ALTHOUGH HE ONLY participated in the last three games of the 76ers' 12-game losing streak, Allen Iverson had a professor's knowledge of what it's like to be mired in one and what it takes to get out of it. He said the game to finally end the streak would be one of the toughest games he and his teammates would play all season.
Then the Golden State Warriors came to town.
The Sixers got out of it last night with a 117-101 win over the somewhat-disinterested Warriors at the Wachovia Center. They did what they had to do against a team that was playing its fifth straight road game, and that was to get a lead, build on it and never relent.
It was also a night in which they had one of their best offensive performances of the season; when Iverson showed signs of getting closer to being the player he once was; and when rookie Jrue Holiday had his best overall game as a pro.
In winning for the first time since Nov. 18, the Sixers hoisted 97 shots, making 48 (49.5 percent). They snared 33 more rebounds than Golden State and had all five starters in double figures. Iverson continually beat Warriors off the dribble to get to the basket and drained open jumpers. He finished with 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting and four assists in 31 minutes. He was teamed in the starting backcourt with Holiday, who looked full of confidence while posting 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Holiday started in place of forward Elton Brand as coach Eddie Jordan decided to go to a smaller lineup against the fast Warriors.
Granted, Golden State isn't exactly lighting the league on fire, as the loss dropped them to 7-17, but the Sixers (6-18) got a desperately needed win in front of a crowd that seemed far less than the announced 12,795.
"It's been rough," Iverson said. "We felt like once we did get a win it was going to be extremely hard, one of the hardest games to win of the season. It was totally the opposite. We came out, jumped right on them and were able to have a 30-point lead in the beginning of the fourth quarter."
Thaddeus Young had 23 of his 26 points in the first half when the Sixers cruised to a 71-57 lead. It was the most points the team has scored in a half this season. The lead was as high as 18 in the opening half and the Warriors showed little resistance.
The Sixers really put the game to bed as they outscored the Warriors 26-11 in the third quarter, limiting Golden State to just 3-for-17 shooting from the floor and forcing seven turnovers.
Jordan's move of inserting Holiday in the lineup worked out the way he planned, as the coach wanted Holiday and Iverson to get the team on the move and ultimately get the ball to the basket. The Sixers outscored Golden State by 56-24 in the paint.
"We played with a lot of energy and felt good about going to the basket," Jordan said. "I don't know how many points in the paint we had, but that was the object, going to the paint.
"Allen and Jrue in the backcourt gives us solid, true guard play. Andre [Iguodala] gives us great defensive presence at the guard position, at any position, actually. To get real good guard play, it's good to have Jrue and Allen in there to start and have Thad at four. The object and the concept is to get those guys [Young and Iguodala] running the lane after a make or a miss, just sprint the lane and let either of the guards push. I like their decision-making. We have good, solid, playmaking guards."
His club also had some pretty good defense going as the only starter in double figures for the Warriors was Stephen Curry with 14. High-scoring guard Monta Ellis was limited to just eight points on 3-for-14 shooting. In his previous 12 games, Ellis averaged 29.4 a game. He and Curry combined to make only eight of 27 shots.
"We came out aggressive, took one of their top scorers away in Monta Ellis," said Willie Green. "It was just a great overall team win. I think we worked hard to get a big lead. I thought everybody played well, our defense was good. We tried to take away Monta Ellis, tried to trap him. We've been knocking on the door for a little bit now and to finally have a breakthrough in the win column is big for us."
Sam Dalembert collected 12 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks, while Iguodala finished with 14, though he shot a dismal 4-for-20 from the floor. Green (14) and Brand (11) each scored double figures off the bench, and Young hauled in 14 rebounds to go with his 26 points.
Iguodala was hindered after taking a shot in the ribs during the first quarter. He was taken to the locker room for X-rays, which were negative. He came back and played more than 34 minutes. The official injury is a rib contusion and he is listed day-to-day, though he will not practice today.
As for the move to start Holiday rather than Brand, Jordan said it was mostly due to wanting to go small, and had little, if anything, to do with Brand's play.
"Just mostly about the small lineup," Jordan said. "Elton does a good job coming off the bench at five. I hate changing the lineup, I hate changing it a lot. I think you have to show some confidence in the people that you start."
Holiday was brewing with confidence in his sixth start of the season. But that's something he's had all along, he said.
"In Boston [in his first start] I was confident, too," Holiday said. "I really try to stay confident."
Forward Marreese Speights said before the game that he expects to be ready some time before Christmas. That would be an early return from his partial tear of his left MCL. Eddie Jordan said before the game that Speights was still on the same comeback time frame, which would have him returning after the New Year . . . LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers visit the Wachovia Center tomorrow.