You'll Taste It In Time: Sixers Go to Seven on Backs of Holiday, Odd Celtics Performance

You'll Taste It In Time: Sixers Go to Seven on Backs of Holiday, Odd Celtics Performance

It was a battle of which weird trend from this series would prevail—the
trend of every team that wins the first quarter losing the game, or
every team that won the game before losing the game. The Sixers won the
first quarter but lost the night before, and it was the latter that
ended up being the more relevant random signifier as they held on for
another strange, low-scoring victory in this game to force a Game Seven.
Yes, this Sixers team—the one that many of us hoped would fall out of
the playoffs entirely to earn a couple-spots-higher draft pick—is now
one victory short of the Eastern Conference Finals. WHATTA PLAYOFFS.

The Sixers played a lot better in this one, and we'll talk about some of
the good Sixer performances, but really, Philly was able to win this
game because of three things, all Boston-related: Brandon Bass couldn't
make a shot, Ray Allen is off his game, and Rajon Rondo is a weird dude.
The first two are easily explained—Bass had probably the best game he's
ever going to have in the playoffs in Game Five, scoring 18 points in
the third quarter, and was probably due for a clunker like this.
Meanwhile, Allen has been dealing with injury the entire playoffs, and
while his 4-11 line isn't awful, he missed a couple key good looks
(including a three with a minute to go) that you feel like Ray Allen at
100% hits at least 90% of the time.

Rondo, though...man. You get why rooting for this guy can be so
frustrating an experience, because his talent is so blinding that like
few players short of LeBron James, when he's on his game, you wonder how
you can ever beat him. But when he's not engaged, which seems to happen
every now and then for no particular reason, you get games like
tonight, where he refuses to attack the basket, misses jumpers and free
throws, and makes careless turnovers (like the one in the final minutes
where he lost an easy rebound out of bounds), without even seeming to
care all that much. Dude's an enigma for sure, but he generally has way
more games like Game Five than like the one he had tonight, and you'd
expect him to bounce back for Game Seven on Saturday. This was certainly
an opportune time for him to have a stinker, though, and we'll take
what we can get.

The Sixers' own point guard was easily the superior of the two
tonight. Jrue Holiday's distributing numbers were solid, six assists to
two turnovers, but it was scoring the ball where he really excelled,
taking the ball to the basket seemingly whenever the Sixers needed a
basket, and hitting more often than not, finishing with 20 points on
7-15 shooting—a Herculean offensive performance by Sixers post-season
standards. Evan Turner had a pretty good game himself, with 12 points
and nine boards on 5-11 shooting (though geez, Evan, hit some damn free
throws), and Sour Patch Lou again balanced his frustrating shot
selection (11 points on 5-13 shooting) with surprisingly good passing,
matching Holiday's six dimes and two assists.

If not for Holiday, the MVP tonight would surely be Elton Brand. "Rough"
barely begins to describe the post-season that Brand's had so far,
where he's been so vulnerable on both ends that he hasn't even been able
to stay on the court for more than 20 minutes in most games this
series, but he's come through the last two games, not only scoring 13
points (including a huge jumper with less than two minutes to go)
and grabbing ten boards but playing that hard-nosed, body-up defense on
Kevin Garnett that's been lacking for Philly all series. (KG still got
his 20, but needed that many shots to get there, a definite positive
development for the Sixers.)

Ultimately, the Sixers won this game because they were the steadier,
more solid team, which is certainly a different look for the team that
absolutely fell apart in the second halves of Games Three and Five. They
got out-rebounded 48-37, and they missed a staggering 11 (!!) free
throws as a team, but they only turned the ball over 12 teams, they only
had their shots blocked twice, they shared the ball well (22 assists to
Boston's 14), and their big men actually hit way more of their jumpers
than Boston. Simply put, watching this game, you'd never guess that
Boston had four likely future Hall of Famers on their squad–they just
looked like a bunch of dudes, like the Sixers.

