One More For the Win: Jrue, Spence, Refs Help Sixers Take 3-1 Lead Over Bulls

One More For the Win: Jrue, Spence, Refs Help Sixers Take 3-1 Lead Over Bulls

Another ugly game, and this time, an ugly win to match for the Sixers.
It was looking like a pending feel-good W for Philly when Jrue Holiday
hit consecutive threes to put the Ballers up seven with just about 3:30
to go, but a Boozer three-point play and a CJ Watson jumper quickly cut
the lead to two, and the Sixers ended up needing a little help from the
refs to escape with the Game Four win. 
Still, it was a huge win for the
Sixers, and with the 3-1 series lead, you have to feel like now they're
actually—gasp!—the favorites to win in this series.

After a game three that saw the Sixers' guards balling and their
frontcourt go bone-dry from the field for the first three quarters,
matters were reversed for the Sixers today, with their backcourt
struggling enormously through the first three—Jrue was a horrific 1-14
at the half, with Evan Turner and Lou Williams not doing much
better—while the Sixers' bigs actually came through. Spencer Hawes in
particular was even stronger than he was yesterday, hitting from all
over the court (including a three at the end of the half that brought
Evan out of his seat on the bench) and ending with 22 points and eight
rebounds—the first Sixer center since Moses Malone to have to straight
post-season 20-pointers, apparently.

The Bulls, again missing their star point guard in Derrick Rose and
defensive anchor in Joakim Noah, just didn't have the weapons to put
away the Sixers today. Overpaid forward Carlos Boozer had a decent
enough game as the Bulls' featured scorer, putting up 23 points (but
needing 24 shots to do it), but their guards again struggled, with their
starting backcourt of C.J. Watson and Rip Hamilton shooting a combined
8-27 from the field, and all-star swing Luol Deng continuing to no-show
offensively, scoring just 11 points on as many FG attempts. (Partial
credit must go to the Sixers' back-court for the Bulls' continuing
shooting woes as well, with Turner and Holiday making up for their
lackluster offense with clampdown D.)

It seemed like the two teams' strengths and weaknesses canceled each
other out nearly all game, so it was no surprise to see the game go down
to the wire as it did on Friday. But the key sequence of the game might
have been one where the refs unfortunately took over the game with
their own erratic officiating, as a Carlos Boozer drive with about a
minute left, in which he appeared to be clocked by both Elton Brand and
Spencer Hawes, was not whistled, while a bump on Jrue Holiday at the
other end was, allowing the Sixers to go up four and take control of the
game. It took a little wind out of the joy of the victory for it to be
so zebra-influenced, but props to the Sixers for actually making their
free throws down the stretch—7-8 again down the stretch, including a
jaw-dropping two-for-two from Andre Iguodala—and it's not like the Bulls
were playing brilliantly down the stretch anyway, committing careless
turnovers and performing some Reid-worthy clock management.

I've taken the approach this series that it's more important that the
team really figures out who they are, rather than doing whatever it
takes to move on to the next round. 
This series already has so many
asterisks next to it that it almost doesn't matter long-term who ends up
winning, though it would be cool and somewhat hilarious to see this
team have a shot at getting to the conference finals—and as far as
looking towards the future, today wasn't quite as encouraging as
yesterday. Still, even if Evan had a rough day on offense, you liked
seeing him attack the basket on nearly every possession and shutting
down CJ Watson on D, and even if Jrue had a miserable showing from the
field in the first half, those two threes were absolutely cold-blooded,
and the converted final-minute free throws were nearly as huge. And
Spencer Hawes...well, a couple more games like this and we might have
some tough decisions to make in the off-season about our
flawed-but-versatile big man.

Game five in Chicago on Tuesday, with a chance to close out (!!!) the
Bulls and not see the WFC crowd again until round two. 
It's a weird
post-season, and if they do win the series, lord knows most people
aren't going to give the Sixers much credit for an upset. But to all
those people who may eventually be harping about how you can barely
consider it an upset consider the Bulls' injuries, I ask you this—how
many of you actually predicted the Sixers to win after Rose went down? I
certainly didn't, and I seriously doubt you did either. 
It will still
be a huge accomplishment for the Sixers if they win a fourth game in
this series, and though I don't know where they'd go from there, I'm
very proud of our boys for getting that far.

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores career-high 43 points in Raptors' win

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores career-high 43 points in Raptors' win

TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan scored a career-high 43 points and the Toronto Raptors rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Boston Celtics 107-97 on Friday night.

DeRozan shot 15 of 28 from the floor as he surpassed his 42-point effort against the Houston Rockets on March 30, 2015, helping the Raptors overcome the absence of fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry. Lowry sat out with a right wrist injury.

