Big Macs, Comebacks and All-Stars: Jrue Holiday, Thad Young and the Best Sixers Win of the Season

Big Macs, Comebacks and All-Stars: Jrue Holiday, Thad Young and the Best Sixers Win of the Season

Hands up if you saw this coming. With the Sixers trailing 60-43 at
half—yes, they gave up 60 points to the friggin' Raptors in 24 minutes
of basketball—you'd be forgiven for giving up on this one (as I was
seriously tempted to do) and finding something more purposeful and less
character-building to do with your Friday night. After all, the Sixers
haven't exactly been known for big comebacks this season—generally, when
they're down, they stay down, and the game's basically over halfway
through the fourth quarter. But it wasn't so in this one, and the reason
why has two names: Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young.

First, the
bad stuff. The Sixers couldn't have been much more aimless on defense in
the first half, rotating abysmally and constantly letting shooters like
Alan Anderson and Terrence Ross lose them on picks. The Sixers gave up
countless open shots, always a step behind, and the Raptors didn't miss,
hitting seven of their first ten threes. On offense, the Sixers
suffered their typical half-court malaise in the first quarter, and
though things picked up a bit for them in the second, it looked like the
Raps had already sped too far ahead to be caught.

But the
Sixers started to chop into that lead into the third, seemingly finding a
new gear on defense and managing to stay with the shooters and not get
killed on the boards in the process. Meanwhile, the Sixers started
finding a groove on offense, and though neither of them were the game's
co-MVPs, Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen deserve a lot of credit tonight for
jump-starting the team with a couple nice hookups for easy baskets in
the third, Evan finishing with seven assists and Lavoy with a dozen
points. The Sixers chopped the lead down to single digits and in the
fourth even took a brief one-point lead one a Spencer Hawes putback.

A
Toronto counter-run seemed inevitable, and finally came a couple
minutes into the fourth, where the Raps hit a couple tough
shots—including a Lowry three to beat the shot clock that he chucked up
hoping just to draw iron—to extend the lead back out to ten. The Sixers
were still playing well, and four straight Thad buckets (most on Jrue
assists) made it a game again, but a failed Jrue-Thad hookup—where Jrue
lobbed up an oop for Thad off a pick-and-roll, but the forward didn't
recognize the lob in time and fumbled it out—looked to seal the game for
the Sixers, down four with a minute to go. A Thad dunk on the next
possession cut it to two with ten seconds to go, but it appeared to be
too little, too late.

Then things got interesting. Anderson hit a
pair of FTs for the Raps, but Spence got a quick two back on the other
end, resetting the situation with six seconds to go. The Raps failed to
inbound the ball and called a TO to regroup, then struggled a second
time inbound the ball, eventually throwing the ball away. (You could say
Nick Young fouled on that inbounds, but I wouldn't, and luckily the ref
didn't.) Then Jrue took the ball to the hoop with serious purpose,
laying it in and drawing contact, but not getting a whistle for the
and-one. Overtime.

The OT-forcing lay-in would only be the
beginning for Jrue, who was already having a remarkable game to that
point (more on that later). From there, all he did was score all 12
Sixer points in the OT period, including a steal and fast-break dunk to
kick off the quarter, and a long three to immediately answer a three hit
by Jose Calderon at the other end, effectively putting the game out of
reach for the Raps, who would only score five points in the OT, seven
less than Jrue notched on his lonesome. Final Score: Sixers 108, Raptors
101.

The numbers for Jrue in this one are obviously remarkable.
33 points (tied for a career high) on sparkling 13-23 shooting, with 14
assists (one off a career high, and all before OT) to go with just
three turnovers, along with five boards, three steals, and fine defense
on dynamic opposing PG Kyle Lowry, who scored just 11 on the game on
3-11 shooting, with one of those makes coming on that prayer three in
the fourth. Taken in tandem with the 30 and nine he put up against
Houston on Saturday and the 29 and 11 he went for Tuesday in the loss to
New Orleans, I don't think it'd be any kind of exaggeration to say Jrue
is playing the best ball of his career—and some of the best ball in the
league—in the last week.

