Bummer: Sixers Lose Coin-Toss Game to Nuggets in OT

Bummer: Sixers Lose Coin-Toss Game to Nuggets in OT

Basketball might not be known as the sport of inches, but in this game,
it certainly felt like one. The Sixers and Nuggets have been considered
to be roughly mirror teams this season—both athletic, young, deep,
starless squads that share the ball and play good team defense—and they
showed why tonight, playing to a draw in regulation after a first half
that saw the Sixers run out to a double-digit lead in the second quarter,
then cough it up just as quickly, needing an 11-0 run in the fourth to
get things even again. It was a game of runs, and it felt like the team
that would win would just be the one who made the last shot.

In other words, this game very easily could've gone either way. It just didn't go the Sixers' way.

Which,
of course, isn't to say that our guys go entirely without blame for the
L here. Andre Iguodala went to the line with four seconds left in
regulation with a chance to put the team ahead, and instead split to
tie. Lou Williams missed a wide open three from the corner that would've
given Philly a one-point lead in OT. And in what might be the enduring
play from this game, Jrue threw the ball away with five seconds left and
the Sixers down two.

Besides these memorable misses, there were
countless loose balls and rebounds around the net throughout the game
that the Sixers just couldn't wrap their hands around. Most notably on a
Thaddeus Young miss around the basket with about a minute left in the
4th and Philly up 4, where he tried to go back up with it and got
blocked by the rim, leading to an Andre Miller and-one on the other end.
If the Sixers get one of those rebounds—or if Thaddeus kicks the ball out to
kill clock instead of trying to go back up without any space to do
so—maybe they win. But they didn't, and they end up losing their first
overtime game (and first true test game, for whatever that's worth) of
the season by a score of 108-104.

As bad as the loss is, there's
still plenty to feel good about with this game. Evan Turner went into
old-school Ohio State mode for an extended stretch in the fourth
quarter, showing more confidence than we've ever seen from The
Extraterrestrial. He dazzled in his work around the basket, earning
three and-ones in the second half (converting two) and ended with a
season-high 20 points on 8-17 shooting on the night, with 11 rebounds to
boot. The most remarkable thing about The Villain's 4th was how as he
started to heat up, the team started deferring to him in the half-court,
and he had showed no hesitation whatsoever at taking the load on his
shoulders. The jumper wasn't going, but even his misses were
encouraging—good looks earned on good moves and good movement that just
didn't go down. Once he can reliably stick the mid-range—and you have to
think that as long as he puts in the work, he will someday soon—this
guy can be a devastating offensive player.

Despite a couple
gaffes of his own, Thaddeus Young was also certainly the man tonight,
scoring a season-high 22 points off the bench, even showing a little
improved range in the half-court, hitting some open jumpers and even a
step-back. You would've liked to see him get to the line some—despite
their combined 36 shots from the field, Thad and Elton Brand (a nice
night himself from the floor, 16 on 8-14 FG) managed just two free-throw
attempts between them, and poetically, missed both—but it still gave
the Sixers a huge boost, with the Sixers nightshift (YEAH MZ) combining
for an incredible 54 points.

But what killed the Sixers tonight
was size. Well, size and Andre Miller, but we'll get to him in a minute.
Without Spencer Hawes, who sat tonight with leg and back issues, the
team had to rely on rookie Nikola Vucevic for big minutes, and though he
played capably in an extended first-quarter stretch, he couldn't stay
on the floor, picking up two fouls in the first and his next two shortly
upon returning in the second and third. Without him, the Sixers had to
go small, and Nuggets big Nene ate Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young alive,
going off for 20 and 14 when it felt like he could've ended with a lot
more. The particularly discouraging plays were when Elton was fronting
Nene, and Andre Miller would still dump it into him, putting it just
high enough that it was forever out of Elton's reach. After that, there
was nothing anyone could do.

And yeah, about that Andre Miller.
We saw first-hand for two-plus seasons just what this guy is capable of,
and boy did we see the full arsenal tonight. Starting the game behind
Ty Lawson, he was by far the best player on the court, finishing with
28, 10 and 8, and hitting some absolutely huge shots in the fourth and
overtime to steal the game for the Nuggets. Some of it was a little
fluky, to say the least—Miller, the career 20% three-point shooter, hit
his first three shots from deep (tying a career-high he set with the
Cavs in 2000), including a pull-up over Andre Iguodala after getting a
call he didn't like. It was the kind of performance players usually
reserve for Grudge Match vengeance games, enough so that it caused
Zumoff and Malik to audibly wonder whether or not the Sixers did
something to piss him off before he left for Portland as a free agent.

With
a performance like that from Andre, some bad breaks for the Sixers and
the lack of their do-everything starting center, the loss is again
excusable, even if we'd rather have a lucky win at this point than a
justifiable loss. But I do want to raise questions about two decisions
made by Coach Collins that may have swayed the balance of this game. Now
I don't like second-guessing coaches, and Collins deserves all the
credit in the world for getting this team to this point, both in terms
of the game tonight and in the larger sense of his 96-game tenure as the
Sixers' ship captain, but I do hope there's some explanation for the
two of these, much of which will likely come from his post-game presser.

First off, going small in the second half—Vucevic's fourth foul
knocked him out of the game early in the second, and he didn't play
again the whole night—was a risky tactical ploy that all told, ended up
working out well for the Sixers, as the small, speedy Ballers unit was
able to get steals and push the ball in the fourth as they broke off
that 11-0 run to get back in the game. But what I don't get is why on
the team's second-to-last defensive possession in the fourth with
seconds to go and Philly up one, Collins still had Elton playing center,
when a stop was basically all the team needed to secure the win. Miller
ended up driving past Andre Iguodala for a layup, with the help defense
from Elton coming a split-second too late, and his outstretched arm
missing the ball by millimeters. You'd have to think that if Vucevic or
Battie were in there, maybe they get a finger on it, deflect it, alter
it somehow. But Collins stuck with his small lineup and was punished for
it.

Secondly, Collins decided not to call a time-out off the
rebound of Andre Miller's missed banker with 15 seconds left in OT, with
the Sixers down two. Again, this move is defensible, as the Sixers had
been scoring well in transition late and might have had more of a shot
at an easy deuce or go-ahead three with the Nuggets flustered getting
back on D, instead of having time to set up in the half-court. But the
problem was that all of the Sixers seemed to expect Collins to call
time, resulting in Jodie Meeks corralling the rebound for two seconds
before getting it to a playmaker, Jrue Holiday trotting the ball up
court, and then running a discombobulated play that ended with him
throwing the ball into the capable hands of Andre Miller. If Collins
planned not to call a timeout then, then you'd hope he would've told the
team that in the timeout before their previous possession, so they
could've responded quickly with it and had the element of surprise on
their side. Instead, they never even got off a shot.

There's a lot to talk about with this game, obviously—with all I've
already said, I still haven't even mentioned Jrue's gorgeous spin move
and layup in the fourth to put the team up one with less than a minute
to go, nor Andre Iguodala's near triple-double (11-10-9) or the
definitively poor shooting night that went with it (4-12 with a big FT
miss)—but bottom line, the team hung tough but couldn't quite get a hold
of the game. Tough one, and it'll take a win Friday against the Hawks
to make up for it—no doubt all our guys will be chomping at the bit to
wash the taste of this one out of their mouths, and hopefully Spence can
join the party as well.

In any event, hell of a game. If you're not watching this team by now, shame on you.

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.