It Keeps You Running: Looking at Sixers' Close Game One Loss to Boston

It Keeps You Running: Looking at Sixers' Close Game One Loss to Boston

About three quarters in on this one, where the Sixers had seen their
double-digit lead vanquished, but were still fighting and in fact
managed to build another ten-point lead on Boston, I thought to myself,
"They have to get this one." To win a Game One in Boston would
have been remarkably huge, for all sorts of intangible reasons, but
mostly for the exceedingly tangible reason that you don't get a ton of
opportunities to steal a game at the TD Garden against a very good
Celtics team, and if you have the chance—as the Sixers certainly did
tonight—you'd better hope you can do it.

Alas, no such luck, as the Celtics pulled out the 92-91 comeback win,
and the Sixers may find themselves in deep remorse that they let this
one get away from them.

The Sixers were able to jump out in the first half of this game the way
we thought they might in this series—by running the Celtics ragged in
the open court. The Sixers were racing down the court off every miss and
turnover, creating superior scoring opportunities before the vaunted
Celtics defense could set up, and allowing their energy on the fast
break to infect their half-court defense, which was inspried in the
first two quarters in forcing the Celtics to take long, contested
jumpers. There was nothing easy for the C's in the first half, but there
were a surprising number of easy buckets for the Sixers, for whom
scoring had been at such a premium in the Chicago series. They led for
pretty much the entire half, starting the third with a 47-42 lead.

Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala were the primary catalysts early. Evan
was truly awesome for the first 24 of this one, crashing the boards and
getting the Sixers transition game running early, and scoring on his
typical variety of moves (most notably that up-and-under layup off Jrue
Holiday's feed), and the confidence from his Game Six free throw heroics
seemed to give 'Dre a sharpness on his jumper that we haven't seen from
him in some time. (The two finished with a combined line of 35 points,
16 rebounds and nine assists—not bad for our wings.) Lavoy Allen also
provided a nice spark off the bench, ending with 12 and six in less than
20 minutes, and helping cover for a gimpy Thaddeus Young (who, as in
the Chicago series, was a non-factor.)

But you knew the Celtics would make a push, and push they did in the
second half, a surge keyed by point guard Rajon Rondo and big man Kevin
Garnett. Rondo has been playing arguably the best ball of his career the
last few months, and though I thought the Sixers played him
decently—Turner drew the primary defensive assignment, and as he did
during the season, kept him from getting to the basket, but he still
managed a triple-double, even hitting a couple outside jumpers (the
bug-a-boo for Rondo most of his career) to buoy Boston late. And
Garnett, who has also been playing inspired ball of late, was money all
night with the jumper, ending with 29 (12-20 FG) and 11 boards. The two
of them were incredibly big in this one, and reminded you of just the
incredible amount of talent the C's have on their roster.

Meanwhile, the Sixers had Lou Williams. It's a little unfair to be too
down on Sour Patch Lou in this one—again, it wasn't like anyone else was
really showing anything at the end of this one, and Jrue Holiday in
particular had been miserable all game from the field (eight points on
3-13 shooting)—but man, did he kill us late. Three consecutive
possessions down the stretch saw Lou destroy this team's chances with
his poor decision making:

1. 2-on-1 with Thaddeus Young on the fast break. Lou doesn't even glance
at Thad as he decides to take on premier Boston defender Avery Bradley
at the hoop. Blocked shot, Celtics get an and-one with KG getting
super-deep post-position on Spencer Hawes at the other end.
2. Ball at the top of the key. Lou drives on Bradley again, draws what
he feels to be contact, and lets the ball go. No foul is called, Bradley
easily collects the ball and Boston scores at the other end.
3. Lou pushes the ball in transition, but is shut down at the basket and
forced out to the corner by the Celtics. Rather than wait for his
teammates to catch up and then run a play, Lou jacks up a contested long
two, which rims off. ("Not. The right. Shot at that time." remarks Mark
Fratello.) Boston scores at the other end.