But beyond the numbers, The Damaja did
something tonight that I can't remember ever seeing a Sixer do quite
like this in the post-Iverson era: He straight-up took over when the
team needed him most. He did it mostly in the second half with his
passing, setting up his shooters and finding Thad in all his sweet
spots, and obviously he did it at the end of regulation and in overtime
with his scoring, which he can do better than all but a handful of lead
guards in the league. By game's end, he was running out of ways to
impress. Anybody Eastern Conference coach who watched tonight's game and
still doesn't believe Jrue Holiday is an All-Star is not my friend.

All
that said, the Sixers still don't get anywhere close tonight without
Thaddeus Young. Thad was basically the only Sixer putting ball in basket
in the fourth quarter, finishing around the hoop and with the jumper
and just playing with tremendous energy, scrapping his way to 14
rebounds and a couple loose balls, also registering three steals and a
block. The days when Thad's ability to become a satisfactory starting
power forward seem very much behind us now, and though he may never be
an All-Star, he can absolutely be the fourth best player on a really,
really good team.

Sixers CEO Adam Aron called this win the
biggest of the year for the Sixers, and sad as that is to say about an
overtime W against a division-worst team at home, he's right. The Sixers
very badly needed something to turn the momentum of their season
around, and in more practical terms, they needed to not fall eight games
(!!) under .500, and if the Sixers somehow do manage to scrape their
way back into the playoff race, you'll have to look back at tonight's
win as the jumping off point for the reversal of the team's fortunes.
And if not, hopefully it at least secured our franchise point guard his
first All-Star appearance.

The high will likely be short-lived,
as the Sixers face the West-owning Spurs on Monday. But Sixer fans will
at least get the weekend to savor this one, the first truly feel-good
win for the team in 2013.

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Phils, Fish try to fight out of NL East cellar

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Phils, Fish try to fight out of NL East cellar

Phillies (17-31) vs. Marlins (18-30)
7:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies dropped another series with an 8-4 loss to the Reds in Sunday's rubber match at Citizens Bank Park. Zach Eflin struggled and was promptly optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Now the Phils head to Miami for a quick three-game road trip against the Marlins. Jeremy Hellickson will take the ball in Monday's opener, facing veteran Edinson Volquez.

Here are five things to know for Monday's contest:

1. Welcome back Howie
With the Phillies optioning Eflin, Howie Kendrick is the corresponding move, manager Pete Mackanin said Sunday. He will be reinstated from the 10-day disabled list after he was sidelined on Apr. 15 with an oblique injury.

In 10 games to begin the season, Kendrick played exclusively left field and batted .333/.395/.487. He had hits in eight of 10 appearances and had two three-hit games.

Kendrick rehabbed with Triple A Lehigh Valley, playing left field and third base. He began his career at second base and can play that and first base in a pinch.

To begin, he'll likely be used primarily as an outfielder. Mackanin hopes to spell his current trio and will take it slow with Kendrick to keep the 33-year-old healthy. Starting centerfielder Odubel Herrera will get a few days off soon, his manager said. Herrera is stuck in a 1-for-22 slide and has seen his batting line fall to a paltry .217/.264/.328. 

Kendrick's ability to play third could also come into play with Maikel Franco slumping. He's batting just .213 in an extended skid.

"He hit a ball hard today but he's not giving us consistent at-bats," Mackanin said about Franco. "He's searching both physically and mentally. It's not easy for him. I can tell he's down on himself. He's not happy about what's going on."

2. Jeremy on the hill
It's quite fitting that the Phillies face the Marlins in Miami on the seventh anniversary of Roy Halladay's perfect game. However, with the rotation's recent struggles, expectations of a repeat need to be tempered.

Hellickson is coming off his worst start of the season, although the bad start can be boiled down to just one poor inning. He gave up seven runs in the third inning on Wednesday vs. the red-hot Rockies, highlighted by a three-run homer by Carlos Gonzalez.

The start raised his ERA from 3.44 to 4.28. Still, the righty has had more good starts than bad this year, which is reflected by his 5-2 record. His strikeout rate has been halved from last season, yet his other peripherals have stayed level. To offset the lack of strikeouts, Hellickson has had really good command at times to the point where he induces a lot of weak contact. 

