Game Recap: 76ers 111, Suns 104
Adjust on the fly while adding some new ingredients to the mix? Check.
Play what was arguably your most inspired basketball game of the season without your leading scorer? Check again.
Do all that on the road? Check three times.
The 76ers (2-30) met the above challenges in winning fashion, dropping the Phoenix Suns (12-20), 111-104, at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Saturday evening. The result represented the Sixers’ first road victory since last season’s March 25th 99-85 triumph in Denver.
With Mike D’Antonio making his debut as Associate Head Coach, and Ish Smith reclaiming starting point guard duties, the Sixers, during various stretches of Saturday’s contest, fell into an energetic rhythm that Phoenix couldn’t stop. Brett Brown’s group burst out of the gate, seizing a 29-15 lead by the time 12 minutes had been played. The 14-point first-quarter margin tied the Sixers’ largest of the season. Trailing by a point with two minutes to play in the third period, the Sixers then erupted for an 11-0 spurt that sent them into the fourth frame with a 10-point edge. In the final quarter, the team managed to maintain its control with yet another big run, one of 12-2.
Despite expressing some nerves over how he might fit back in with the Sixers, Smith looked right at home. He concluded the previous campaign with the SIxers, and was reacquired via a trade on December 24th. Showing no signs of rust, the six-year veteran notched 14 points, handed out five assists, and committed three turnovers . Nerlens Noel, starting at center for the injured Jahlil Okafor, turned in his eighth double-double, posting 14 points and 11 rebounds. He also pitched in with three steals and two blocked shots. Isaiah Canaan tallied a game-best 22 points.
As impactful as some of the starters were, the Sixers’ second win couldn’t have come without vital contributions from the bench. The reserve corps rose to the occasion, combining for 57 points, more than half the Sixers’ total. Nik Stauskas, who entered Saturday scoreless in five games, drained 17 points, while converting three of his four three-point tries. Carl Landry, in just his second game since returning from a right wrist injury, hit jumper after effortless jumper, en route to netting 16 points. He snagged eight rebounds as well.
Of note offensively, the Sixers, for the first time this season, reached the 100-point mark in consecutive games. Defensively, they held Phoenix to 38.6 percent field goal shooting, and collected nine steals and eight blocks.
With the Sixers earning their second win of the season, it only seems appropriate to put the spotlight on two significant sequences from Saturday’s game instead of just one. The first one came with 5:25 remaining in the fourth quarter, and marked an emphatic punctuation to a rejuvenating, spirited showing from Nik Stauskas. Ish Smith played the part of set-up man in transition.
The second highlight occurred with less than two minutes left in regulation, and essentially sealed the Sixers’ triumph. Jerami Grant soared up to snatch a crucial defensive rebound. After he missed a three-point attempt on the other end, Nerlens Noel corralled the offensive board. Ish Smith was then presented with an important chance to drive the lane, and made the most of it.
Brett Brown Said - On his impressions of the Sixers’ performance in their 111-104 road victory over the Phoenix Suns:
“I thought our young guys played with a tremendous spirit. To get into a position to be up hasn’t been very familiar to the group, really. I think everybody can see just how dynamic a player Ish [Smith] is. Giving a player of that caliber the ball at the end of the game was great for us. When you watch us playing and you feel the spirit in the lockerroom and on the court, the group stayed together. They found a way to get the thing done. It was a fantastic team effort.”
For the first time this season, Jahlil Okafor missed a game due to injury. According to Brett Brown, the rookie big man was experiencing discomfort in his right knee at morning shoot-around. He was ultimately held out of Saturday’s match-up with the Suns.
“There’s nothing, anything to worry about. It’s very precautionary,” said Brown. “We have a long road trip coming up. We want to get ahead of the story.”
Okafor boasts a durable track record. He didn’t miss a single contest during Duke’s 38-game push to the 2015 NCAA National Championship.
