Wait. The Sixers Are Winning and the Flyers Aren’t?
Late in Sunday’s game-four Sixers’ dispatching of the wounded Bulls, fans had to be screaming, “Jinx!” as ABC ran a graphic listing the four eight seeds that defeated number ones in NBA playoff history. It was, obviously, a bit premature, but the network was letting fans know that your town’s team was on the brink of something historic. Granted, that history dates only back to 1984, when the playoffs were extended from 12 to 16 teams, but it would still be a pretty big accomplishment if the Sixers pull off the upset.
Later on, NBC Sports Network had no telling information to provide, other than the fact that unlike their basketball brethren, the Flyers were not taking advantage of a good situation in the series with New Jersey. After winning the opener in dramatic fashion, the Flyers have been stifled by the more aggressive Devils and have dropped three straight to reach the precipice themselves.
Had someone told you a week ago that this would be the situation, you might have laughed politely and told them to go watch a soccer game or something. Even without Derrick Rose, the Sixers were expected to fall to Chicago, while the Flyers were such prohibitive favorites against Jersey, fans were as interested in the concurrent Rangers-Caps series as they were the Flyers’ proceedings.
So much for conventional thinking. With Rose out and Joakim Noah hobbled, the Sixers have proven to be tougher than Chicago, particularly late. In their two home wins, they have used strong fourth quarters to subdue their depleted rivals, who are reportedly investigating whether Chet “The Jet” Walker and Bob “Butterbean” Love are available for Tuesday night’s matchup. Unlike the Flyers, the Sixers are maximizing their opportunity. It doesn’t matter if they are shooting worse than the Bulls, getting out rebounded and handing out fewer assists—as they did Sunday. At the end of the game, the Sixers are ahead, and that’s all that matters.
The Flyers, on the other hand, are being dominated, no matter what the score says at the end. They can’t get out of their zone. Their power play, which was practically infallible against the Penguins, can’t get rolling. It’s funny, but while the Flyers were hearkening back to the days of the WHA during their free-for-all with Pittsburgh, fans and analysts were concerned about whether they would be able to hang with New York or Boston later on. Nobody talked about the Devils, the only major franchise these days willing to admit it hails from the Garden State.
But instead of dominating a team expected to be a mere stopover on the way to a conference finals berth, the Flyers have had their many blemishes exposed. Their lack of puck-carrying defensemen has made them susceptible to an overly aggressive Jersey forecheck. Their five-on-five offensive deficiencies, which were masked against Pittsburgh by the aforementioned special teams performance, have been obvious. Though goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has had moments of genius, his inconsistency has been costly. And the chippy play that had everybody so excited against the Pens has been particularly damaging this series, as it has resulted in careless penalties, and it would appear, a pending suspension against star forward Claude Giroux for a particularly ill-advised cheap shot in the second period Sunday night.
It’s hard to call anything the Sixers are doing artistic, save the third quarter of last Tuesday’s win over the Bulls. And it’s unlikely they would be prospering if Rose had not torn his ACL. But he did, and the Sixers have pounced, capitalizing on the Bulls’ doubt and lack of talent without their two best players. Give them credit for an unexpected renaissance that seemed impossible in early April. Many predicted crazy stuff would happen in this lockout-shortened season, and another eight-over-one upset would qualify as zany. But the Sixers as the perps? No way.
While the Flyers’ reward for their likely second-round demise will be an off-season of self-examination, the Sixers will probably move on to face ancestral rival Boston, which is defying its age in a first-round series against the heartless Hawks. We’ll likely see all sorts of footage of Wilt and Russ, the Boston Strangler and company, but the most important key to the series will not be the past but the matchup of an aging Celtics team against these young Sixers, who are likely to be emboldened by their first-round success, no matter how it occurred.
That’s the most important thing to remember here. Presented with a chance to capitalize on a good situation, the Sixers have done so. Twenty years from now, there will be no asterisk in the record books, denoting Rose’s injury. It will merely indicate Philadelphia defeated Chicago. In a similar fashion, the NHL annals will not mention the Flyers’ loss of drive and focus following the Pittsburgh triumph. They will simply note that the higher-seeded team fell to an underdog. As the post-season continues, it is instructive for all of us to realize that success isn’t guaranteed. It’s earned. The Sixers have understood that. The Flyers haven’t.
- Hat off to Cole Hamels for drilling Mr. Mull-hawk, Bryce Harper, Sunday night. It’s amazing how the Nationals can be in first place in May, after decades of futility, and suddenly think they’re the ’24 Senators. Hamels’ attitude was perfect, and his taking the retaliation shot without a peep was a great bit of old-time baseball. Let’s hope Philadelphia fans will be in full froth May 21-23, when the Nats come to town–and that the home team can respond with three resounding wins that stem the fetid wind emanating from D.C.
- The U.S. Soccer Federation ought to be ashamed of itself. Requiring elite players to participate only on top-tier club teams 10 months a year, at the expense of their high school sides – or any other sports, for that matter – is a perfect example of sports run amok. Just because your U-23 team doesn’t qualify for the Olympics, you shouldn’t decide to separate top players from their friends and classmates. If you want to improve soccer in this country, find a way to get the best athletes to play the sport, rather than football, basketball or baseball. Until then, let teenagers enjoy their school experiences, rather than making them full-time employees. The by-product will be resentment, repetitive-stress injuries and a group of kids who no longer find soccer fun. Oh, and no World Cup title. Count on that.
- Now that Floyd Mayweather has made his $32 million for defeating Miguel Cotto, he should have the guts to take on Manny Pacquiao in the fight everybody wants to see. Let’s hope Mayweather devotes some time during the three months he’ll spend in the service of the state (he starts a sentence for domestic abuse June 1) finding the fortitude to fight Pacquiao, and make about $80 million in the process. It’s time to stop ducking, Floyd, and step into the ring.