Facing the Marlins should be a major boon for 30-year-old. He went 3-1 with a 2.01 ERA over 40 1/3 innings against the Fish last year. He walked just three during those games and had a sterling 0.843 WHIP.

In April, he held the Marlins to just one run on seven hits in six innings. He really seems to have their number.

Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Bour are the three Marlins with home runs off of him. Christian Yelich is a solid 7 for 23 with a walk while Stanton is an awful 2 for 18 with two walks and six strikeouts. Dee Gordon is 5 for 14. 

3. Marlins overview
Make no mistake, this is an opponent ripe for the beating. While the Phillies have the worst record in baseball, the Marlins are just a game better and are 7-18 this month, being outscored by 39 runs. They did just take two of three from Mike Trout and the Angels.

The Fish have the fourth worst team ERA in baseball with a 4.74 mark. The Phillies are second worst with 4.85 while the Mets have a 4.93 team ERA. The Marlins have walked 210 batters as a team, 13 more than the second-highest total. Their pitchers have thrown the most HBPs (28) in the game. Simply put, control is not an asset they possess.

Just like Reds, the worst part of the team is their rotation. Their 5.11 ERA is better only than the Phillies and Reds. Adam Conley and Tom Koehler have struggled more than expected, plus they've used nine starters thanks to injuries. 

In the bullpen, A.J. Ramos is the closer and Kyle Barraclough is the key setup man. Ramos' ERA sits at 4.96. Veteran submarine pitcher Brad Ziegler has a 6.75 ERA while racking up the most appearances of any reliever. David Phelps and Nick Wittgren have been solid in middle relief.

On offense, Ozuna, Stanton Bour each have at least 12 homers. Catcher J.T. Realmuto has been strong both behind the plate and at the dish. A big issue has been Yelich, who has disappointed to the tune of a .268/.340/.402 batting line. That's not bad, but the 25-year-old was expected to have more of a breakout season.

4. Woeful with Volquez
This has not been a banner year for Volquez. The 33-year-old righty was signed to a two-year, $22 million deal this offseason and hasn't lived up to the billing through nine starts. He has an 0-7 record with a 4.87 ERA. He's walked a ton of batters (5.6 per nine innings to be exact) and has a 1.671 WHIP. 

He's never lived off control, but the walks are a bit extreme, his highest rate since 2009. He is three years removed from leading baseball with 15 wild pitches. Volquez baseball with 14 HBP his rookie year. At the same time, he was also an All-Star that season and finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting.

In his career, he's been solid against the Phils. He has a 4-2 record wit ha 2.30 ERA over seven starts and 43 frames. He faced them in April, gave up three runs (two earned) in 5 2/3 innings while losing to Hellickson.

Freddy Galvis has lit up Volquez in their meetings. He is 6 for 10 with a double, triple, homer and a walk against him. Michael Saunders is 3 for 13 with two walks. Franco is 2 for 5. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies have a few rotation options to fill Eflin's vacated spot. They won't need anyone until at least Saturday and they could skip a turn through the rotation with a day off on Thursday. 

They have three ready-made options to take that next turn when needed. Ben Lively has a 6-1 record with a 2.40 ERA in his second season with Lehigh Valley. Jake Thompson has struggled with a 5.88 ERA but has MLB experience. Nick Pivetta, who filled Aaron Nola's spot for three starts, is undefeated in five starts with a 1.41 ERA back in the minors.

• The Phillies won both games with the Fish in April. In fact, that was the last time they won back-to-back games. They went 10-9 vs. them last year, 5-4 at Marlins Park. This is their first series in Miami in 2017.

• Outfielder Daniel Nava will begin a rehab assignment with Triple A Lehigh Valley today. 

Phillies Prospect Notebook: Franklyn Kilome, Jose Taveras anchoring Clearwater's strong rotation

Phillies Prospect Notebook: Franklyn Kilome, Jose Taveras anchoring Clearwater's strong rotation

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Prospect Franklyn Kilome is the second-highest rated pitcher in the Phillies' organization, and the right-hander lived up to the billing Sunday, as the Clearwater Threshers, the Phillies' Class A Advanced affiliate, closed a three-game series at St. Lucie.

