Yes, the Sixers actually beat the Miami Heat tonight, and yes it was beautiful

Yes, the Sixers actually beat the Miami Heat tonight, and yes it was beautiful

Here's one question I left out of the Sixers Prediction League polling last week: Will there be one moment this year that makes you legitimately grateful to be a Philadelphia 76ers fan? I would never have included that question, mostly because it's extremely subjective, but also because I can't imagine why anyone would have answered yes. This season seemed like it would be a test of endurance and faith, that the best we could hope to do was survive it. It never occurred to me we would actually be able to enjoy it.

The Philadelphia 76ers beat the Miami Heat 114-110 tonight, and I don't think it's overstating matters to say it's all gravy from here. I legitimately felt more joy, more excitement, more connection watching this game, this team, tonight at the Wells Fargo Center than I expeted to feel over the course of the entire season. If the Sixers lost all 81 games after this--and given the good karma they must have had to burn to escape with the one tonight, I wouldn't rule out the possibility--I'll still be good to go.

How did it happen? To be honest, I'm not really sure. I was in such a frenzy by two minutes into this game--in which the Sixers somehow went up 9-0 leading into a Miami timeout, only to add another 10-0 run on top of that on the other side of the TO--that I watched the rest of the game through a sort of drunken haze, any hope I had of watching this game objectively and analytically long out the window. I remember isolated moments, but the overall picture is very blurry.

The one thing I can conclusively say about this win is that it flowed through Michael Carter-Williams and Evan Turner. MCW had--and I say this without exaggeration, I'm pretty sure--one of the greatest debut games in NBA history. 22 points on 6-10 shooting (a stunning 4-6 from deep), 12 assists, NINE STEALS and seven rebounds. With just one turnover. The nine steals, leaving MCW one short of an extremely rare debut-game triple-double, was legitimate history, breaking the previous record for a debut game by two. Oh, and he also hit a pair of game-sealing free throws with eight seconds to go. I didn't think he'd have a game this good the entire season, much less in his first game, MUCH LESS AGAINST THE TWO-TIME GODDAMN DEFENDING CHAMPION MIAMI GODDAMN HEAT WHAT THE HELL. Michael Carter-Williams was the cosmos tonight, and you can better believe I'll be writing more about it before the week's up.

ET was nearly as heroic. His 26 point, five assist, four rebound doesn't even do justice to the presence he was in this game, catapulting the Sixers to their hot start (including a dunk on LeBron--that's LEBRON JAMES I mean) and keeping them afloat during some rocky waters in the third quarter with some of the best moves I've seen him throw around near the basket in some time. There are some games where Evan manages to convince himself that he's still Ohio State World-Beating Evan Turner, and he can almost will his body to do things to make teams as good as the Heat look like Northwestern and Minnesota trying to guard him. That still didn't help him sink either of the potential nail-in-coffin threes he took in the game's final minutes, but...petty quibbles. ET was the man tonight, and it was loverly.

As Coach Brown said at the post-game conference, the list goes on. James Anderson hit some big threes and grabbed some tough boards. Daniel Orton unleashed a drop step at one point. Tony Wroten quietly had a career-high 14 points (on 6-9 shooting!) in just 233 minutes. Spencer Hawes was just about the only Sixer who could finish at or near the rim tonight, finishing with 24 points on 10-14 shooting, including a huuuuuge three to cut the Heat's lead to one late in the fourth. (Nine boards, too--the Heat bigs will make your starting center look like Moses Malone some nights.) It was such a team effort that even if you saw Kwame "Were you saying Booo or Boooorrroowwwn?" on the streets of Philadelphia tonight, you'd probably give him a pound.

Of course, it's worth noting that besides all the good stuff, the Sixers did give up a mind-boggling 80 points over the span of two quarters--including a WFC record 45 points in the second--the majority of it on an endless barrage of Heat three-pointers, including a quartet of Ray Allen treys to cap the third frame. One, a 48-foot heave to beat the buzzer, you just have to shake your head and give ol' Jesus S. a slow clap, but the other three, he was singing the Dixie Chicks he was so wide open. The Sixers have some major work to do with their defensive rotations, with Evan Turner as usual one of the primary culprits.

Really, this looked all the world like it was going to end as a "good show, but sorry, you're not beating LeBron with this crappy team" moral victory loss. The Heat shaved the Sixers' 22-point lead from the first quarter--and we're talking EARLY in the first quarter--to nil in the third, and even went up as much as eight, with LeBron doing his usual ownage schtick, ending the game with 23 points (on just 11 shots!) and 12 assists, and neither Ray, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers or Chris Bosh seeming inclined to miss ever again. But the Sixers kept up the intensity--the awesome crowd, sure to be the WFC's best showing of the season thanks to the presence of LeBron and AI, probably played a part--and the Sixers survived long enough to capitalize on Miami's next offensive lull, outscoring the Heat 29-16 over the final quarter and securing the unlikeliest of W's.

There's a couple other caveats to add to the Sixers' victory, though they're really more about the Heat's loss. The DNP for Dwyane Wade might have hurt them more than I realized, as his defensive presence was missed some on the perimeter--he might have actually been the better matchup against MCW or even ET with his size--and the Heat did seem visibly drained, especially at first, from the emotion and physicality of their matchup with Chicago last night, following the presentation of their second straight championship rings. I still would never have predicted the Sixers would take advantage of these mitigating factors for Miami to even be in the game, let alone win it, but Miami does have excuses to content themselves with, should they choose.

And I would indeed be remiss if I didn't mention: This changes nothing. The Sixers might be a little better than we gave them credit for, but it's still way, way too early to give them that kind of credit. MCW will not play like this every game--unless he was playing possum for the entire exhibition season, this is the very, very high end of his spectrum of play, and we're likely to see a whole lot more of the low before season's over. ET will struggle, Spence will no-show, Tony Wroten will appear to not give a shit. If the Sixers and Heat play this game 1000 times, I don't think the Sixers win more than four, and that regression to the mean will likely be borne out over the course of the season to follow.

But holy crap, was this game worth it. This is the reason you continue to follow a team when they're bad, why you stay loyal when it appears that they're not going anywhere. Because you never know. Games like this are rare, impossibly so, but they happen. And when they do, you're really not going to want to miss out on it. One game down, and the 2013-14 Sixers campaign is already a success. The Jacksonville Jaguars have beaten the Denver Broncos, and it was so, so sweet.

And before you worry that this derails the entire #TANKADELPHIA operation, don't worry--we'll have every chance to get back to Wiggins-riggin' business Friday night against the Bulls. If they somehow win that game too, then we'll talk panic. For now, we bask.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick experienced a painful rehab start on Thursday night.

Rehabbing with Triple A Lehigh Valley, Kendrick was hit by a pitch twice before being removed after the sixth inning of the IronPigs' 8-4 loss to Indianapolis at Coca-Cola Park.

Both times Kendrick was plunked in the upper left arm, according to Tom Housenick of the Morning Call.

There was no update on if Kendrick was injured or taken out for precautionary reasons. Thursday marked Kendrick's second rehab start as he recovers from an oblique strain that has sidelined him since April 15.

The Phillies' leftfielder started at third base Thursday. At the beginning of his rehab assignment, Kendrick was expected to play four games and see time at third and first base, as well as in left field.

Kendrick made a throwing error at third on Thursday and finished 0 for 1 with a run scored. In his two games, he's 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

Kendrick hit .333 with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs in 10 games with the Phillies prior to landing on the DL.

When he returns, he could see time at third base instead of left field if Maikel Franco continues to struggle (see story).