Again, not totally on Lou, especially since Coach Collins gets some
credit for giving him such an ill-conceived green light in such a
situation. (Even after all three disaster plays, Lou was still in the
lineup for the team at the end.) But man...as much as it hurts when your
team isn't making shots, it's way worse to see them make poor
decisions. And you could say that Thad might not have been in prime
position to score on the break anyway, or that Bradley really did bump
Lou and he should have shot free throws, but to see Lou attempt to take
the game over and fail this miserably (while Rondo, Garnett and Paul
Pierce responded at the other end) is a pretty good demonstration of why
a large chunk of us hope that the Sixth Man of the Year runner-up is
wearing a different uniform next year.

Really, though, it might be Collins who deserves the lion's share of the
blame for blowing this one. Not just the way he rode the frostbitten
hand with Lou Williams, but for going super-small at the end (with the
perennially outworked Spencer Hawes the lone big) while the C's were
tearing Philly apart on offense, and for not calling a timeout with the
team down three with only six seconds left, allowing the Celtics to burn
a couple seconds off the clock before fouling Jrue and sending him to
the line. (You could also argue that he goofed in not having Jrue miss
the second one, as the Sixers never touched the ball again after Rondo
dribbled out the clock off a back-court in-bounds the next possession.)
I'm not a Collins hater, and I still think he wins us more games than he
loses us, but his late-game management this season has often left
something to be desired, and tonight might have been his worst showing
yet.

There are two ways to look at a game like this. The more
cynical—skeptical at the very least—would be to say that the Sixers had
their chance to steal a game, and likely won't get another one this good
again. The C's had a rough night shooting from the field, with a ton of
shots just rimming out, and it's unlikely that Paul Pierce and Ray
Allen will continue to shoot a combined 33% for the series, while the
Sixers were uncharacteristically efficient, with players like Turner,
Iguodala, Hawes (15 on 6-12 shooting) and Allen likely to see their
production drop in subsequent games. This might have been the Liberty
Baller's best punch, and Boston weathered it.

Of course, the other, more optimistic way to look at it, would be to say
that we now know the recipe for beating this team. Their transition
defense just isn't as good as Chicago's, and our athletic playmakers
like Holiday, Turner and Iguodala appear to really be able to cause
havoc against them in the open-court (and to a lesser extent, in the
half-court, with the team spacing and moving the ball well), with Hawes
and Allen proving willing and capable finishers. The Celtics escaped
this one, but just as some of our guys will probably regress to the
mean, KG hasn't scored 29 points all season, and probably won't again,
while our own Jrue Holiday is too good a shooter to go 3-13 again. We
put a scare into Boston, let 'em know that we're for real, and maybe we
can play them tight for a whole, long series.

I tend to gravitate towards the former explanation—sorry, been let down a
lot by this team this year—but both are possible. We'll have a much
better understanding of the situation after Game Two, of course—if the
Sixers lose in convincing fashion, it's going to be exceptionally
difficult for them to make this a series, but if they again keep it
tight or somehow even get the win they coughed up this time, then we
just might be in for an epic second-round series. I look forward to
finding out which one it is this Monday.

Instant Replay: Reds 5, Phillies 2

Instant Replay: Reds 5, Phillies 2

BOX SCORE

Aaron Nola struggled and the Phillies' offense slumbered in a 5-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies had just one hit through eight innings and three overall in losing for the 21st time in the last 26 games. They scored both of their runs in the ninth inning.

Over their last six games, five of which have been losses, the Phillies have been held to three hits four times.

The Phillies have scored just nine runs in their last six games.

Nola came off the disabled list and pitched seven innings of one-run ball Sunday in Pittsburgh. He failed to build on that outing against a Cincinnati club that entered the game with nine losses in its previous 12 games.

Starting pitching report
Nola, who entered the game having given up just one home run in 23 innings this season, gave up a pair of long balls in the first two innings as the Reds jumped out to a 3-0 lead. In all, the right-hander gave up six hits and five runs over six innings.

Nola is 2-2 with a 4.34 ERA in five starts.

Cincinnati right-hander Tim Adleman's 20th big-league start was the best of his career. The right-hander pitched eight shutout innings and allowed just four baserunners on one hit, two walks and a hit batsman. He struck out four.

Adleman entered the game with a 6.19 ERA this season.

