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.

Instant Replay: No. 22 Butler 74, No. 2 Villanova 66

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Instant Replay: No. 22 Butler 74, No. 2 Villanova 66

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. – No. 22 Butler scored 18 straight points down the stretch and stunned No. 2 Villanova 74-66 Wednesday night at the Pavilion.

The loss was the third this year for the defending national champs and the second to Butler. It was also Villanova’s first loss on campus in more than four years.

Villanova led by as many as eight points early in the second half and by seven at 49-42 with 9½ minutes left before Butler scored 18 straight points over a 5½-minute span to take a 60-49 lead with four minutes left.

Villanova went scoreless from 10:35 left in the game to 4:05, a span of 6½ minutes.

Villanova cut the lead from 11 to four in the final minute but Butler made its final eight foul shots to secure its first win ever on the road against the Wildcats.

The loss was the first ever on campus for Villanova’s seniors. Villanova hadn’t lost at the Pavilion since February of 2013.

Sophomore Jalen Brunson shot 9 for 13 after his 7 for 7 against Seton Hall Saturday and finished with 24 points.

The rest of the Wildcats shot a combined 16 for 44.

Josh Hart scored 18 points on 7 for 18 shooting.

Kris Jenkins shot just 1 for 8 and 1 for 5 from three for three points, and Mikal Bridges also had three points on just 1 for 3 from the field.

Butler led 8-0 after 3½ minutes before Villanova outscored the Bulldogs 44-28 over the next 22½ minutes to take their biggest lead, 44-36, with 13 minutes left.

What it means 
Butler, which beat Villanova 66-58 on Jan. 4 in Indianapolis, completed a season sweep of Villanova. Butler was 0-7 before this year against the Wildcats.

Villanova fell to 26-3 and 13-3 in the Big East. Butler improved to 22-6 and 11-5, keeping alive its hopes of winning the Big East regular-season title.

One more Villanova win or Butler loss and Creighton loss would deliver the conference title and No. 1 seed in the conference tournament to the Wildcats.

The loss ended Villanova’s record 48-game winning streak at the Pavilion. The Wildcats’ last loss on campus was by a 55-52 score to Providence on Feb. 3, 2013.

Stat of the day
Hart, a 79 percent foul shooter, was 0 for 4 from the foul line and missed two front ends of one-and-ones.  

Turning point
The Wildcats led by six when Kelan Martin and Tyler Lewis made threes 45 seconds apart to tie the game at 49 and start that 18-0 run. Villanova never got the momentum back.

By the numbers
• Martin led Butler with 16 points and Kamar Baldwin added 15 before fouling out.

• Butler shot 7 for 13 from three in the second half and 10 for 25 overall.

• Villanova was just 5 for 19 from three.

• Villanova committed 10 of its 15 turnovers in the first half 

• Villanova shot just 10 for 16 from the foul line, with seven of the 10 makes coming in the final 79 seconds 

• Butler had 21 assists on 27 baskets, Villanova had eight assists on 23 baskets 

• Villanova scored 17 points in the game’s final 4:05 

• Senior post Darryl Reynolds, Villanova’s second-leading rebounder at 5.5 per game, sat out a fourth straight game with a rib injury. He’s considered day to day.

What’s next
On Saturday afternoon, Villanova plays its final game at the Pavilion until November of 2018, facing Creighton at 3 p.m.

Villanova will play most of its home games at the Wells Fargo Center next year.

The Wildcats finish the regular season at Georgetown on March 4 and open play in the Big East Tournament five days later.

Instant Replay: Capitals 4, Flyers 1

Instant Replay: Capitals 4, Flyers 1

BOX SCORE

Fresh off their poor Western Canada road trip, the Flyers faced the top team in the NHL for a Wednesday Night Rivalry tilt at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
The last time the Washington Capitals met the Flyers in mid-January, the Caps humiliated them, 5-0, in D.C.
 
No rout this time, but the Caps still defeated the Flyers, 4-1, as more precious points slipped away in the search for a wild card. 
 
Evgeny Kuznetsov had two goals for the Caps. His second was a crusher, coming in the final 2:01 of the second period to give Washington a 3-1 lead.
 
The Flyers are 3-6-1 since coming out of the All-Star break and 9-15-4 since their 10-game win streak.
 
Coach’s challenge
Barry Trotz challenged Jakub Voracek’s goal 23 seconds into the game for goaltender interference. It was an easy goal to overturn, too, as Dale Weise clearly pushed Braden Holtby aside before Voracek scored.
 
No goal
Trailing 2-0, Flyers rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov thought he scored in the opening minute of the second period. The game stopped and the Flyers celebrated while the officials huddled. Replays showed the puck hit the crossbar.
 
Points
Nick Backstrom’s first-period goal was his fifth goal and 15th point in his last 10 games.
 
Notable goals
Kuznetsov’s power-play goal went in and out of the net so quickly, no one was really certain it was a goal. That is why Sean Couturier remained in the box a good 30 seconds after it was scored.
 
Goalie report
Michal Neuvirth was making his fifth straight in goal.

Holtby had an excellent stop on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s backhander at the right post with 6:18 left in the first period.
 
Power play
The Flyers were 0-for-2. They mixed up their first unit and changed the personnel back to its former self, even putting Shayne Gostisbehere back on the point and Voracek back at the half-wall. Their second power play had several passes just a hair off for a clean shot.
 
Penalty kill
The Caps had the Flyers chasing their passes all over the ice on their power play. They were 1-for-2 in the game.
 
Injuries
The Caps lost defenseman Matt Niskanen in second period with a lower-body injury.
 
Fights
There were several scrums on one board play in the second period but no fights.
 
Scratches
Forwards Jordan Weal (concussion) and Travis Konecny (left ankle and knee), defensemen Nick Schultz (healthy) and Michael Del Zotto (healthy).
 
Up next
The Flyers practice on Thursday 11 a.m. at Skate Zone. They leave later that day for Pittsburgh and will practice Friday at 5 p.m. at Heinz Field for the Stadium Series outdoor game against the Penguins on Saturday.