The700Level

Someone finally missed that shot vs. the Sixers

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USA Today Images

Someone finally missed that shot vs. the Sixers

Eric Gordon. Brandon Ingram. De'Aaron Fox. 

The Sixers have a nearly unparalleled knock for getting killed by big shots in the final minute, one they haven't shown much flair for reciprocating since T.J. vs. the Knicks. Seems like every time the ball finds its way to an opposing shooter beyond the arc with that guy's team down two and a Sixers defender lunging in his direction, the ball inevitably goes down, usually taking Philly's hope along with it. 

Not last night. The scene was certainly set in Denver: Sixers get out to a decent-sized late lead, get impossibly tight down the stretch, give up silly turnovers and allow the other team to slowly (or quickly) creep its way back in the game. And so an 11-point margin had shrunk to three in the final minute, with the Nuggets skipping the ball around the perimeter until it ended up in the hands of Will Barton, free for a look as Jerryd Bayless scrambled to throw a hand in his face. To say that Sixers fans had seen this movie more times than all 23 Rocky movies combined would still be an understatement. 

But somehow, the shot was long, and clanked off the back rim. Dario Saric (sort of) secured the rebound, and the Sixers held on for the 107-102 victory. Yes, Virginia: Somebody finally missed that goddamn shot against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Good thing, too, because the Sixers needed that win, for a number of reasons. Most crucially, taking down the Nuggets without Joel Embiid basically squares the Sixers for their embarrassing road loss in Portland minus the Blazers' best player, and prevents them from slipping to five games under .500, a detour from the playoff hunt that would've been pretty tough for the Ballers to navigate their way back from. With a win tonight in Phoenix, the Sixers could even potentially end this five-game road stint with a winning record -- no small thing, especially considering when we get back to the WFC, they're slated for four toughies against the Spurs, Pistons, Celtics and Raptors.

And getting the win without Embiid -- their first such W in their last seven tries -- was undoubtedly huge for the team's (and Brett Brown's) confidence and sanity, considering how despairing they've looked without JoJo of late. The Sixers' calendar-ending back-to-back set is at least the last such two-fer the team will have until late January, so they should have JoJo available most nights, but you never know with the star center, and if the Sixers want any chance of making the postseason, they can't afford to just write off every game where he's not playing. 

As big as it is to get the W, though, it wouldn't be terribly realistic to look at this as a feel-good win. The Sixers did blow the game -- going up 103-97 with four minutes to go, and then not scoring again until Denver was forced to foul in final half-minute -- but the Nuggets just didn't capitalize on their late-game ineptitude well enough to steal back the victory. Ben Simmons played splendidly as usual on defense but was largely terrible on offense, ending with just six and six with five turnovers, his most ineffective game in the midst of what surely marks the roughest stretch of his rookie season. 

In truth, the Sixers were bailed out of this one by their backup backcourt, McConnell and Bayless. We're used to T.J. playing savior by now -- 10 points and eight assists in 25 minutes, including a gorgeous floor-length laser of a dime to Robert Covington that's certainly one for the end-of-year sizzle reel -- but Bayless' clutch play in the early fourth was an extremely pleasant surprise, as he scored a quick seven to start the quarter and get the Sixers the separation they needed to hang on when he and the rest of the team ran out of miracles later in the quarter. 

Final game of 2017 tonight in Phoenix, presumably with Joel this time. If you told us at the beginning of the season the Sixers would be entering 2018 at 17-19... it wouldn't exactly feel like a triumph, but it'd least be "OK, fair enough." Seems to me that "OK, fair enough" is reasonable thing to shoot for at year's end, no? 

Have mercy on us, Devin Booker. 

Yo! Rocky Balboa has a message for Eagles fans

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Stallone/IG

Yo! Rocky Balboa has a message for Eagles fans

If anyone knows about an underdog from Philadelphia finding that storybook ending, it's Sylvester Stallone.

The man who personified the Philly attitude as Rocky Balboa posted a message to Eagles fans on his social media.

Sly is wearing a custom "Stallone" Eagles jersey in the video and tells viewers he's a diehard Birds fan. He shouts out the great Timmy Brown as his favorite player as a kid. 

"I got the ring, I got the jersey, I got the will, I've got the optimism that the Birds are going to fly triumphant over Philly tonight!" Stallone says.

"Keep punching, Philly."

​The original Rock also shared an image of the Rocky Statue near the Art Museum decked out in Eagles gear.

"Now here is a statue that REALLY knows how to dress like a WINNER!!!!! I have tremendous respect for Tom Brady and the Patriots, but “… It’s about how much you can TAKE and keep moving forward! That’s how WINNIN’ is done!!!!” EAGLES BY KNOCKOUT!!!," the caption says.

Reminder: Jay Cutler beat the Patriots this season

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Reminder: Jay Cutler beat the Patriots this season

At this point, Eagles fans probably don’t need much convincing that their team is going to beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. But just in case anybody out there thinks the Eagles have no chance at knocking off the greatest dynasty in NFL history, I would like to introduce Exhibit A into evidence.

A Jay Cutler-led Dolphins squad defeated the Patriots, and not even all that long ago. It happened in December.

Allow me to speak to the skeptics here for a moment. You see, I was once like you. My initial reaction upon learning Carson Wentz had suffered a season-ending injury was something along the lines of, “Well, I still think the Eagles can get to the Super Bowl, but I don’t think they could beat the Patriots.”

The very next day, on Monday Night Football, with Cutler at the helm, the Dolphins went on to upset the Patriots, which should put to rest any notion that it can’t be done.

If Cutler can do it, Nick Foles can.

The Patriots lost only three games all season, and the other two were to playoff teams — the Chiefs and the Panthers — both within the first four weeks of the season. Since then, the Patriots have amassed a 13-1 record, the lone blip in the schedule a 27-20 defeat in Week 14 at Miami.

And in case there is any disagreement over how bad Cutler and the Dolphins are, it was one of only two wins the club had in its final 10 games of the season. The other victory was against the 5-11 Broncos. The Dolphins went on to finish only marginally better at 6-10.

Sure, the Patriots’ loss to the Dolphins is just one game, and it took Tom Brady’s worst performance since they were eliminated from the 2015 postseason to make it happen. In fact, Brady has posted a passer rating worse than his 59.5 against the Dolphins only 21 times in an 18-year career, including playoffs, and just five times this decade.

The Eagles can’t necessarily count on Brady to blink. But it can happen, and their defense is certainly capable of making it happen.

Of course, that was the regular season. This is the playoffs — the Super Bowl, to be exact. Brady is 5-2 in the big game and 27-9 in postseason play overall. He led the Patriots back from a 25-point second-half deficit to win a world championship last year. It’s an entirely different stage.

And yet, Cutler beat them. This team. This season. A guy who literally hopped off his couch in August, whose 6.2 yards per pass attempt ranked 28th out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks, who finished tied for fourth with 14 interceptions in 14 games.

None of which is to say the Eagles will definitely accomplish the same. However, they’re a far better team than the Dolphins, and Foles is a better quarterback than Cutler.

Based on that evidence alone, the Eagles’ chances of upsetting the Patriots in the Super Bowl are a whole lot greater than slim or none.