PHOENIX - The opening game of any sports season always brings some false hope and a little unneeded panic. Nothing different for the 76ers after they dropped a 107-103 decision to the Portland Trail Blazers Monday night in front of the 160th straight sellout crowd at the Rose Garden.
The worries for Sixers' faithful starts with the play of point guard Jrue Holiday, who certainly didn't seem himself in a game in which he accumulated six turnovers and fouled out in a little less than 36 minutes of play. None of Holiday's turnovers was bigger than the offensive foul he committed late in the fourth quarter in the midst of a Sixers rally.
After trimming a 16-point deficit to only six at 101-95, Holiday beat his defender off the dribble and created a two-on-one to the right of the basket with Spencer Hawes. The lone defender was Marcus Camby, who moved up toward Holiday as the third-year guard kept his dribble. Instead of getting rid of the ball on Camby's move to the ball, Holiday took one extra dribble and left his feet while trying to throw the pass to Hawes. Camby stepped in and took the charge from Holiday with 1 minute, 29 seconds remaining. A few seconds later, Raymond Felton drained a jumper to up Portland's lead to eight.
It was only one play, but it summed up the night for Holiday, who seemed to play at a quickened pace all night that isn't quite suitable to his style. Much of that had to do with the Blazers, who are committed to playing an up-tempo style this season, forcing their opponents to join them in a game of sprints.
Holiday should be fine. He is still just an infant to the NBA game. But turnovers are a big concern to coach Doug Collins. It all starts with Holiday, who probably will average around the same amount of minutes he played on Monday.
"I thought we came out a little bit slow," said Holiday, who scored 13 points but dealt only two assists. "I know personally I came out a little bit slow. I didn't come out the way I wanted to. I can get carried away. I had six turnovers myself. Those are possessions we need and, at the same time, they scored off of them. Every turnover is vital."
Probably the biggest positive for the Sixers, who will face the Phoenix Suns tonight in the second of five consecutive road games, was the play of starting center Hawes.
The numbers Hawes posted - 10 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists - jumped off the score sheet as much as the 20 turnovers the Sixers committed.
But it wasn't just about the numbers for Hawes, it was the way he came about them. Last season, it appeared as if Hawes went out with a mission of posting those numbers, whether the game called for it or not. He often tried to do way too much on the court, then found himself in foul trouble and landed on Collins' bench.
Monday, Hawes was in total control for the close to 39 minutes he played. When he got the ball at the offensive end, he made good decisions, whether it was using his passing skills or shooting the open shot or making a quick, no-dribble power move. When he does those things, as Collins has said numerous times, he can make this team a much better one.
"That's always kind of been my game and I think being in my fifth year now and especially this year, though I know it's early, the feeling since we've been in camp and the few games we've had, I just have a level of comfort of personally having a little more control over the game on both ends of the floor," he said. "I just have to try and continue to work and build off that."
If he can, it would certainly be welcomed by his coach.
"He was incredibly committed in the offseason," Collins said. "This is a kid who has great confidence in himself. This is a kid who signed for the qualifying offer. He said, 'I'm going to be a free agent at the end of the season, I'm going to play my tail off and see what I can do.' I respect that. Spencer came in great shape. I knew he was a different player. The way we play, he really thrives in it. We use our big guys with a lot of handoffs and a lot of passing. He's keeping healthy. He's going to have a great, great year."
Many, many have sent emails and tweets about Andre Iguodala taking a three-pointer with the team down, 106-103, with under 15 seconds to go after a missed foul shot. Iguodala pulled up from about 27 feet and took the shot over LaMarcus Aldridge and missed the mark.
The groans from Philadelphia could almost be heard in Portland. But in fairness to Iguodala, he had hit two of three from three-point range in the fourth quarter and was a big reason the team cut into the huge deficit.
Explained Doug Collins: "I didn't take the timeout, there were 16 seconds to go, we had one left. I thought we could push the ball, maybe get a quick two or get a good shot and then we could still foul and then move the ball. So that's why I wanted to keep the timeout. I thought we had a better chance to look at it on the run. Our guys do well with that. I thought we came down and handled that well."