The right-hander twirled seven sparkling innings, shutting down the Mets’ hot bats, as the Threshers blanked St. Lucie 1-0 behind an unearned run at First Data Field to salvage the final game of the series.

Kilome, 21, allowed five hits, struck out six and didn’t issue a walk in winning for the first time since April 27. Only one St. Lucie player managed to reach second base against the 6-foot-6, 175-pound pitcher.

The Dominican pitcher is ranked No. 7 overall by Baseball America among Phillies' prospects. Only 18-year-old Lakewood hurler Sixto Sanchez (fifth overall) is rated above him in the organization.

“He’s got a chance to be a workhorse. Good body, very good arm, but still learning how to pitch a little bit,” pitching coach Aaron Fultz said of Kilome, who improved to 3-2 with a 3.02 ERA.

“He’s up to 97 (mph) with a good curveball and slider. He’s learning a changeup. He’s learning the game, but he’s got a huge upside.”

Jose Taveras (4-2, 2.26) has been another reliable arm on Clearwater’s staff. He led the South Atlantic League in strikeouts last season and has 54 in 55 2/3 innings this year.

Taveras also handled St. Lucie on Saturday, but he was left with a no-decision after the bullpen gave up three runs in a 4-3 loss in 10 innings. The 23-year-old worked six strong innings and yielded just a run on four hits.  

“Taveras is just a very good competitor," Fultz said. "His fastball is average, pretty decent breaking ball and his changeup is good, but the thing that makes him good is he’s just a competitor. He studies the game and the hitters and is very advanced with that.”

Added Threshers manager Shawn Williams: “There are times when he may not have his usual command, and he’ll change an arm angle, which shows he’s got a good feel for what he’s doing. He’ll crossfire, has deception … he’s got something where they don’t pick up his fastball and are always late.”

A third Dominican right-hander, Seranthony Dominguez (3-0, 2.02), has been a big part of the rotation as well and has won three times in six starts but is currently sidelined with shoulder soreness. An MRI returned a clean report.

“The first three or four weeks we were ridiculously good," Fultz said. "We’ve had a few bumps in the road since then, but we’re getting the job done.”

Zach, not Francis Ford
Zach Coppola has a famous Hollywood last name, but the Clearwater corner outfielder has spent 2017 making a name for himself with his defense, at the plate and on the bases.

Coppola, 23, was 5 for 12 with two runs scored in the St. Lucie series, including Sunday’s lone run. He made a pair of outstanding run-saving catches in the outfield over the weekend and raised his average to .346, second to Chris Paul (.351) of Fort Myers.

“Zach has been doing a great job as a leadoff hitter,” Williams said of the Iowa native. “He gets big hits, bunts, but the thing for me is he does something every night to help you win, whether it’s a bunt hit or a great diving play in left-center. He’ll throw a guy out or get a great dirtball read and score the winning run.

“He’s a very good baseball player who does all the little things.”

Good contributors
The Threshers (28-23) have sat atop the FSL’s North Division for most of the first half, but a series loss at St. Lucie over the weekend left them trailing Dunedin by one game after both clubs won Sunday.

Williams said his first season skippering the club has been highlighted by a full-team effort.

“It’s been a little bit of everything,” Williams said. “Early on our pitching was very, very good. Cole (Irvin) was really dealing (see more on Irvin). Dominguez, everybody was. We were getting the big hits, and our defense has been very consistent. Overall, we’ve just played good baseball.”

One standout playing good ball has been 5-foot-5 middle infielder Grenny Cumana, who went 7 for 10 in the series and made a spectacular catch-and-throw on the grass behind the bag while playing second base to rob St. Lucie’s Vinny Siena of an infield hit Sunday.

Tenacious P
Fultz said one immeasurable he likes in his pitchers is a bulldog-like tenacity that has them wanting the ball in key moments, regardless of previous outcomes.

“I don’t have to have the guy who’s always going to succeed in the big situation, but I always want the guy that wants to be out there in that situation. To me, that’s the selling point,” he said. “It’s not always being successful; it’s always wanting to be in that situation, which is a big plus.”

Fultz said his favorite battler was Jamie Brewington, a teammate of his in the San Francisco farm system, who appeared in 40 games over two MLB seasons.

“He went right after hitters, and it was fun to watch,” Fultz said.