Reporting Bill Campbell
By: Bill Campbell
Neither the Flyers nor the 76ers were supposed to be in a seven game play-off series, were they?
Well, maybe the Flyers were based on their recent history, headlined by their memorable win in the conference semi-finals in Boston last year and, of course, their spectacular march to the Stanley Cup finals.
But the Sixers? Never. They had a full house this past Easter Sunday afternoon and, if most of those fans are truthful, they were hoping for a small miracle, but secretly expecting to see the final highlight in a mini-Heat sweep.
The Sixers led in the early going but in the second period absorbed a 22-2 shellacking. Yet they still managed to leave the floor at half-time trailing only 47-46. At that moment, many figured all it would take would be a normal effort by the Heat to identify the final score.
When the Sixers proceeded to miss eight straight shots during a five-minute stretch in the fourth period, Sweepville looked like it had arrived. But the Sixers, not the Heat, scored the final 10 points of the game.
Suddenly it was the Heat trailing by 2 and Erik Spoelstra, the Miami coach, called a time-out with 8 seconds left. The stunned crowd was in a frenzy. This is the same Sixers team that started the season losing 10 of its first 13 games, managed to improve enough to finish 41-41 and make the playoffs only to find themselves down 0-3 to Miami and on the doorstep of being swept out.
The Flyers comeback will be long remembered as one in which their coach, Peter Laviolette, couldn’t make up his mind about his goaltender.
First it would be the rookie, Sergei Bobrovsky, to start Game One even though Brian Boucher had a good playoff record and certainly more experience. That decision didn’t work out too well.
Bobrovsky endured a bad time in Game Two and was replaced by Boucher. Brian played well till Game Five when he surrendered three goals in the first period and was replaced, not by Bobrovsky, but by Michael Leighton who wasn’t even around during most of the season.
Then came Game Six and the goaltender was not Boucher or Bobrovsky; the starter was Leighton. And that brought us to Easter Sunday afternoon and Leighton again – who gave up three goals in the first period. So back came Boucher, who stopped 24 of 25 shots with only a deflection off a teammate’s skate getting past him.
Does all this indecision about goaltending cause second-guessing? You’d better believe it. Laviolette’s decision for Game Seven, namely Boucher, did make some sense — probably the only one that did.
Did the selection of Leighton to replace Boucher in Game Five come as a surprise? It sure shocked me. But I guess it shouldn’t have. Leighton was on the bench and there had to be a reason for his presence. After all, the Flyers did sneak him through waivers even after a season spent in the AHL so they must still like him a little. They started their third goalie in franchise history in the same playoff series and no team in the league had done that since Vancouver in 2004. The Buffalo media began referring to the Flyers’ goaltenders as Larry, Curley and Moe. In contrast, the Sabres have been content to stay with Ryan Miller who has faced 214 shots in the series and allowed 16 goals.
Another Easter basketball note: though the Miami Heat tallied 373 points in their 6 games to the Sixers’ 342, one factor that may be overlooked is Philadelphia’s defense. It has limited the Heat, with their incomparable trio of James, Wade and Bosh, to just over 93 points per game. No small achievement against the NBA’s glamour team. And the Sixers’ defense was led by Elton Brand, a veteran who showed the young Sixers what leadership is all about. This was a one-point game with 47 seconds to go when LeBron James, who scored 31 points, tried to score on a big drive from about 6 feet from the rim. Andre Iguodala forced James a bit further out than he liked, enabling Brand to just get a piece of the ball and flip away the shot.
In a fitting statement for Easter Sunday, Coach Collins said, “If you have faith, you have hope. And if you have hope, you have life.”
Swept aside with all the Flyers and Sixers hoopla were the Phillies who, in case anyone should ask, are on a pitching roll and riding pretty high. But each day seems to present another problem.
The Phils are starting a new week and the bats are still slumbering – and Ryan Howard is still striking out. The numbers 3 and 5 in Charlie Manuels’ batting order still miss Chase Utley and Jayson Werth and now the disabled list has a new member.
The closer, Jose Contreras, is back in Philadelphia for an MRI and a stay on the DL due to an injury he possibly suffered while throwing 80-some pitches in four games.
These closers are getting to be crown jewels. There used to be a guy named Lidge around here who took care of all that stuff. But the Phillies are winning – 15 of their first 22.
Almost all of their games have been close, low-scoring affairs and their April schedule has been good to them. But May will present a slate of 20 straight games against contending teams.
Phillies’ pitching has been great, as they expected. But the bats have been a bit AWOL.
The manager seems to think he’s being second-guessed a bit for overuse of his bullpen.
The general manager commented that Contreras’ arm soreness developed after he pitched last Thursday and Ruben Amaro commented, “He has been pitching quite a bit.”
That comment didn’t please Manuel considering its source. Charlie says he manages to win every day, that this is only April. October is a long way down the road. And he will grant days off as he sees fit.