Serge Ibaka, acquired by trade from the Orlando Magic last week, scored 15 points in his debut, while fellow newcomer P.J. Tucker, picked up from the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, had a game-high 10 rebounds and nine points in his first game for his new team.

Isaiah Thomas scored 20 points for Boston, which also got 19 points each from Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart (see full recap).

Westbrook triple-double lifts Thunder over Lakers
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook scored 17 points in his 28th triple-double of the season, and his new teammates fit in seamlessly as the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 110-93 on Friday night.

Westbrook also had 18 rebounds and 17 assists for the 65th triple-double of his career.

It was the first game for new Thunder players Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, acquired Thursday in a trade with the Chicago Bulls. Gibson scored 12 points and McDermott added eight, even though they arrived Thursday night and weren't even available for shootaround on Friday.

Alex Abrines and Andre Roberson each set a career high with 19 points, and Steven Adams added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder.

D'Angelo Russell scored 29 for the Lakers (see full recap).

Pacers beat Grizzlies to snap six-game skid
INDIANAPOLIS -- CJ Miles made five 3-pointers and scored 17 points, Paul George had nine points and nine rebounds after remaining with Indiana following the trade deadline, and the Pacers snapped a six-game losing streak with a 102-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.

Monta Ellis finished with 16 points, Myles Turner scored 12, and Lavoy Allen, Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young each added 10 for the Pacers.

The Pacers outscored the Grizzlies 64-42 across the middle two quarters and never relinquished their lead, leading by as many as 27 points in the second half. The Grizzlies finished the game shooting 41 percent from the floor (35 for 84).

Troy Daniels had 13 points for Memphis and Marc Gasol scored 12. Indiana outrebounded Memphis 50-39 and scored 29 points off 17 Grizzlies turnovers (see full recap).

Thrust into bigger role, Sixers' Holmes stars in win over Wizards

Thrust into bigger role, Sixers' Holmes stars in win over Wizards

BOX SCORE

For as much as the Sixers’ bigs are talked about, Richaun Holmes often is left out of the conversation. 

He’s not the centerpiece of the team like Joel Embiid nor was he heavily involved in trade talks like Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. He is the backup center who bides his time on the bench and quietly stays ready when he gets the nod.

And on Friday, he was the standout player in the Sixers’ 120-112 win over the Wizards (see Instant Replay)

“He’s been sort of the person that people forget about because of the logjam of five men,” Brett Brown said. “We all sort of think, ‘Well, he should just accept it because he’s behind Joel and Nerlens and Jahlil. Good ol’ Richaun. Go to the D-League and it’s OK.’ And that doesn’t work. He’s a pro, he’s competitive. He’s handled it. He’s really been a wonderful teammate.”

Holmes was bumped up in the rotation following the trade of Noel to the Mavs. He moved into the second-unit role while Okafor started in place of the injured Embiid. 

Holmes recorded his first double-double with 12 points (6 for 9 from the field) and 10 rebounds (three offensive). He also blocked a career-high five shots, tying Embiid for the most by a Sixer this season. The second-year big man put together this impressive performance in 26 minutes off the bench. 

“Just play hard,” Holmes said of his approach. “Just go out there, show what you’ve been working on, play hard every second you’re out there. That’s the motto I’ve got.”

Holmes is averaging 16.1 minutes and has appeared in just 32 of the Sixers’ 57 games. This season he also spent time with the Delaware 87ers of the Development League to get playing time. Holmes embraced an opportunity similar to Friday’s a month ago when he scored 18 points in as many minutes against the Clippers. 

“I try to approach every game this season the same way, whether everybody was playing or people were hurt,” Holmes said. “Prepare like I’m going to play 30 minutes a game. I think having that mindset helped me to stay ready at all times and be aggressive when I had a chance.”

Brown did not rule out the possibility that Holmes could start at some point if he continues this production. The Sixers are limiting Okafor to 20 to 24 minutes per game, according to Brown. That, combined with Embiid’s injury, could lend itself to an increased role for Holmes. 

“I think in that environment, it wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary for Richaun to get a start from time to time,” Brown said. 

Even if he remains on the second unit, Holmes proved he can provide a spark off the bench. Dario Saric noted how Holmes’ impact on both ends of the floor bolsters the frontcourt in addition to a more offensively-minded Okafor (11 points, two rebounds). 

“I think he played unbelievably good in both ways,” Saric said. “Everybody knows he’s an elite guy finishing around the rim, and he stepped in Nerlens’ place, he replaced him unbelievably good. I hope he will get the same minutes for the next game because we have Jahlil, who is more like a post-up player, who likes more to score from the low-post block, and we for sure need some guy like Richaun who will play in both ways." 

Perhaps the person least surprised by Holmes' game was Holmes himself. It was the result he puts in long hours to produce.

“It’s all about the grind,” he said. “All about keep working, keep trying to move up, keep trying to get better every second and it’ll pay off.”