Bullpen report
Mark Leiter Jr. pitched two scoreless innings and struck out three for the Phillies.

Asher Wojciechowski lost the shutout in the ninth. Raisel Iglesias came on for the final two outs. He struck out Maikel Franco, the potential tying run, hacking wildly at a full-count breaking ball to end the game.

At the plate
Andres Blanco, the Phillies' No. 2 hitter, singled in the first inning. The Phillies did not have another hit until there was one out in the ninth.

Aaron Altherr doubled in the ninth to break up the Reds' shutout bid.

Odubel Herrera batted leadoff and ran his slump to 0 for 13 before doubling in the ninth. He hit a ball hard earlier in the game, too, but Cincinnati leftfielder Adam Duvall made a nice diving catch.

For Cincinnati, Duvall and Scott Schebler took Nola deep. Jose Peraza had a two-run single against Nola in the sixth inning. He has a 12-game hitting streak.

In the field
Cincinnati catcher Devin Mesoraco made a terrific play in starting a 2-4-3 double play to end the seventh inning.

Minor matters
Second base prospect Jesmuel Valentin had season-ending surgery on his left shoulder in Philadelphia on Friday. Valentin, who was playing at Triple A Lehigh Valley, is looking at a recovery time of four to five months. He should be ready to play winter ball in his native Puerto Rico. Valentin went down to the final days of camp in a bid to make the Phillies' opening day roster in spring training (see story).

Up next
The series continues in a 4:05 p.m. start Saturday. Jerad Eickhoff (0-5, 4.70) pitches against Bronson Arroyo (3-4, 6.75).

NHL Notes: Predators' P.K. Subban rides whirlwind to Stanley Cup Final

NHL Notes: Predators' P.K. Subban rides whirlwind to Stanley Cup Final

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It has been an extraordinary 11 months for P.K. Subban.

The defenseman moved from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference. Left his native Canada to live in the American South. Blended in with new teammates, created a new home and learned a new system of money, too.

Oh, and along the way the former star for the Montreal Canadiens played a key role in Nashville's stirring run to the Stanley Cup Final.

The best way to sum up Subban's approach? C'est la vie.

"I just tried to have the right attitude when change comes my way," Subban said. "I think when you have an open mind, an open mind is like a gold mine. You just have an open mind, you can only go up from there regardless of what comes your way and just always try to approach things in a positive way."

The Canadiens and Predators shocked the NHL last June 29 when Nashville swapped captain Shea Weber for Subban in a rare one-for-one trade of All-Star defensemen. Adding Subban's offensive skills immediately made the Predators a popular pick to be right where they are now as the Western Conference champions.

The stylish Subban has as much flair on the ice with his goal celebrations as off with his hats and stylish suits. The Predators and their fans have embraced all of it.

"When it happened, I came in here with the right attitude and just wanted to be a part of this team and do whatever I can do to help a team win," Subban said (see full story).

Penguins: Team rides maturity, resilience back to Cup Final
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz stood shoulder to shoulder at center ice as midnight approached, crowd on its feet, Prince of Wales Trophy in hand. Another shot at the Stanley Cup in the offing.

On the surface, it could have been a scene ripped from 2008 when the longtime Pittsburgh Penguin teammates earned their first crack at a championship together, the one that was supposed to be the launching pad for a dynasty.

A closer look at the weary, grateful smiles told a different story.

This team has learned over the last decade that nothing can be taken for granted. Not their individual greatness or postseason success, even for one of the NHL's marquee franchises. Not the cohesion it takes to survive the crucible of the most draining championship chase in professional team sports or the mental toughness (along with a dash of luck) needed to stay on top once you get there.

So Crosby paused in the giddy aftermath of Pittsburgh's 3-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 7 of the helter-skelter Eastern Conference finals to do something the two-time Hart Trophy winner almost never does. He took stock of the moment, aware of how fleeting they can be.

"Every series you look at, the margin for error is so slim," Crosby said. "We've just continued to find ways and different guys have stepped up. We trust in that and we believe in that and whoever has come in the lineup has done a great job. That builds confidence. We've done it different ways, which is probably our biggest strength" (see full story).