Going into the game, the 76ers did not appear to be such a big obstacle for Phoenix in the Suns' attempt to make NBA history, but they proved to be an unusually formidable force last night.
The Sixers played defense as if possessed, spoiling the Suns' bid to finish a clean sweep in road games against Eastern Conference teams with a shocking 99-94 victory before 15,914 equally shocked fans at the Wachovia Center.
The Suns were trying to complete a perfect 15-0 slate in interconference games on the road. As it turned out, they posted the highest percentage (14-1, .933) in such contests, topping the mark of the 1982-83 Sixers (11-1, .916), whose point guard was named Maurice Cheeks.
Cheeks was asked afterward whether he got a sense of satisfaction in spoiling Phoenix's bid to go undefeated with a loss that tied the Suns with the old Sixers for fewest losses in road interconference play.
"Absolutely you take satisfaction in winning the game, the record aside," the Sixers coach said. "We take more satisfaction in winning the game. Phoenix is a good basketball team and we're trying to get to the point where we play well night in and night out consistently."
But the players knew what was at stake and did not want to be the last Eastern Conference victim for the Suns.
"We didn't want them to get the streak against us, being that this was their last game," swingman Andre Iguodala said. "We thought about that before the game, but our main focus was just trying to get a win for us as a team. It was a big game for us."
Iguodala's line read like a good poker hand - seven rebounds, seven assists, seven turnovers - to go with 24 points. He made one of the most entertaining plays of the game, grabbing a rebound while sitting on the court and passing from that position to Samuel Dalembert for a jumper, and two of the biggest - a three-point basket that extended a one-point lead to four, and an assist on Dalembert's jumper with 28.5 seconds remaining.
The victory came while the Suns were without two of their starters, forwards Shawn Marion (bruised left quadriceps and right hand) and Boris Diaw (back). The Sixers' Rodney Carney sat out the game with a right shoulder injury.
But the Sixers, who never trailed in the game, will take the win any way they can.
They outrebounded the Suns, 50-37, with Dalembert grabbing 12. They hounded the visitors into a 44.4 percent shooting night overall, and 38.5 percent (10 of 26) from three-point territory. The Suns' two most prolific perimeter shooters - Raja Bell and Leandro Barbosa - went a combined 9 of 32, and 5 of 17 from distance.
"It's a record that we're proud of," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We did a good job and guys came out to play, but we just ran out of luck. There's always next year."
The Sixers were able to withstand the Suns' final run in the fourth quarter. After Kyle Korver's second fastbreak dunk of the game gave them an 80-69 lead, Phoenix went on a 15-4 spurt and tied the game at 84-all on Barbosa's three-point basket with 4 minutes, 27 seconds to play.
The Sixers took the lead again on a jumper by Andre Miller and Korver's two free throws. After Barbosa knocked down another three-ball, Iguodala matched him on the other end to give the Sixers a 91-87 lead with two minutes to play.
Iguodala set up Dalembert for a 12-foot fadeaway with the shot clock running down to increase the margin to six. The Suns kept the pressure on but Miller, Iguodala and Korver each hit a pair of free throws down the stretch.
Willie Green, who started in place of Carney, scored 16 of his 20 points in the first quarter. Korver finished with 16 and Miller added 12 plus six assists. Amare Stoudemire led the Suns with 31 points and 14 rebounds, and Steve Nash added 23 points and nine assists.
The Sixers were understandably excited after the game, but Cheeks said they have to strive to reach a point where victories over quality teams are more the routine.
"We're making a little progress, but we have to keep hammering it in, keep practicing, trying to get to the point where we're performing like that night in and night out," Cheeks said. "We want to get to the point where we're comfortable winning games like this and not getting excited."
"To be able to prove that we can beat a team like that, it's a great accomplishment for us," Dalembert said. "Now we cannot just be content. We have to go back and do this every day and night."