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.

Temple QB Phillip Walker provides leadership, offensive spark as Owls beat Charlotte

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USA Today Images

Temple QB Phillip Walker provides leadership, offensive spark as Owls beat Charlotte

BOX SCORE

Temple quarterback Phillip Walker rolled on the ground in pain after taking a shot late in the first quarter and was immediately forced to the sideline.

With the Owls already trailing and their starting QB’s shoulder dinged up, things certainly weren’t going how the team envisioned opening up its homecoming game at Lincoln Financial Field. 

“It’s a nagging injury that comes and goes,” Walker said.

The pain was able to quickly go away, and then the Owls were able to go off.

Walker returned after a one-play absence to throw a deep touchdown pass and spark 28 unanswered points by Temple during the second quarter of a 48-20 win over Charlotte (see Instant Replay).

The Owls (2-2, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) evened their record with the win before opening up AAC play next week against SMU.

“It was big for us just because we needed to get going offensively,” Walker said of his beautiful 51-yard touchdown pass to Adonis Jennings on the first play of the second quarter. “We knew it would happen. It just takes time. A lot of people come with the same energy every game at the beginning of the game. Just let that energy wear off a little bit. Once you get your opportunity, then you take your shots and make your plays as an offense.”

The Owls’ offense made plenty of plays during that big second quarter. 

A couple of possessions after Walker’s TD pass gave Temple back the lead, the Owls got a gift when Charlotte (1-3, 0-0 Conference USA) quarterback Kevin Olsen and running back Kalif Phillips botched a read-option exchange. The fumble was scooped up by TU defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike and returned 20 yards to the 49ers’ 13-yard line. On the very next play, Jahad Thomas scampered around the left side for a touchdown.

Temple’s defense then forced a three-and-out to get the ball right back for Walker, who connected with Brodrick Yancy on a 40-yard score to break the game open.

Ryquell Armstead tacked on a one-yard touchdown plunge right before halftime to give the Owls a 31-7 advantage at the break.

In all, the Owls outscored the 49ers 28-0 and outgained them 176-66 during the period.

“Once we got the turnover, we had another opportunity in the red zone to make something happen and we did,” Walker said. “Give us the ball in the red zone, we have to capitalize off of it and we have to be able to make a play.”

“I thought the turnovers and field position started helping hitting the big play,” Temple head coach Matt Rhule said. “I just think we kind of settled down on offense, got into a rhythm. I think you’re seeing that we’re able to get our quarterback into a rhythm and he’s playing pretty well.”

Temple got contributions from several key players on offense to rack up 507 total yards and 26 first downs in the victory. Thomas and Armstead each had a pair of rushing touchdowns. Eight different players caught passes with five reaching at least 40 yards, including sophomore wideout Yancy, who had four receptions for 70 yards and a score.

However, it all starts with Walker as he continued to build on the momentum he found last week against Penn State. Walker completed 15 of 26 attempts for 268 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The senior quarterback is starting to hit his stride at the right time with conference play coming up and his teammates are following his lead.

“He likes throwing the ball. The more we catch the ball for him the more it makes him look good, makes others look good and allows us to run the offense the way it can be run,” Yancy said.

“He’s been productive,” Thomas said. “Definitely coming into the season he was talking about his completion percentage. He’s a senior now. He feels more comfortable just getting his feet set. When you don’t have people breathing down your neck all the time you can be comfortable out there, so I’m quite sure that’s the reason why he’s playing so well in the last two games.”

With the defense still showing some warts (429 total yards allowed to Charlotte, including 231 on the ground) and the meat of the schedule coming up with conference play, Temple will be counting on Walker to keep his game at a high level to help the Owls defend their East Division crown.

“Looking forward to it,” Walker said of opening up the AAC portion of the schedule. “There are a lot of great teams in this conference. I think this conference can go either way whether it’s anyone from the West or anyone from the East. There’s a lot of great talent. We just have to bring our A game every week. We’ve got a long stretch here, so we just have to come out here and play our game.”

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

The final eight games remaining on the Phillies’ 2016 schedule will undoubtedly serve as a farewell to Ryan Howard.

Lost in the background may be the fact this week could quite possibly be the end for the man who was supposed to platoon alongside him this year, as well: Darin Ruf.

Both men have been supplanted by Tommy Joseph, who's hit 21 home runs in just 100 games this year while positioning himself as the Phillies first baseman of the near future.

Ruf will start Saturday night against Mets’ lefthander Sean Gilmartin. The Phillies are not scheduled to face a lefty starter for the rest of the season, so Saturday could be one of the final chances to see Ruf in a Phillies uniform, especially considering manager Pete Mackanin’s stated intent to give Howard more playing time down the stretch.

“It seemed like we never faced a lefty for the first month of the season. So that didn’t help Ruf at the time,” Mackanin said.  “Joseph entered the picture and made an immediate impression.”

Ruf’s departure from the majors set the stage for Joseph’s immediate emergence. At the time of his May 13 demotion to AAA Lehigh Valley – and Joseph’s promotion -- Ruf was had a .158/.206/.193 slash line.
  
Since his Sept. 1 return to the majors after rosters expanded, Ruf has done what he can to make sure his possible final season in a Phillies uniform ends on a high note. On Friday night, he drilled a home run to left center off Mets reliever Josh Smoker in pinch-hit duty, the first time Ruf had gone yard since Oct. 1, 2015.

“It felt good,” Ruf said about ending his home run drought. “You just try to simply things and last night it worked out for me.”

Where Ruf will be next year is a more complicated matter, as the 30-year-old is out of minor league options. Japanese scouts were spotted at the games he played for AAA Lehigh Valley.

With Lehigh Valley, Ruf received an opportunity he’s never truly been able to get with the Phillies due to the longstanding presence of Howard: a chance to play every day and consistently accumulate plate appearances. He hit .294/.356/.529 in 390 trips to the plate for the IronPigs. 

Ruf has never made more than 300 plate appearances in a major league season and would struggle to crack that number if he remains in Philadelphia as a backup to Joseph, who will still be 25 on opening day next year.

“I learned [this year] that you can’t take anything for granted in this game,” Ruf said. “You’ve just got to keep working to get better every day, got to put up numbers no matter where you’re at in order to get to where you want. 

“Hopefully, wherever I’m at next year, I can do that.”