Things That Happened Tonight: The Sixers Won a Playoff Series

Things That Happened Tonight: The Sixers Won a Playoff Series

Now that I've had to settle down and finally stopped cracking up—just
kidding, I'll be spending the rest of my life laughing about the last 30
seconds of this game—it's time to talk a little bit more about what
just happened. For those of you that didn't watch the game, here's the
30-second version: The Sixers led for most of the game, went bone-dry
late, relied on Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams to bail them out (they
didn't), went down three with a half-minute left, looked for all the
world like they would lose, made a bucket, fouled the right guy (he
missed two), and then.

And then.

OK, credit really must go to Andre Iguodala for taking the rebound and
running with it. Remember that overtime game in Denver where the Sixers
had a chance to win it in OT, and Jrue Holiday got the ball off a missed
free throw (or something) and thought Coach Collins would call a
timeout, except he didn't and he got confused and ended up turning the
ball over and the team lost? No confusion this time. 'Dre broke out and
went straight for the basket, forcing the Bulls to foul.

Great. Two at the line with a chance to tie it and send it to overtime.
Well, yeah, technically they could also win the game if 'Dre made
both—they were only down one and there were just 2.2 seconds left in the
game with no timeouts for the Bulls, so it would be hard for them to
score to take the lead back. But yeah, no, that wasn't gonna happen. You
could probably count the number of times on one hand that Andre
Iguodala (who shot 62% for the year) had made two of two from the line,
and absolutely zero of them were in anything resembling clutch
situations. (NBA statmaster John Schumann had his clutch FT shooting at a
stunning 7-18 for the season.)

Rather than debate whether or not 'Dre would be able to make both FTs,
my roommate and I debated which of the two he would miss. (We decided on
the first one.) When he hit that one, I did have a holy hell, what if he actually made the second one?
flight of fancy, but I dismissed it pretty quickly. I'd seen this movie
before, in that same previously mentioned Nuggets game, when Iguodala
missed one of two with the team down one to force OT. Still, in that
one, I'm pretty sure it was the first one he missed. What if he...?

And then, it happened. Swish. The Bulls were stunned, unsure of how to
even inbound the ball, as if they too had spent the entire regular
season wondering how a guy we once thought could grow into an elite wing
scorer could post a free throw percentage that would have been a
failing Phys Ed grade. CJ Watson jacked up a prayer that very nearly
went in—really, it was almost Devin Harris 2.0—and he came a couple
inches away from getting fouled in the process. But he missed. The
Sixers win. The Sixers are going to the second round of the playoffs.
The Sixers won a fucking playoff series. The 2012 Sixers. How about that?

It might sound like I'm excited about this—and I guess I am, at least a
little bit—but moreso I'm really just amused. Because let's be
honest—there's not a whole lot of pride to take in how the Sixers
performed this series. They beat a team that, even without its two best
players, might have still been a little bit better than they were, and
while that does register as an upset of some size and upsets are usually
pretty cool, they did so in such unconvincing fashion (minus the
still-awesome punch-in-the-mouth Game Two, which I might re-watch four
times instead of watching Philly's second-round series) that I can't
even feel all that happy about it.

After games two and three, which the Sixers won thanks to strong, gutsy
performances from their hopeful back-court pillars of the future, Jrue
Holiday and Evan Turner, it looked like Philly might actually be
building to something with this series. Nope—minus a couple nice moments
for Jrue in the second half of Game Four and the first half of Game
Six, the two were basically neutralized from there, and the Sixers won
Game Four on some lucky calls and a career scoring effort from Spencer
Hawes, and they won Game Six on...well, I'm still not really sure how
they won Game Six, but it wasn't because of anything even remotely
inspirational. In the end, it was 'Dre and Lou's team again. Same as it
ever was. 

If there's one reason to be ecstatic that the Sixers won tonight, it's
that it means that there doesn't have to be a Game Seven. Not only would
the chances be miniscule that the Sixers would win, the chances are
phenomenal that the game would have been unwatchable and soul-crushing
and momentum-destroying. Whatever happens to the Sixers from here, at
least they didn't blow this series in quasi-historical fashion–which
isn't something to build on either, but it's not a huge setback, which
is probably good. And nobody wants to watch another game of this series.
Maybe this was even subconsciously in the mind of John Lucas as he
passed to Omer Asik under the basket with less than ten seconds to go
for the Celtics.

