrera (2-6). Robbie Grossman, Miguel Sano and Max Kepler contributed run-scoring singles in the ninth.

The Twins won for the first time in 10 games this season at Kauffman Stadium (see full recap).