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.

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).