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.

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

It’s a pattern that keeps repeating itself. And it’s not a winning pattern.

Week after week, the Eagles are digging themselves a first-quarter hole. And week after week, they’re too far behind to catch up.

They trailed the Lions 14-0 in the first quarter. They trailed the Redskins 14-0 a minute into the second quarter. They fell behind the Cowboys 10-3 early in the second. The Giants jumped up on them 14-0 just six minutes in. And on Sunday, the Bengals led 10-0 before the first quarter was over.

If football games began at the start of the second quarter? This would be a different season. The Eagles would be 7-4-1.

The Eagles has actually outscored their opponents in the second, third and fourth quarters.

But the first quarter has been fatal.

The Eagles have been outscored by 32 points in the first quarter – 65 to 33. That’s their fourth-worst first-quarter scoring margin in the last 25 years, behind only three other nightmarish seasons – 1998 (minus-52), 2005 (minus-51) and 2012 (minus-75).

It’s also fourth-worst of any NFL team this year, ahead of only the Jets (minus-36), Broncos (minus-37) and Dolphins (minus-56).

Some teams – like the Broncos and Dolphins – have enough firepower to fight from behind.

The Eagles don’t.

They’re 4-0 when leading after the first quarter, 1-1 when tied after the first quarter and 0-6 when trailing after the first quarter.

At 0-6, they share the second-worst record in the NFL when trailing after 15 minutes with the Jaguars and 49ers. The Browns are 0-8 when trailing after the first quarter.

Last time the Eagles didn’t win a game all year when trailing after the first quarter was 1998. Before that 1977.

“It’s tough, especially in this league, to dig yourself a hole,” Carson Wentz said. “Whether the defense is struggling or the offense giving them points with turnovers and different things, it’s been a variation of a lot of those things. 

“It’s tough to dig yourself a hole against anybody, especially against good teams. So we’ve got to avoid that and we’ve got to come out swinging a little better early in games.”

The last time the Eagles won after trailing following the first quarter was the Dallas game last year, when they trailed 7-0 and won 33-27 in overtime.

What does it say about a team when it’s allowed twice as many points as it’s scored in the first quarter?

It sure seems like the Eagles several times this year simply haven’t been ready to play.

“The start to games, it's a mindset,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It's truly a mindset. It's one of those things where as a team you want to come out and you want to kind of make the first punch, so to speak, or swing first. 

“We did it against Green Bay. We went down and scored, we matched touchdown for touchdown there. And we've done it throughout the course of the season. We've got to be a little more consistent offensively, too. That can also help. And then defensively it's just a matter of working to get off the field.

“It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the game if you can do that early in a football game.”

The Eagles have scored just three first-quarter touchdowns all year (only the Broncos have fewer) and haven’t scored more than seven points in any of their 12 first quarters.

They’ve allowed nine first-quarter touchdowns, and only one team has allowed more – the Dolphins with 10.

Wentz has completed 67 percent of his first-quarter passes but with just one TD pass and four interceptions.

Incredibly, the Eagles have only five plays all year of more than 20 yards in the first quarter – just one in the last four games. Only the Saints, Jaguars and Broncos have fewer.

Why are the Eagles so bad early in games?

“There is no other answer than to execute one play at a time,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “There's no magic formula. I think we've had good energy at practice. I like the way we practice. I feel like we are putting together good plans.

“We're showing flashes of being a good football team. We need to be more consistent. We need to make more big plays. It's hard to sustain 14-play drives. We've missed a few plays here and there. We just all – coaches, players together – need to make it work one play at a time.”

The only teams to outscore the Eagles in the second half are the Cowboys (13-10), Seahawks (10-8) and Packers (13-3).

When a team has outscored its opponents by 61 points in the second, third and fourth quarters combined and it’s 5-7, the focus has to be on the first quarter.

That means preparation. That means being mentally and physically ready. 

“Yeah, I do look at all of that, and that's part of my job is the (pregame) schedule and all,” Pederson said. “But these guys are in a great frame of mind on game day. They're loose; they're energetic; they're ready to go. They're focused. 

