Probably nobody thought that if the 76ers won one of their first two games on this Western swing that it would be the one against the Los Angeles Lakers. Or at least I didn't. But that's what just happened.
One night after stunning the Lakers with Andre Iguodala's buzzer-beating three-pointer, the Sixers appeared to fade against the Phoenix Suns, losing 126-116. After this game, everyone in the Sixers locker room agreed upon one thing: There just wasn't much defense played. Not by them. Not by the Suns. And that's just the way Phoenix likes it.
As much as the excuse was offered that the Lakers win drained them, the Sixers wouldn't use it.
So what does this loss mean for this five-game, seven-day road trip. You know, I don't think it takes anything away from that win over Los Angeles. The Suns hadn't played since Sunday. This was going to be a very difficult win to come into the US Airways Center and snag. Anyone would have been happy if they knew the Sixers would start these first two games 1-1. And the next two games are against the Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings. Don't make me look up their exact records because they're bad. Both of them. Bad records. Really not good.
1.) If Donyell Marshall keeps getting minutes, and keeps shooting like he's shooting, then teams won't be able to zone the Sixers.
2.) Lou Williams is back. He is aggressive, shooting better, and providing that pop off the bench.
3.) Andre Miller, despite battling that nagging right calf strain, looks ready to make sure the Sixers finish the season strong.
These next two games on this trip, both of them, will determine if this swing is successful. Miller said going into the swing that three wins was the goal. Now that they've stolen one of the first two games, three wins is what they should come back to Philly with.
Okay, also, as we did last night in Los Angeles, I'm posting the final edition of the story. Since these games are starting so late on the East Coast, we're going to print with a buzzer edition, no quotes. Here's the full version:
By Kate Fagan
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
PHOENIX – Inside the sold out US Airways Center last night, defensive stops were about as plentiful as empty seats: There weren’t many.
And that’s just the way the Phoenix Suns like it: They ran end-to-end and defeated the 76ers, 126-116.
On the season, the Sixers allow an average of 96.4 points per game.
“We just didn’t play much defense,” said Sixers swingman Andre Iguodala.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the Sixers had left Los Angeles with a buzzer-beating win over the Lakers.
Bu playing the Suns the night after beating Los Angeles is a little like running a 5K the day after finishing a half-marathon: you’re tired, physically and mentally.
And then the pace quickens.
Last night, the ball went through the rim with about as much defense as the all-star game – played in this city a month ago.
The Suns, who hadn’t played in three days, were more rested than these Sixers, who played the second of a back-to-back.
There were other reasons for last night’s loss – the dominance of Shaquille O’Neal (26 points), the efficient play of Grant Hill (21 points), the finesse of Steve Nash (24 points) – but the Sixers looked like they had taken a body blow from which they could not, in time, recover.
Had the emotion of that Lakers’ win affected the Sixers’ performance?
“Nah, not at all,” said small forward Thaddeus Young, who finished with 23 points. “We went out there and played hard, we just couldn’t get stops. We were just trading bucket-for-bucket.”
Sixers coach Tony DiLeo said the emotion of the previous night’s victory did not affect his team, but the energy deficit did.
Added DiLeo: “We just couldn’t stop them.”
More specifically, the Sixers couldn’t stop O’Neal, who appeared on the block last night like a cement pillar: unmovable. Despite an ever-changing defensive scheme – one-on-one, a quick double team, a delayed double team – O’Neal finished 12 for 18 from the field with 11 rebounds.
The loss ends a four-game winning streak and drops the Sixers to 34-32. The Suns improve to 37-31, but are still one spot outside of the Western Conference playoff race.
Earlier in the day, the Miami Heat, one spot in front of the Sixers in the Eastern Conference standings, had lost to the Boston Celtics; the Sixers missed a chance to close the gap but retained the sixth spot.
The Sixers continue their Western swing by returning to California for a game against the Golden State Warriors on Friday then play the Sacramento Kings on Sunday before finishing on Monday at the Portland Trailblazers.
“We’re playing good basketball …” said DiLeo just minutes after the loss. “I like the way we’re playing.”
Last night, the Suns shot 57.6 percent from the field, the Sixers 54.9 percent, which signaled either precision shooting or non-existent defense.
Early in the game, the Suns built a 10-point lead by playing a 2-3 zone.
Then, Donyell Marshall checked into the game.
Recently, Marshall’s three-pointers have carried the Sixers perimeter effort. Each time the Sixers brought the ball up court, Marshall would lick the tips of fingers, preparing in case the Suns left him a sliver of space.
But it didn’t appear Phoenix would, as the corner defender for the Suns – often Grant Hill – would spy where Marshall went, calling out who should cover the Sixers most legitimate outside threat.
For Marshall’s first five minutes, he couldn’t find the gap in the Phoenix zone.
With 3:56 remaining in the half, the Sixers trailed 59-49. Ninety seconds later, they were ahead 60-59.
A three-pointer from point guard Andre Miller, who finished with 23 points, back-to-back threes from Donyell Marshall, and a fast break dunk from Andre Iguodala (11 points). The Sixers went to halftime leading 66-63.
Quicker than it takes to circle City Hall, it was a whole new ball game.
But as the frantic pace extended into the third quarter, and through the fourth, the Suns began to put a few possessions difference between themselves and the Sixers.
And in a game where defensive stops, especially for the Sixers, were rare, closing a gap proved to be impossible.
“There wasn’t any defense out there by either team,” Miller said.