It Ain't Over Yet: Eagles Hold On to Lead, Keep Playoff Hopes Intact

It Ain't Over Yet: Eagles Hold On to Lead, Keep Playoff Hopes Intact

And the nightmare ends... at least for a couple weeks.

The Eagles jumped all over Redskins during the first half of Sunday's game in our nation's capital, scoring on four consecutive drives to amass a 20-point lead. They wouldn't score again the rest of the afternoon, but the defense played surprisingly well, doing just enough to withstand a John Beck-led fourth quarter comeback. With their 20-13 victory, the Birds head into the bye week with a 2-4 record, and for the time being have put themselves back in the postseason conversation.

Juan Castillo's defense set the tone early on, a huge departure from recent weeks. Kurt Coleman intercepted Rex Grossman on Washington's first drive, one of the safety's three picks in the game. Michael Vick led the offense on an 82-yard drive, capped with a 7-yard touchdown on a tight end screen to Brent Celek -- who by the way had a big role in the game plan.

Following a three-and-out, the Eagles marched right down the field again, and would eventually find themselves on the goal line. They would not be denied today though, as LeSean McCoy took the handoff and bounced it outside for an easy six, capping a 72-yard possession.

Philadelphia would stall in the red zone on their next two series, but Alex Henery picked up a pair of field goals to extend the lead to 20. However, those finishes proved to be a sign of things to come.

The Eagles could not score in the second half. They moved the ball inside the 20-yard line on their opening possession, but Vick's pass intended for Celek was deflected, and collected by O.J. Atogwe on the 1. Vick was then nicked up on the next series, and Vince Young promptly threw an INT in relief. Vick returned and the offense moved into scoring position, but failed to convert a 4th and 2 from the Skins 32, an area many teams might have opted to go for three. Finally, a pair of drives ended with punts.

Thankfully the defense was up to the task. Grossman was pulled after throwing his fourth interception of the game, and replaced by Beck, a career backup. Ryan Torain managed just 22 yards on 10 carries, as the defense held Washington to a paltry 42 yards on the ground. The pass rush is clearly missing something without Trent Cole, but Mike Patterson and Darryl Tapp each came up with a timely sack.

It was a solid effort all around that indicates they may be starting to gel on the other side of the ball. Coleman obviously played at a high level, and Nate Allen added a pick of his own in his second consecutive strong performance, perhaps solidifying the defensive backfield finally. They did allow 94 yards receiving to tight ends, but most of those came on screens and short swings rather than down the field.

Meanwhile, the offense continues to give an uneven effort, even if there was a lot to like here. LeSean McCoy carried 28 times in a contest where the Birds dominated the time of possession, racking up 126 yards and the score. Maclin was the top receiver with five catches for 101 yards, while Vick had a steady day with 237 yards in the air and another 54 on the ground.

Most importantly, they protected the ball. After turning it over 14 times over the previous four games, it was only the two picks today -- one of which was Young. However, they continued to shoot themselves in the foot in the red zone, coming away with touchdowns on two of five trips. That needs to get turned around, as we're not sure this defense will hold some of their more offensive-minded opponents to 13 points.

But for today, a win is a win, and there were plenty of positives to take away from this. They protected the ball. They played defense. They limited bone-headed mistakes. Now the Eagles have the bye to continue fixing the things that are still broke, get some key players healthy, and gear up to make the postseason run we all expected.

Yes, a postseason run. If they play more like they did today, that dream is not so far-fetched.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).