Coming-of-age? Sean Couturier dominates in Flyers’ 6-3 win over Detroit

Coming-of-age? Sean Couturier dominates in Flyers’ 6-3 win over Detroit

Sean Couturier turns 21-years-old this Saturday, but he’s already well into his third full season in the NHL, and really starting to come into his own as an all-around player. He may have made a name for himself in the Philadelphia Flyers’ nationally televised 6-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night.

Couturier reached new career highs with four points (2 G, 2 A) and a plus-three rating, as he helped the Flyers erase a two-goal deficit and ultimately run the Red Wings out of their own building with five unanswered scores. He also won 11-of-21 faceoffs taken, and led all forwards in shifts with 30.

From a pure statistical standpoint, it was the best regular season game of Couturier’s career. He also registered four points once in the postseason as a rookie, potting three goals and a helper in Game 2 of Philadelphia’s first-round series over the Penguins.

His brilliant power-play feed to free up Steve Downie in the slot got the Flyers on the scoreboard in the first period. In the second, it was an instinctive dish from below the goal line to Matt Read all alone in front of the net, a critical play that cut Detroit’s lead to one before the teams went into the dressing room.

Both passes required tremendous vision, precision and impeccable execution. Couturier obliged, and his linemates were there to finish. How great has his pairing with Downie and Read been of late?

Fittingly, Couturier would punch home the decisive marker. He had positioned himself aside of Red Wings netminder Jimmy Howard, which just happened to be where the puck was heading after Downie’s shot took a left turn off of a defender’s skate. Coots effortlessly redirected the biscuit into the basket to put the Flyers on top.

Good things happen when you crash the net.

Even the empty-netter was a heady play. Couturier patiently held on to the disc until he got the look he wanted, then fired it from the neutral zone to put the exclamation point on his night.

Claude Giroux also snapped a goal by Howard from outside the faceoff circle to tie the score on a nicely executed power play that pressured Detroit throughout. Giroux looked like he was setting up for it again on the next power play some minutes later, but once the captain attracted attention he passed to Scott Hartnell who had wheeled into the slot. Excellent play design.

Steve Mason stopped 32 of 35 shot attempts for Philadelphia.

It’s worth noting the Red Wings were without Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Todd Bertuzzi, all scratched due to various injuries.

Couturier’s goals give him four in the Flyers’ last four games, and 10 points over the last nine. He’s up to 14 points (5 G, 9 A) and is plus-10 through 28 games this season.

Of course, the great thing about the 2011 eighth-overall pick is you always get more than what you see on the stat sheet. He plays great defense, rarely makes mistakes with the puck, and isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas when necessary.

The way he’s playing right now, and the fact that we’re talking this highly about a still-20-year-old kid should mean big things are in store for the Flyers in the future. Just imagine, Couturier could be wearing orange and black for another decade... or two.

>> Box Score [Yahoo!]

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).