Tigers win in extras, Jeter's season over

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Tigers win in extras, Jeter's season over

NEW YORK -- Three innings earlier, Raul Ibanez had, incredibly, struck again, rocketing another improbable homer into the right field seats at Yankee Stadium, giving his team new life, one more time.

It was the third homer of this post-season for Ibanez. All three have come in the ninth inning or later, making Ibanez the unlikeliest of October heroes for these New York Yankees.

It seemed like this game was headed in the same direction as Game 4 of the Division Series against Baltimore, when Ibanez tied the game in the ninth with a pinch-hit homer, then won it in the 12th.

A two-run homer from Ichiro Suzuki -- the first post-season homer of his career -- and the one from Ibanez, both off embattled closer Jose Valverde, had wiped out a 4-0 Detroit Tigers lead in the span of four batters.

Surely, this night, like so many October nights in this ballpark or the one it replaced across the street, would have a happy ending for the Yankees.

Except it didn't. Not hardly.

In the 12th inning, the Tigers took the game back with two runs. Worse, for the Yankees, shortstop Derek Jeter went diving for a grounder by Jhonny Peralta and fractured his left ankle, ending his season.

And just like that, the Yankees went from nearly finishing off another late-inning comeback to losing not just the game, but their captain, too.

Sucker punch to the gut.

"It's going to test the resolve of this team,'' said Derek Lowe, in the aftermath of the Tigers' 6-4 victory. "It's probably going to take a little bit of time, to have the reality sink in. It is what it is. But within an hour or so, to go from Ibanez doing what he does to this.... this isn't an ideal situation.''

"That's kind of crushing,'' said Nick Swisher when told of the diagnosis on Jeter. "It's tough.''

Around the home clubhouse, the Yankees were all trying to say the right things: that they would miss Jeter, of course, but that they would go on, just as they had earlier in the year when their closer for the ages, Mariano Rivera, went down with a season-ending knee injury.

Jeter, of course, had been playing with a bone bruise on the same left ankle. He had come out late in Game 3 when the ankle worsened, and in Game 4, he was limited to DH duties, marking the first time in his career that Jeter had not played shortstop in a post-season game.

His teammates are accustomed to him playing through pain, shrugging off injuries. Not this time. When he went sprawling for the ball hit by Peralta, he flipped the ball toward second baseman Robinson Cano as if there had been a force play at second. There wasn't. It was Jeter just trying to get the ball to someone else.

From the dugout, Joe Girardi knew this wasn't any ordinary injury.

"Oh boy, if he's not getting up,'' said Girardi, recounting the moment, "something's wrong.''

And indeed it was. Jeter was carried off the field by the manager and the team trainer, carried right into his off-season.

Earlier, it had been Ibanez figuratively carrying the Yankees, doing what others in the New York lineup have been unable to do. Robinson Cano, arguably the team's MVP during the regular season, is hitless in his last 23 at-bats.

For the third time in the last four games, Alex Rodriguez was lifted for a pinch-hitter. And Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson looked inept at the plate, as they've been most of this month.

But it wasn't enough. The Tigers came back.

"If we're going to be good enough,'' said Detroit manager Jim Leyland, "we have to be able to take a punch and we took a big punch. We took a right cross in the ninth inning, but we survived it.''

The Tigers surely have their issues, too. Their infield defense is atrocious and their bullpen beyond suspect.

Their closer, Jose Valverde, who surrendered the Ibanez homer, has now given up seven earned runs in 2 13 innings this post-season.

Leyland strongly hinted that the Tigers will try someone else in the closer's role, unwilling to trust Valverde after two ninth-inning blown saves in the last three games.

But that seems minor by comparison to what the Yankees face.

The Tigers are otherwise healthy and they have grabbed themselves a lead in this series, and done so on the road.

It may only be one game, one loss, but the Yankees are in trouble. And this time, not even Raul Ibanez can save them.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.