“You see it in pregame. It's been unfortunate, but it's something we've got to focus in on a little bit more … and try to strike first.”

The Eagles will try to end their three-game losing streak at 1 p.m. Sunday when they face the Redskins at the Linc.

The Redskins, 6-5-1 but with a two-game losing streak, beat the Eagles 27-20 in Landover, Md., in October.

“I think it just comes down to being focus and locking in,” Wentz said. “You’ve seen us. There’ve been games where we’ve come out and we’re rolling right away.

"We just have to find a way to maintain that and be consistent with that. The goal is to come out swinging right away.”

Flyers-Oilers 5 things: Winning streak meets Connor McDavid

Flyers-Oilers 5 things: Winning streak meets Connor McDavid

Flyers (15-10-3) vs. Oilers (14-10-4)
7 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live at 6:30

The hottest team in the NHL will meet the hottest young star on Thursday night when the Flyers host the Edmonton Oilers at the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are five things you need to know for the matchup:

1. McDavid and Co.
The Flyers are going for their seventh consecutive victory, which would tie their longest winning streak since Dec. 2-15, 2011, when they also won seven in a row.

In order to do so, they’ll have to slow down transcendent talent Connor McDavid and the prolific but streaky Oilers.

McDavid, a generational player, has thus far lived up to all the hype surrounding him as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. In just his second NHL season — and first with a healthy start after an injured-shortened rookie year (45 games) — the 19-year-old leads all of hockey in points with 36, while no other player has yet to eclipse 30.

His 25 assists also rank atop the NHL, while his 11 goals are among the top 22 and his plus-8 rating is tied for ninth best between all centers.

“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said Wednesday. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice.”

And he has help.

Linemates Leon Draisaitl (11 goals, 11 assists) and Milan Lucic (eight goals, 12 assists) can do damage, as can Jordan Eberle (eight goals, 13 assists).

2. Defense wins games
The Flyers are playing better and cleaner in front of their goaltender — who has been great (see below) — and the results are showing.

The orange and black have gone five straight games of allowing two or fewer goals.

Why were they so up and down before this run? Well, they had surrendered two or fewer goals in just five of their previous 23 games.

“That’s unbelievable for us,” Wayne Simmonds said after Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Panthers. “At the beginning of the year, to say we’d have five straight without giving up more than two would be a stretch.
 
“We’ve locked it down defensively and Mase has played unbelievable. We’ve been pretty good as five-man units.”

3. Mase the man
A confident Steve Mason is a dangerous Steve Mason.

Right now, Mason has the net and is gaining steam by the game.

Over his past five outings, the 28-year-old is 5-0-0 with a 1.74 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

Just as impressive, since Nov. 12, Mason is 8-3-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.

“I've said it numerous times, I want to be playing lots of hockey,” Mason said Tuesday. “This is a position that I'm used to being in and where I'm most comfortable. So just have to keep continuing to put my work in and whenever [head coach Dave Hakstol] calls my name, be ready."

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: You always have to watch Simmonds, but especially now with the winger coming off back-to-back two-goal games. Simmonds leads the NHL with eight power-play goals and is second in man-advantage points (13) to only teammate Claude Giroux (14).

Oilers: With all the attention zeroed in on McDavid, we’ll go with the 21-year-old Draisaitl, who has seven goals in his last nine games and 14 points in his past 12. The No. 3 overall pick in 2014 is an intelligent playmaker capable of hurting you.

5. This and that
• Mason is 8-4-0 with just a 3.49 goals-against average and .872 save percentage in 13 career games against Edmonton.

• Oilers goalie Jonas Gustavsson will make his fourth start of the season. He’s 1-1-1 on the year with 84 saves on 91 shots faced, but is 0-4-1 lifetime against the Flyers with a 3.57 goals-against average and .865 save percentage.

• The Flyers are fourth in the NHL in goals per game (3.11), while Edmonton is seventh (2.93).

• The Oilers have lost 10 of their last 15 games (5-7-3).