Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.
Sixers Bounce Back With 113-103 Victory Over Phoenix Suns
The Philadelphia 76ers swept the season series over the Phoenix Suns, defeating Jerry Colangelo and Mike D’Antoni‘s former team by a score of 113-103 Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
They also remain undefeated (2-0) on the season when entering a game favored to win, with the only other such occasion a 103-91 victory over the Lakers to snap their 0-18 start to the season.
After building a 9 point lead to end the first half, the Sixers used a 14-4 run to start the third quarter and build a commanding 19 point lead. Robert Covington, who finished with 19 points on 7-15 shooting on the night, scored six points on a pair of three-pointers to help the Sixers to their largest advantage of the game.
The Suns were able to cut the lead down to 7 with 5:26 left in the game behind a monster fourth quarter performance from Archie Goodwin. Goodwin, a third-year guard out of Kentucky, scored 20 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, making all 8 of his field goal attempts in the final frame.
“They brought it to what, 5 or 6?” Sixers head coach Brett Brown asked after the game, before being told the Suns had pulled it to within 7 points in the fourth quarter. “7 was the closest? It felt closer.”
But where the Sixers were unable to hold onto this fourth quarter leads against adversity earlier in the year, the addition of Ish Smith has plugged some of the leaks that sank the Sixers in the past.
“We went to what we knew was reliable: the pick and roll with three shooters on the court,” center Nerlens Noel, who finished with 14 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals on the night. “The pick and roll with me and Ish [Smith] is already hard enough to stop, but when you have Isaiah Canaan, Hollis [Thompson], and Rob [Covington] on the court at the same time it’s really hard to stop.”
It’s not the most creative or advanced offensive set in the history of the sport, but it’s a go-to set the team didn’t have earlier in the year. The Sixers used it to great success late, with Smith scoring 10 of the last 14 points for the Sixers in their much-needed win.
“You sometimes search too much, where you say ‘Is this what we’re going to do? We’re going to walk down an NBA game with 5 minutes by just playing a middle pick and roll with Nerlens?” Brown said, explaining his simplified offense to end the game.
“But it’s kind of that simple in some ways. You get the most creative guy on the team the ball, space shooters around him, you have good rollers, and you just make unselfish plays and appropriate reads, and he did that,” Brown said. “He walked down an NBA game. NBA point guards do that.”
It was the type of team win the Sixers needed after that miserable performance at home against the Celtics on Sunday night. The Sixers had six players in double figures, with 20 points and 9 assists from Smith, 19 points for Robert Covington, 15 points on 4-7 shooting from Nik Stauskas, 13 points from Hollis Thompson, and 10 from Jerami Grant.
One key point of improvement over the Celtics loss was in the turnover department. After turning the ball over 23 times against the Celtics the Sixers committed just 11 turnovers against Phoenix, outscoring the visiting Suns 28-11 on points off of turnovers. That, combined with the Sixers shooting 11-28 from three-point range (39.3 percent) and heading to the free-throw line 36 times, helped the Sixers keep the Suns at arms length.
The 36 free-throw attempts was the second highest total for the Sixers this season.
The Sixers, who now sit at 7-39 on the season and 6-9 since the Ish Smith trade, will look to pick up their first winning streak of the season when they visit the Detroit Pistons tomorrow night.
The Sixers were without Jahlil Okafor and JaKarr Sampson, who both missed the game with upper respiratory infections. Okafor will not travel with the team to Detroit.
When asked after the game about having another strong performance at the center position, Noel simply stated “I’m just playing basketball.”
Sixers head coach Brett Brown had a little bit more to say about Noel’s improved play at the pivot.
“I think it’s because he’s done it his whole life,” Brown said about Noel’s success playing his natural center position. “I think growing people to other positions is painful at times. It’s challenging at times. I’ve said, candidly, a lot, that he’s made the most sacrifices out of anybody.”
Prior to the game head coach Brett Brown said that Isaiah Canaan was available to play, but due to sore wrists, Brown would only use him if necessary. Canaan ended up receiving 9 minutes of playing time before leaving the game with a sprained left ankle.
Robert Covington (poked in the eye) and Nik Stauskas (left knee contusion) both left the game in the second half, but both were able to return.