PHOENIX - The Suns went into Friday's game against the 76ers ranked 29th in the league in points allowed. They were, however, facing one of the worst offensive teams in the Sixers, who were near the bottom, at 98.1 a contest.
Turns out a bad defense trumps a bad offense.
The Sixers scored 66 points in the first half, the most they've scored in any half this season, but turned into a turnover machine and proved invisible defensively in the second half and fell, 123-116, snapping their three-game winning streak over the Suns and falling to 7-22 on the season. Phoenix torched the Sixers for a whopping 70 points in the second half.
After not turning the ball over in the first 12 minutes and building a 31-24 lead, the Sixers gave it away 20 times over the final three quarters in blowing a lead that had grown to as much as 14.
Phoenix used a 16-2 blitz to start the third quarter to get it back in the game, then bowled over the uncommitted Sixers in the fourth quarter to improve to 9-21 and snap a four-game losing streak. The Suns made an astounding 22 of their 34 shots (64.7 percent) in the second half, getting anywhere they wanted on the court and seemingly getting continuously open, long-range jumpers as they drained 12 of 26 (46.2 percent) from beyond the arc.
Joel Embiid led the Sixers with 27 points, while Sergio Rodriguez added 21. Robert Covington added 16, while Ersan Ilyasova had 14 and Gerald Henderson 11.
Eric Bledsoe totaled 24 points and 11 assists for the Suns, while Devin Booker scored 23. Ageless Tyson Chandler collected 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Brett Brown, still trying to figure out his big-man rotation, found time for Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid to share the court a bit in the first, albeit for less than two minutes. Noel has barely practiced with the team this season because of injury and the coach is looking to get him back in shape before he gets him major time. So, as he will do for the other three games on this trip, Brown's starting lineup will include Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, who finished with only six points and four rebounds in 20 minutes. Noel had four points in 10 minutes.
"It's traditional. Basketball is made to have two big men," Phoenix coach Earl Watson said. "If you're going to talk about small ball - and I say this all the time - coach (John) Wooden won his first championship and his tallest guys was 6-8. So I always bring that back to UCLA every chance I get. They have two big men, and we understand that Embiid is unique. Don't let his height fool you. He can play inside, he can play out. He can shoot the three, he can face up. Back to the basket, he's below one point per possession, but he's still talented enough to understand his game. He can drive it.
"Skill work (from) Okafor, to me, is more traditional. He scores in the paint. Maybe he hits a couple of jump shots outside the paint. I'm not saying he can't, but he hasn't. They still balance each other. It's not like it's two traditional, pound the ball in the post and watch them just play. We have to big men. One is close to my age, the other is 19: Tyson Chandler and Marquese Chriss. It's just basketball. When it comes down to it, you give them credit."
Credit for trying to work out the rotation, not too much credit for the Sixers' effort in the game.
"Their guards, they have dynamic guards and we started the third period and in three minutes we were a minus-11," said Brown. "I felt like defensively we had a hard time guarding their backcourt. Defensively, they did a good job of standing up our guys, they did a good job of taking us out of our stuff as well.
"They made shots and were dynamic in the pick and roll. Our bigs were forced to play a lot out of pick and roll. The start of the third set the table for them for the rest of the game."
Not a great way to start a four-game road trip, with one of the worst losses of the season and the experiments will continue at the big man spot. But all that, really, is overshadowed if the team continues to play the horrendous all-around defense they exhibited in the second half.
"We're trying to grow that group and as Nerlens gets in better shape he's somebody that might have made a difference," Brown said. "I don't think you can go exclusively to our bigs as it relates to those guards. Our guards didn't do a good job of guarding their guards."