The Phoenix Suns had one step remaining to make NBA history, and with the 76ers in their way, it didn't seem like such a big step.
But as someone once said, that's why they play the games.
The Sixers played defense as if possessed tonight as they thwarted the Suns' bid to win every road game against an Eastern Conference team and took a 99-94 victory before 15,914 excited fans at the Wachovia Center.
The Suns were trying to become the first team in NBA history to win every one of their interconference road games, and were 14-0 coming in. As it was, their 14-1 record on the road against the East set a league record for winning percentage (.933).
But the Sixers played the role of spoiler, outrebounding the Suns by 50-37 and helping hound the visitors into a 44.4 percent shooting night. The NBA's top-shooting team from three-point range, Phoenix connected on just 10 of 26 (38.5 percent).
The Suns played without two starters - forwards Shawn Marion (bruised left quadriceps and right hand) and Boris Diaw (back). The Sixers' Rodney Carney sat out with a right shoulder injury.
The Sixers, who never trailed in the game, held an 11-point advantage with just under 10 minutes to play before the Suns went on a 15-4 run, hitting five straight shots along the way, to tie the game at 84-all on Leandro Barbosa's three-point basket with 4 minutes, 27 seconds to play.
But the Sixers jumped back up by four on a jumper by Andre Miller and Kyle Korver's two free throws. After Barbosa knocked down another three-ball, Andre Iguodala matched him on the other end to give the Sixers a 91-87 lead with two minutes to play.
The Sixers put themselves in great shape when Samuel Dalembert hit a contested 12-foot fadeaway with the shot clock running down, increasing the lead to six with 28.5 seconds left. The Suns kept the pressure on but Miller, Iguodala and Korver each hit a pair of free throws down the stretch.
Iguodala contributed 24 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 turnovers. Willie Green, filling in for Carney in the starting lineup, added 20 points and Korver 16, four of them coming on a pair of dunks. Amare Stoudemire led all players with 31 points and 14 rebounds and Steve Nash added 23 points and 9 assists.
The Sixers scored the final eight points of the third quarter to take a 73-64 lead and increased the run to 10-0 after Iguodala's two free throws 15 seconds into the fourth quarter gave them a 75-64 edge.
They rebuilt their lead to 11 on five points by Korver - three free throws and Korver's second fastbreak dunk of the game - before the Suns mounted their comeback.
The Sixers held a 54-49 lead at the half but the Suns narrowed the gap to one, 65-64, with 5:31 left in the third quarter after Nash hit a three-ball and a lefthanded layup on back-to-back possessions. But Nash's layup proved to be Phoenix's final points of the period as the Suns couldn't convert any of their final nine possessions.
Joe Smith hit a pair of baskets in the last 41/2 minutes of the quarter, and Hunter's emphatic jam off a Louis Williams pass enabled the Sixers to take a nine-point lead into the final 12 minutes.
The Sixers were a pleasant surprise to the Wachovia Center faithful in the early going, grabbing a 35-23 lead after one quarter and going up by 14 in the second before the Suns narrowed the deficit to 54-49 at the break.
Green set the early tone for the Sixers, draining 7 of 8 shots from the field and scoring 16 points in the first quarter. He had 18 at the half. Dalembert and Steven Hunter dominated the boards, combining for 15 first-half rebounds, just one fewer than the entire Phoenix team.
Of course, with Marion on the bench in street clothes, the Suns' inside game was pretty much made up of the 6-foot-10 Stoudemire, and he did his best. He finished the first half with 18 points and seven rebounds.
The Suns also weren't themselves from three-point range, hitting on just 4 of 12. Barbosa, the league's seventh-leading shooter from beyond the arc, missed all four of his attempts in the first half.
Phoenix, which started Tuesday night's game at Indiana making just two of its first 15 shots, began tonight in a 2-of-12 rut. The Suns missed their first six of the game as the Sixers raced out to a 10-0 lead, with Green and Miller contributing four points apiece.
The Sixers kept the heat on, finishing the quarter with a 62.5 percent mark from the floor, and scoring the final nine points of the period. Green sank two baskets, and Korver, known for his outside shooting, dunked home an Iguodala pass as the Sixers went up by 12 after the opening 12 minutes.
Hunter's tip-in on the Sixers' initial possession of the second quarter increased the lead to 14, and the Sixers led again by that same margin when Miller's jumper with 5:43 left in the half gave them a 48-34 advantage. To that point, they were 6 of 9 from the field in the quarter.
But the Sixers misfired on their next nine shots and the Suns scored 10 consecutive points. Stoudemire completed the run with a three-point play to cut the gap to four, 48-44, with 2:42 left in the quarter.
The Sixers broke their drought in highlight-film fashion. As Korver launched a jumper, Iguodala was knocked down and had gotten back to a sitting position when the rebound of Korver's shot came right to him. In one motion, Iguodala fired a pass to Dalembert, who knocked down a 12-footer in the lane.
Baskets by Green and Iguodala got the Sixers' margin back up to eight, but another three-point play by Stoudemire helped Phoenix get to within five by halftime.