So yeah, about that play. One of the incredible things about this
outcome is that, as Bill Simmons pointed out on Twitter, the entire
series basically hinged on a no-call on CJ Watson when Jrue Holiday
tried to foul him at half-court. If the zebras call that—and it looked
like a foul to me—81% free-throw shooter Watson goes to the line,
probably hits two and almost certainly hits one, and the Bulls likely
ice the series. Instead, Watson spotted Omer Asik under the basket,
concluded (inaccurately) that he had a look at a gimme bucket, and
passed him the ball, at which point Spencer Hawes executed a textbook
wrap-up foul, and instead of Watson and his 81% going to the line, it was
Asik and his 45%. He missed both, and suddenly the Sixers had life. And
they won. Because Andre Iguodala hit clutch free throws. (In case you
had forgotten and/or stopped laughing.)

Long as we're talking about it, though, there are two other things that I
think needed to fall into place for the Sixers to win this series.
First, the Bulls ran out of timeouts. If they had had even one more
timeout, to advance the ball to half-court with 2.2 seconds to play, you
have to think that they at least get a decent look, and given the
Sixers' record this season at closing out final possessions—anyone
remember that game in Minnesota?—I wouldn't have bet that they'd have
come up with a stop.

But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Sixers ran out of
timeouts. This shouldn't have been a good thing, but I firmly believe
that it was. If the Sixers had another timeout, they surely call it
after 'Dre boards the second Asik miss. Then, Collins draws up a play
that probably ends (as it always does) with someone taking and missing a
contested 25-foot three, and the Sixers lose. Instead, the shock of the
two Asik free throw misses and the Sixers' lack of timeouts created a
chaos that Andre Iguodala was smart enough to take advantage of, and the
Sixers were able to take the lead and win. A butterfly flaps its wings
in China and Lou Williams bricks a long two to send the Sixers to Game
Seven. Crazy stuff.

More on evaluating the Sixers' performances and predicting where they go
from here later, probably. But we're done with analysis for now.
Rather, I want you to go out and celebrate tonight. Not that the Sixers
won, not that we're heading for the second round, not because any of
this means anything for or about the team that we root for. Instead, you
should be celebrating that now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, there must
be some kind of sports god out there. And he has a fuckin' wicked sense of humor.

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

The Phillies’ decision to trade beloved catcher Carlos Ruiz to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday was ultimately made by Ruiz himself.

“This was about doing the right thing for Carlos because he has meant so much to this organization,” general manager Matt Klentak said Thursday night.

“Once Carlos cleared trade waivers last week, we started thinking about it. The Dodgers expressed some interest. Pete [Mackanin] and I talked to Carlos over the weekend. We discussed whether he wanted to finish the year with us or get the chance to chase another championship ring.

"He took a few days to discuss it with his family and got back to us Wednesday in Chicago and said that he'd be interested in exploring the opportunity and we finalized things with the Dodgers today.”

As a veteran of 10 seasons in the majors and five consecutive with the same team, Ruiz, 37, could have vetoed the deal. He chose to accept the deal because he wanted another chance to play in the postseason. He will serve as a backup to catcher Yasmani Grandal with the Dodgers, but is expected to get playing time. Ruiz's .368 on-base percentage from the right side of the plate could be a nice complement to the lefty-hitting Grandal.

The Phillies acquired the Dodgers’ backup catcher, veteran A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitching prospect Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later in the deal. The Phils will not decide on the player to be named until after the minor-league season ends in mid-September. The Phils also sent an undisclosed amount of cash to the Dodgers. Ruiz is owed about $2 million in the form of salary and a contract buyout for 2017. Ellis, 35, is finishing up a one-year deal that pays him $4.5 million.

"This deal was not motivated by cash,” Klentak said. “It was about doing the right thing for Carlos, giving him the chance to get another ring.”

Klentak said he was "adamant" about getting Ellis back in the deal. The Phillies have two catching prospects in the upper minors in Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, but the club would like to see them finish their minor-league seasons.

“Carlos has been such an important leader for so long, we knew we had to fill a role on and off the field,” Klentak said. “There is a reasonably good chance one of our young catching prospects will be in the big leagues before the season is over. Both our Double A and Triple A teams are in pennant races and we believe it's important for them to continue to get meaningful at-bats and play in meaningful games.”

Ellis is expected to join the Phillies in New York this weekend. It’s not easy going from a first-place team with legitimate World Series hopes to a rebuilding club.

“I talked to A.J. this afternoon,” Klentak said. “He is a true professional. It's never easy for a guy who has been in one place his whole career to be told out of the blue that it's time to go. A.J. is determined and excited about contributing to the Phillies.”

