Saturday, January 21, 2017

I Am Robert Covington's Juju

Ro Co Ju Ju
I don't mean to make this blog entirely about my basketball laundry, the ever loving Sixers, honest and for true. But right now, they are just about the most compelling team in the Association, because they keep winning games in ways that they have never done before, and in quantities that seem entirely out of keeping with their standing.

In microcosm, consider tonight's bizarre escape win at home, which I got to see from the top row in the corner of the arena, because the club is just selling tickets like mad right now, and when my friend and I decided to take in the game, we thought we'd just sit in cheap seats and avoid ticket surcharges, because we're old people who have better things to spend money on then, well, ourselves.

Philly didn't play a particularly good game tonight. They shot 36 for 92 from the field with 18 turnovers, and missed 7 of 16 free throws. Rookie center and down-ballot MVP candidate (honest, I think he's somewhere in the 8 to 10 range right now; check out the Sixers' stats with and without him on the floor, especially on defense) Joel Embiid only played 22 minutes due to precautions following a few tumbles, manifesting in a knee contusion that caused the fan base to say their usual prayers whenever the big goof hits the floor. Which is often, because he knows no limits or fear, because the fan base takes care of that for him. Only three guys were in double figures tonight, and the bench shot 7 for 36 (!). Nothing about this game from a numbers standpoint says a win, and yet, well, they won.

How? Robert Covington, again. Portland went up 91-87 with under a minute to play on a couple of Mason Plumlee free throws. Philly's Gerald Henderson, part of the bench brick squad, missed a corner three with a heave that was in no danger of drawing iron. Dario Saric, providing utility despite his own 1 for 12 night, got the board and tipped it out to Covington, who had to fire from 25 to beat the clock. Swish. Just found money luck, the kind of thing that never happens to teams like the Sixers in the past so many years, but seem to be happening a lot now. One point game, Portland timeout with 38.2 left.

Well, Portland still had Damian Lillard, who ended the night with 30 points, and is just the kind of stone cold closer that ends games like this. His back court mate, the very good CJ McCollum, missed a step back from the corner, but the little point guard got the board and took the foul from Henderson to go put the game on a 3-point lead. Lillard hits at near 90% from the line and is clutch as hell, so he was going to make both and turn the game into a heave and pray for overtime situation... but, um, he missed the second. Ersan Ilyasova grabbed the board, and following recent positive historical patterns, Sixers coach Brett Brown didn't call a timeout, preferring to let his players run and try to create in chaos.

Which resulted in a flat-out no-conscious three from Covington from 28 feet away off a TJ McConnell feed with 4.5 seconds left. When Covington let it fly, I said, out loud because there was time enough as the rainbow arced, "Bob, you've got to be kidding me." Boom goes the Rocomite. Sixers led by 1 with 4.5 seconds left, and the crowd is just delirious with I can't believe what I just saw. From a guy who is shooting less than 30% from the arc this year, and just 36.5% overall, and has gotten to just over 5K minutes in his NBA life because he's a defensive ace and willing to work for the NBA equivalent of top ramen, This Is Cray Cray.

Well, um, OK... but the Blazers still have Lillard, and any kind of score with 4.5 seconds left is a heart-breaking loss, rather than a complete escape. Portland also got to the line 28 times in this game, so it's not as if the refs weren't willing to be the story at the close. So that's when the Blazers chose to... inbound the ball to Plumlee, 4 of 14 from the field in this one, to run a screen and go with Alllen Crabbe (a scintillating 1 of 3 for 4 points in 25 minutes), which wound up resulting in a contested piece by Plumlee of Yeah, That's Much Less Worrisome Than Lillard, with Nerlens Noel doing his raptor arms routine to help it go awry. It stayed out, ball game, let's all sing the Clap Your Hands Everybody theme song and raise your cat in the air, and the laundry now has 15 wins for the year, or five more than all of last year.

Oh, and just five games out of the 8th spot now, with increasing evidence that .500 basketball will most assuredly get you there. And sure, the 8th spot just makes you LeBron James' latest speed bag, but at least we'd get to see Embiid on a national stage for Extra Hoop.

As startling as this win was, it was also Damned Lucky, as you might have guessed from the rundown above. The team plays in Atlanta tomorrow without Embiid due to the usual precautionary rest in back to back games, and Atlanta is as hot as they are, and have turned them into putty for the better part of a decade now. I don't give them more than a chance in 20, honestly, of turning this three game winning streak into a four banger.

But next Tuesday, at home against a Clipper team that should be without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin? That's another point of Good Luck for a team that seems to have new access to an account of the stuff that's been untouched for years. There's another back to back right after that one with the revenge-minded Bucks in Milwauee, again without Embiid, and then a Friday night game against the terrifying but recently mortal Rockets. This was a game they absolutely had to have to keep the momentum and playoff dream alive, but it's still hard to see how they do more than tread water for the next week.

Until you see finishes like this one, where a 30% brickmaster rains down two game-changing and highly contested threes in 34 seconds, and we're all singing like fools.

There really isn't any more fun season in sports than the Unexpectedly Good one, and the past month has been nothing but that. It's not even a situation where we're ruining anything for the team's long-term success, because the club holds Laker and King pick swaps that make winning on your own damn terms completely OK.

Oh, and RoCo? That's two straight games with me in the house where you hit a last-second game-winner. Send me tickets, friend. Your future earnings will thank me.

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