These Guys: Sixers-Celtics for First Time in '11-'12

These Guys: Sixers-Celtics for First Time in '11-'12

We thought it was safe—well, borderline safe—to bury the Celtics earlier
in the season when discussing the Atlantic Division race. The C's were
5-9 through 14 games while the Sixers were 10-4, and the C's were 15-17
through 32 games while the Sixers were 20-12. But now the Celtics have
won five in a row while the Sixers have lost eight of their last ten
(yikes!), meaning that now the two teams are separated by just a game in
the Eastern Conference standings. Yup—if the C's beat the Sixers
tonight, they'll be tied on top of the Atlantic for the first time since
the second week of the season. Spooky.

Reports have it that Nik Vucevic and Evan Turner will be starting for
the Sixers again tonight, as they did in Milwaukee. [UPDATE: Thad Young is sick and will not play this evening, so Coach Collins said he will start Tony Battie to face KG and bring Nik off the bench] To say that the
experiment was not a resounding success on Monday would be a definite
understatement—the two went a combined 4-20 from the field for eight
points in a combined 49 minutes. Howard Eskin
reports that Turner, whose 32 minutes and 1-12 shooting night accounted
for most of that inefficiency, is now going to be a starter for the
remainder of the season—an oddly timed decision if true, considering not
just his lousy Tuesday performance but mysterious concurrent reports from Stan Hochman of the Daily News about "an explanation for Turner’s inconsistent play" which "one of these
days, the team, with Turner’s permission, will reveal...and then the
criticism will back off." Yeah, that's not weird or intriguing or anything.

Both Turner and Coach Collins addressed the mysterious reports before tonight's game, shooting them down entirely.

The Sixers have somehow avoided facing off against the Celtics thusfar
this season, but the two squads will of course meet four times before
seasons' end, and with the gap between the two not being as great as we
may have previously believed, the Ballers' performance in those four
games may end up deciding which of the two teams wins the Atlantic and
guaranteed home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The
C's have won the division easily in every season since Kevin Garnett
joined the team in 2008, and even though their team is older and much
thinner this year than in seasons past—especially up front—they still
have the Big Three and Rajon Rondo, who have proven over their five-game
winning streak to still be deadly when firing on all cylinders as a
foursome. (New add-on Brandon Bass, jump-shooting power forward, is
pretty good too.)

7:00 tip from the WFC. To win this one, we're gonna need a big
rebounding effort up front and some major defensive scrambling against
the prolific and ball-sharing C's—not to mention some much-overdue
late-game offensive production. “We shot 13 for 49 from the floor in the
second half," Coach Collins pointed out about Tuesday's performance in
Milwaukee. “I
mean, come on. Who are you going to beat?” Not many teams, and certainly
not the reigning Atlantic champ Celtics. Gotta beat the man to be the
man, ya know.

NBA Finals: Warriors coach Steve Kerr not well yet, but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1

NBA Finals: Warriors coach Steve Kerr not well yet, but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Golden State's Steve Kerr expects to decide soon whether he will coach in the NBA Finals, saying Monday he's not yet ready but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1.

Kerr said: "As of right now I would not coach Thursday night. It's still up in the air." He said that by Game 1, he might make a decision on his status.

The reigning NBA Coach of the Year, still not feeling well after a May 5 procedure to repair a spinal fluid leak, addressed the media Monday when acting coach Mike Brown was out with the flu.

He joked: "I told the team the good news is the team is really healthy, the bad news is the coaching staff is dropping like flies."

Brown has been coaching the team since Game 3 of the first round at Portland, with Kerr assisting at practice and from the locker room before and during games.

Inside Doop: How a record win streak came to an end

Inside Doop: How a record win streak came to an end

Over the course of a long season, there are forgettable games where few things — or players — stand out.

Saturday night’s Union game out in Salt Lake City seemed like one of those — but will still be remembered for the fact that it ended a record winning streak.

Here’s a closer look at the 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake that snapped Philly’s four-game winning and six-game unbeaten streaks, as well as a look ahead for a team that will now look to start another one.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. There was one play early in the game that could have been exceptional as Haris Medunjanin lofted a pinpoint over-the-top pass from midfield to Fafa Picault, who got behind the defense and controlled it perfectly. But Picault’s first attempt and his follow-up were both saved — the second on a goal-line clearance from defender Aaron Maund — and the Union had few other good chances as their offense dried up. That was perhaps, bound to happen, after the team, led in part by the strong play of newcomers Medunjanin and Picault, scored multiple goals in every other game this month.

2. While Nick Rimando showed why he’s the most accomplished MLS goalie ever by earning the shutout, Andre Blake showed why he’s the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year with even better saves, including a few spectacular diving and leaping ones. Blake certainly wasn’t to blame for the Union’s eight-game winless streak to start the season but he also wasn’t making the kind of game-changing saves Philly fans grew accustomed to last year. Now that he is, it’s one of the big reasons why the Union are back in the playoff race, despite Saturday’s loss. 

3. Although it didn’t really show earlier in the season, one of the Union’s biggest strengths is depth at the winger position as they have four players — Picault, Chris Pontius, Ilsinho and Fabian Herbers — who are capable MLS starters. But with Herbers injured and Ilsinho sliding over to the central midfield, head coach Jim Curtin needed to call upon rookie Marcus Epps as his first winger off the bench. It was a difficult MLS debut playing on the road, across the country, with the team pushing for a late goal. But Curtin likes throwing guys into the fire to see what they’re made of, and will likely use Epps’ minutes in Utah as a springboard moving forward.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The Union had a busy end of the month, flying out to Salt Lake City a few days after a three-games-in-eight-day stretch. But they also have 15 days between MLS games following Saturday’s contest vs. New York City FC at Yankee Stadium (1:00, 6ABC). So does Curtin opt to give guys some rest because of the former or trot out the same lineup because of the latter? There are also other things to consider, including the fact that the Union will open U.S. Open Cup play on June 14 — often an ideal time to give minutes to younger guys and backups.

2. One particular position to watch is the No. 10 attacking midfield spot. Ilsinho had filled in beautifully there in place of the injured Roland Alberg, particularly during a 2-0 win over Houston on May 17. But he was mostly invisible vs. RSL, a game in which Alberg returned from a three-game absence. Considering both have never really been 90-minute players and have similar playmaking abilities, could Curtin consider a platoon with Alberg and Ilsinho? Or will Ilsinho return to the wing, at least until Herbers returns from his injury?

3. Another spot to watch is the backline, which had been mostly kept intact during the team’s six-game unbeaten run. But now that the team lost, will Curtin go back to starters Keegan Rosenberry and/or Richie Marquez? What about Josh Yaro, who’s on the mend from shoulder surgery? The makeshift group that included Jack Elliott, Oguchi Onyewu, and Ray Gaddis should be commended for changing the course of the season, but it seems unlikely that Rosenberry and Marquez will remain on the bench must longer considering they were two of the team’s most promising players last year.

Stat of the week
Fabinho played his 100th MLS game Saturday. The only other players to surpass 100 games for the Union have been Sebastien Le Toux, Brian Carroll, Sheanon Williams, Gaddis and Amobi Okugo.  

Quote of the week
“A good run of six games comes to an end for us now. We’ll have to look forward to starting a new streak as we go away to New York City next week.”

— Union manager Jim Curtin 

Player of the week
Andre Blake got the loss but still had one of his best games of the season, wowing the crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium on more than one occasion.