Bergjans, a 23-year-old right-hander, pitched at Haverford College. He was an eighth-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2015 and is 3-13 with a 4.98 ERA for Single A Rancho Cucamonga this season. He has 133 strikeouts and just 29 walks in 130 innings.

"Tommy was an excellent college performer,” Klentak said. “He has controlled the strike zone well in a tough league. We're always looking to add starting pitching and we had a chance to do it. He strikes out better than a batter an inning and limits walks which was appealing.”

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

The Phillies have undergone massive changes on the field and off over the last couple of seasons.
 
Those changes have reached the club’s amateur scouting department.
 
According to major league sources, the club recently fired three longtime members of that department, including Mike Ledna, a high-ranking coordinator and national cross-checker. Ledna was the No. 2 man under former scouting boss Marti Wolever, who was let go two years ago and replaced by Johnny Almaraz.
 
Almaraz has overseen the last two drafts with a staff of mostly holdover scouts. He has clearly begun to put his stamp on the department with his recent shakeup. Ledna’s firing was preceded by the club’s decision to part with Steve Cohen and Paul Scott. They covered the talent-rich state of Texas.
 
It is not clear whether more changes on the scouting staff are coming. Over the last year or so, the Phillies have hired a new club president (Andy MacPhail), general manager (Matt Klentak) and manager (Pete Mackanin). The playing roster has also been churned, most recently with Carlos Ruiz being traded to the Dodgers on Thursday (see story). His parting leaves Ryan Howard as the lone member of the 2008 World Series championship team still with the club.

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The postseason accolades and awards are nice, but Soul defensive back Tracy Belton has a much higher goal.

Named as the Arena League Football Defensive Player of the Year during an awards ceremony Friday, Belton, considered the passion and spirit of the Soul defense, is more than comfortable putting aside individual honors and pushing his teammates to greater heights.

Reaching the ArenaBowl against the Arizona Rattlers Friday in the Gila River Arena (7 p.m./ESPN) the prize is out there, and Belton has his blinders firmly affixed. The focus and concentration is not in question, so the task ahead remains paramount.

“I want that ring, I need that jewelry,” Belton said during media day Friday. “Oh yeah, it would definitely be nice to get that ring.”

To obtain that shiny piece of hardware, Belton and his defensive teammates have the task of trying to shut down the most potent offense in the league.

Guided by quarterback Nick Davila, the AFL’s Most Valuable Player, the Rattlers are averaging 80.3 points per game. From an offensive standpoint, Arizona led the AFL in many offensive categories, including scoring, total offense, rushing, third-down conversion and fourth-down conversion.

To complement the offense, the Arizona defense ranked first in the league in defensive scoring defense, rushing defense, interceptions, turnover ratio and sacks allowed.

In a league which glorifies offense, the task ahead for the Soul defense is considered a challenge. After all, these teams each finished with a 13-3 mark and each defeated the other team on their home turf.

“To win this game, we hope they make mistakes,” Soul head coach Clint Dolezel said. “They are very explosive, but our secondary is playing at a high level. For us, we need to limit our mistakes.”

If Davila, who is the first player in AFL history to win the MVP award three times, is to be challenged, the Soul’s offense need to be proficient. Coming into the ArenaBowl, the Soul averaged 59.0 points per game. That was good enough for fourth in the league, but quarterback Dan Raudabaugh put up better numbers, in certain categories, than Davila.

In head-to-head competition, Raudabaugh tossed more touchdown passes (14 to 13), passed for more yards (541 to 431), completed more passes (48 to 32) and averaged more yards per game (270.5 to 215.5) through the air. Yet, the Rattlers’ offense is swift, quick, efficient and lethal.

“In this league, the quarterback is the most important position,” Davila said. “You have to make decisions quickly, and facing a defense like Philly, that’s the challenge for us. It’s about limiting mistakes. The team which makes fewer mistakes is the team that usually wins.”

Notes
Since the Phoenix Mercury are scheduled for a home game in Talking Stick Arena in downtown Phoenix Friday night, home site for the Rattlers, the title game was switched to home of the NHL's Arizona Coyotes. … Among league leaders this past season for the Soul, Belton was fourth in tackles, Jake Metz led in sacks, Darius Reynolds was sixth in receiving and Jeramie Richardson was second in rushing. … In comparison of QBs, Raudabaugh was second in the league in passing (101 TDs, 63.3 passing percentage) and Davila placed third (110 TD passes, 69.6 passing rating). … This is the third league title meeting between these two teams. The Soul dropped the previous two championship games, 72-54 in 2012 and 48-39 in 2013.