Pity poor Greg Monroe. The Pistons' big man was dominant against the Sixers tonight, as he has been for much of the season, going for 20, 8 and 3 in just 31 minutes against Lavoy Allen, Nik Vucevic and Elton Brand. But as it turned out, it couldn't have made less of a difference. The Pistons shot just 32% from the field for the game and turned the ball over 22 times, as the Sixers pulled out to a 16 point lead at half-time and never looked back. The entire fourth quarter was garbage time as the Sixers cruised to the 97-68 victory.
Not too much to talk about on the Sixers' end—they won the way they were winning earlier in the season, including in the two times they already steamrolled Detroit—by playing stifling perimeter defense (Rodney Stuckey, Brandon Knight and Ben Gordon shot a combined 8-30 for the Pistons' backcourt), by sharing the ball (Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams all had at least five assists) and by making sure that Andres Nocioni and Francisco Elson get as little court time as possible. (They only played a combined six minutes, but still managed a hilarious sequence where Nocioni shot a three in transition that got blocked, then Elson turned the ball over trying to make a feed from the post to a cutting Noc.)
Even though the Sixers' MVP tonight might have been Thaddeus Young—20 points and eight rebounds to match Monroe, and continuing his ridiculous season-long trend of stealing the ball more frequently than he turns it over with two swipes and one giveaway—Thad's night might end up being best remembered for the one play he didn't make. Streaking down the court on a fast break, one step behind the ball-handler Iguodala, Thad ended up taking a beautiful between-the-legs feed from 'Dre and soared towards the basket for the easy dunk. Then this happened.
If 'Dre looked a little pissed in the replay, it's hard to blame him—this should have been a season-highlight dish for 'Dre, one that would've dropped jaws even at the dunk-happy exhibition he just played in on Sunday. And young Thaddeus knew he really blew it, too, hanging his head in disbelief and grinning sheepishly for lack of a better response. It's easily the worst blown dunk the Sixers have had since 'Dre himself clanged an uncontested windmill dunk in Atlanta—though as with tonight, that game was a blowout, so it was easy to laugh about it afterwards.
Now, back to Philly for a meeting with the West-best Oklahoma City Thunder. Pretty safe bet that that one won't be as easy a W, but we'll all probably feel a lot more confident facing OKC off an authoritative one-game winning streak then an increasingly discouraging six-game slide. In any event, after the roughest couple weeks of the season, it appears it's time to enjoy Philly basketball again. WOOOOOO ELSON AND NOCIONI.
Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.
A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.
The rest of the team included:
• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)
Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.
But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.
Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.
Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.
“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”
There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple.
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston.
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins come to mind.
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.”
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record.
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”