NEW YORK - While the New York City Marathon winners had no trouble running for more than 2 hours yesterday, the Sixers have been struggling to keep pace for a mere 48 minutes.
The Sixers again jetted out to an early lead, just as they had done in previous games so far this young season. Unlike before, though, the Sixers stayed steady through the middle, then ran strong through the finish line and pulled away from the New York Knicks for a 106-96 win yesterday that improved their record to 2-5.
The past week featured the Sixers giving up a desperation three-pointer near the final buzzer that ultimately turned into an overtime loss to Washington; a blowout victory over Indiana during which their coach had vertigo symptoms and couldn't return to the bench after halftime; and another game where they had a six-point lead late in the final quarter only to allow Cleveland to score on 14 of its final 15 possessions and gain the win.
"At the end of the day, they competed, they fought and that's all I've ever asked them to do," coach Doug Collins said of yesterday's win. "I didn't want to take anything away from [yesterday] but we're a [throat-clear] from being 4-0 this week. That's the encouraging thing, that we've been in all the games and guys finally found a way to finish."
They found a way to do it without their best all-around player. Andre Iguodala was on the bench in a snazzy suit, nursing a strained right Achilles' tendon. Iguodala, who suffered the injury in Friday's game against the Cavs, seemed to be walking through the locker room before yesterday's game without a problem, so he may be available when the team embarks on a four-game road swing that starts Wednesday in Oklahoma City. His status is officially day-to-day.
The start of the game sort of played right into the hands of the Knicks, with up-and-down action and shots (mostly uncontested) being launched from anywhere inside Madison Square Garden. But the Sixers outdistanced them and bolted to a 33-25, first-quarter lead.
Though the Sixers led, the Knicks were getting to the basket easily and when that wasn't working, getting the ball out to their shooters. The only reason the Sixers led was because they were getting even better looks, making 16 of their first 23 shots.
Early in the third, the Knicks reeled off nine straight points to take a lead by that many, but shortly after, Collins inserted reserve center Tony Battie to help stop the continuous forays into the lane by the Knicks.
It worked, and the Sixers trimmed the lead to 81-80 at the end of the third, and had some valuable momentum on their side entering the fourth. Something they haven't had a ton of this season.
Previously, this was the part of the game when the Sixers struggled to stop teams. This time, though, they limited the Knicks to 5-for-23 shooting in the final quarter and got key buckets and offensive rebounds when they needed them.
"We got them to miss some shots," said Lou Williams, who came off the bench to score 19, including 12 of 14 from the foul line. "They're a very good three-point shooting team and they did us a favor by missing so many [3-for-19 overall, 1-for-8 in last quarter]. I think we defended how we wanted to at the end. We knew they were going to try to make three-pointers to try to get back in the game and we were running guys at them, trying to make them make plays at the rim, and they were still trying to get out to the three-point line."
Without a key player in Iguodala, it was a team effort that carried the Sixers in this one. Elton Brand had 20 points, while Jrue Holiday had 19 points and eight assists. Rookie Evan Turner, who started for Iguodala, chipped in 14 points and 10 rebounds and Andres Nocioni added 11 points.
Amare Stoudemire led the Knicks (3-3) with 21 points and 15 rebounds.
"We had so many guys play well. Tony Battie came into the game and really stabilized our defense. Jodie Meeks came in and gave us a real shot in the arm," Collins said. "We had some guys that were terrific. It was good to see these guys feel good about themselves. It was good winning on the road today."
Especially with four more coming up this week.
"We know that we can play much better than our record. That one in D.C. [a 116-115 overtime loss to the Wizards] and then the last one at home [123-116 loss to the Cavaliers] when we were up six with 5:32 left and we couldn't finish that off," Collins continued. "You know, to come from behind against a team that has been playing well . . . And they have a lot of weapons, so we were proud of winning it. Winning on the road is good, and we're about to hit the road."
The only people who looked more pained than the Knicks fans filing out of the Garden were the ones on Seventh Avenue who had just finished the marathon.
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