Does that mean the Sixers now have a chance in Game Seven on Saturday?
Well, they still have a chance, but the Big Three-era Celtics have
played historically bad in road close-out games, while they're much
better on their home floor in Game Sevens. You wouldn't expect Rondo
have two straight games like this, and for the Sixers, shooting 46%
again is a resounding accomplishment we wouldn't expect to see repeated.
But with this series, who even knows? It's remarkable the Sixers have
gotten this far, and I wouldn't put winning one more weird game in
Boston past them. They might want to let Boston get the first-quarter
lead, though, just to be on the safe side.

NFL Notes: Texans place J.J. Watt on IR; Dez Bryant misses practice

NFL Notes: Texans place J.J. Watt on IR; Dez Bryant misses practice

HOUSTON — The Houston Texans placed star defensive end J.J. Watt on injured reserve on Wednesday.

The move came one day after a person familiar with Watt's condition told The Associated Press he had re-injured his back and that the Texans expect him to be sidelined until at least December — and possibly the entire season. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team hasn't discussed his injury.

Watt, who has won Defensive Player of the Year for the past two seasons, missed training camp and Houston's four preseason games after surgery in July to repair a herniated disk in his back. He started each of the team's three regular-season games and got hurt again Thursday against the Patriots.

The Texans signed veteran defensive end Antonio Smith to take his spot on the roster.

The team was still exploring the injury and it's unclear if it will require surgery.

It's a major blow for Houston, which selected Watt with the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft. Watt has played 83 consecutive games for the Texans despite various injuries, including torn core muscles and a broken hand last season.

This was a tough offseason for Watt, who had surgery in January to repair five torn core muscles before going under the knife again in July to repair his back.

Watt, who led the NFL with 17 1/2 sacks last season, has 1 1/2 sacks this season to give him 76 for his career.

The 27-year-old is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and a four-time Pro Bowler. He's been a force since entering the league not only because of his pass-rushing prowess, but also because of his uncanny ability to swat down passes. He has 45 passes defended in his six-year career. He has forced 15 fumbles and recovered 13.

Cowboys: Dez Bryant (knee) misses practice
FRISCO, Texas — Dallas receiver Dez Bryant won't practice Wednesday after injuring his right knee in last week's win over Chicago.

Bryant injured the knee on his first catch early in the game but came back in the first quarter. He caught his first touchdown of the season in the fourth quarter of the 31-17 win.

Coach Jason Garrett said the team didn't have results of an MRI, and Bryant tweeted, "We'll find out today," to a fan who asked about his status.

Bryant missed seven games last year after breaking his foot in the opener. He also dealt with ankle injuries last season.

The Cowboys visit San Francisco on Sunday.

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Phillies-Braves 5 things: Ryan Howard's earned a job somewhere

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Ryan Howard's earned a job somewhere

Phillies (70-87) at Braves (64-92)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

The last two games for the Phillies have been about as ugly as it gets. After losing 17-0 on Sunday, they blew a six-run lead Tuesday as the bullpen continued to stumble toward the finish line.

1. No relief in sight
Pete Mackanin was peeved after last night's game and rightfully so. His relievers have an 8.03 ERA this month. Who can he even trust at this point?

The Phils have used 12 different relievers this month and only three — David Hernandez, Michael Mariot and Joely Rodriguez — have an ERA below 4.76. And even Hernandez, who has a 1.08 ERA in September, has allowed 16 baserunners in 8⅓ innings. 

Hector Neris, who Mackanin was saving last night for a save situation, is the most trustworthy option in the current bullpen. He's gotten outs most of the year, posting a 2.53 ERA and 1.07 WHIP with 100 strikeouts in 78⅓ innings. But even he has struggled lately, allowing runs in five of his last 10 appearances and walking 10 batters in his last 10 innings.

The Phillies will have money to spend this offseason and even if they don't spend it on A-list names, they could allocate some of it toward relievers who have better stuff than this bunch. Excluding closers like Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon, the free-agent reliever class includes decent veteran options like Brad Ziegler, Sergio Romo, Jim Johnson, Neftali Feliz, Fernando Rodney, Joe Smith and Brett Cecil, among others.