With the Sixers making their lone stop of the season in Phoenix, recently-appointed Chairman of Basketball Operations Jerry Colangelo was able to observe his new team in the city where he resides. He attended shoot-around on Saturday morning. It was there that Brett Brown invited the Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer into the Sixers’ lockerroom to address the young group.
“I think just for me to be proud to welcome somebody like that into our program,” said Brown about why he asked Colangelo to talk. “As Chairman of Basketball, clearly there is experience there, with four decades of hoop life of some sort. And so to welcome him to our team, and let Jerry speak about his vision, where we’re at and helping me create this culture is exciting.”
In addition to overseeing the Sixers’ basketball operations department, Colangelo remains in charge of the United States men’s national team. He’s served in that capacity since 2005, when he assumed control of the organization following the country’s bronze medal finish in the Summer Olympics the previous year. That particular aspect of Colangelo’s lengthy career was one Brown considered relevant in the context of the Sixers.
Brown said, “To share stories in the change of USA Basketball. And to share those experiences what he was a part of a rebuild there, and parlayed into what we’re trying to do, there’s a real story there. I think our guys understand the wisdom and the history. They’re all eyes and ears when he’s talking.”
Nerlens Noel was a member of the attentive audience.
“He just gave us his background really. USA Basketball, how much success they’ve had. Him being here in Phoenix, what he’s been able to establish here. Built the Chicago Bulls,” said Noel. “He has a great resume. He’s definitely respected in this game. Just opening the communication.”
Colangelo helped launch the Suns when they were an expansion franchise going into the 1968-1969 NBA season. He served as Phoenix’s general manager, interim head coach, and a front office executive before ultimately becoming owner. He was enshrined in the Talking Stick Resort Arena Ring of Honor in 2008, before departing the franchise.
With veteran Ish Smith’s performance commanding substantial playing time (logged 31 minutes), the Sixers’ remaining two point guards were left to share limited minutes. Kendall Marshall, continuing to get reacclimated to live-game speed following an extended injury absence, played 15 minutes, while T.J. McConnell appeared for two minutes.
Regardless of the amount of time he spent on the hardwood, McConnell appreciated the experience that Saturday offered. He was back in the Copper State, where he positioned himself for a professional career due to his success at the University of Arizona the previous two years.
“It’s always great to be back in the state of Arizona,” McConnell said prior to Saturday’s tilt in Phoenix. “I hope to see some people from Tucson down here. It’s good to be back. I love it here. “
McConnell reflected on the journey that transformed him from an undrafted rookie free agent, to a rotation contributor in the NBA.
“It’s been a crazy path for me, but I’m just taking it one day at a time,” said McConnell. “Working my butt off as much as I can. Trying to stay in the league as best I can.”
McConnell played for Sean Miller at Arizona, after beginning his collegiate career with Duquesne.”
“It was the way Coach Miller wanted to play, and the players we had here,” McConnell said about the factors that prompted him to transfer. “The fan base I think is the best in college basketball, and the weather. I could go on and on. There wasn’t a bad thing about Arizona. I just fell in love with it the moment I got there.”
The Sixers’ five-game road trip through the Western Conference moves north to Salt Lake City. On Monday, they take on the Utah Jazz (12-16) at 9:00 PM EST at Energy Solutions Arena in the second and final meeting of the season between the two clubs. In their second contest of the year, the Sixers and Utah squared off at The Center, with the Jazz posting a 99-71 victory. The point total still stands as the Sixers’ lowest of the campaign, as does the 30.2 field goal percentage they posted that evening. Since enduring a season-long four-game skid in the middle of December, the Jazz are aiming to close the month on a positive note. They registered consecutive victories over the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns last week, before being dealt an 18-point defeat at Golden State on Wednesday. They lost by five to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday. Sixth-year Butler product Gordon Hayward paces Utah with 19.0 points per game. On December 2nd, the Jazz sustained a significant injury hit, as promising young center Rudy Gobert (9.2 pts, 10.9 reb, 37 blk) was diagnosed with a partial MCL tear in his left knee. He hasn’t played since