Giving one of those guys $6-8 million wouldn't stunt anyone else's development.

2. Stay a while
With the way these relievers have been batted around the last two games — 20 earned runs allowed in eight innings — the Phillies badly need some length out of Adam Morgan tonight. He hasn't given it to them in his last two starts, going just 9⅓ innings combined because of high pitch counts.

Morgan has been pretty good lately, though. Since returning to the majors on Aug. 14, he's allowed more than three runs only once in eight starts. He has a 3.86 ERA over that span, and if you exclude his poor outing against the Mets on Aug. 26, it's 2.92.

Morgan has missed more bats lately than we're accustomed to seeing. He matched a career-high with eight strikeouts in his last start, five starts after K'ing eight Mets. He's induced 25 swinging strikes in his last two starts. Over his last six outings, Morgan has a swinging strike rate of 12 percent; the MLB average for starting pitchers is 9.5 percent.

Morgan has faced the Braves twice this season. Both games were in May and he pitched well in each of them, allowing one run over seven innings and two over six. 

Morgan's season numbers are still ugly (2-10, 5.57 ERA), but it's pretty clear he's been a different pitcher since learning a two-seam fastball and coming back to the majors. Whether that holds up long-term remains to be seen, but Morgan is the rare Phillies pitcher finishing 2016 better than he started it.

3. Piece of the action
Ryan Howard continues to produce in his final days with the Phillies. He hit a grand slam last night for his 24th homer of the season and third in his last five games. 

Howard has homered 12 times since the All-Star break, equaling his output from the first half. And look at his numbers since July 7, a span of 44 games and 136 plate appearances: .266/.331/.621, 13 homers, 31 RBIs. He's locked in.

Howard can still do damage against right-handed pitching. He has 23 homers off of them in 313 plate appearances. Over the last 11 seasons, the only other player in baseball with that many homers off righties in so few plate appearances was Mark Teixeira in 2015. 

You mean to tell me an American League team can't use him next season in a role that only accentuates his strengths and mitigates his weaknesses?

Howard will play again tonight and likely in all of five of the Phils' remaining games. He's 3 for 4 with a homer off tonight's opponent, Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz.

4. Scouting Folty
Foltynewicz, a power-armed 24-year-old, was the Braves' return in the Evan Gattis-to-Houston trade prior to 2015. He's a classic case of a big, straight fastball not translating to success.

In 223⅔ innings in the majors, Foltynewicz has a 4.99 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. He's allowed 1.5 homers per nine innings (bad) and his opponents have hit .289.

Foltynewicz has a 7.62 ERA in three career meetings with the Phillies. They jumped him the last time they saw him, July 5, homering four times in his 5⅔ innings. 

Current Phillies are 15 for 43 (.396) off Foltynewicz. Howard, Tommy Joseph, Maikel Franco, Cody Asche and Peter Bourjos have all taken him deep.

Foltynewicz (8-5, 4.41) hasn't pitched since Sept. 12, when he allowed five runs on 11 hits to the Marlins in just 3⅔ innings.

5. This and that
• Roman Quinn's season is almost certainly over after he suffered an oblique strain last night. If that's the case, he'll finish his first taste of the majors with a .263/.373/.333 batting line, five steals and four doubles in 69 plate appearances. Quinn looks like a significant part of their future, but the Phillies really can't move other pieces around for him because of his lengthy injury history.

• Freddie Freeman in 17 games against the Phillies this season: .381 BA, five doubles, six homers, 11 RBIs, 17 runs, 10 walks. He's had a tremendous season in all aspects, but the most impressive stat might be that he's hitting .307 against righties and .307 against lefties. Prior to this season he was a .300 hitter vs. righties and a .260 hitter vs. lefties.

• Last night's two-hour rain delay probably cost Jerad Eickhoff a chance at reaching 200 innings. He's scheduled to start the final game of the season but would need to pitch 8⅔ innings to reach that plateau.

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