MEMPHIS - After Monday's loss to the visiting Denver Nuggets, the 76ers boarded their charter flight and headed to Memphis with only nine players and carrying the baggage of a seven-game losing streak.
The Grizzlies had won a grueling, double-overtime game Monday in New Orleans, with eight players getting the bulk of the minutes.
In times like this, stars usually take over. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph did just that, attacking the depleted front line of the Sixers, Gasol going for 26 points and 12 rebounds and Randolph 12 and 14 in leading the Grizzlies to a 96-91 win on Tuesday night.
With Joel Embiid sitting for rest and Jahlil Okafor saddled with gastroenteritis, the task of containing Gasol and Randolph fell to Richaun Holmes, Dario Saric and Ersan Ilyasova, none of whom could match the toughness provided by Memphis' star big men.
"He does what he does," Ilyasova said of Randolph, who was returning from a seven-game absence after the death of his mother on Thanksgiving. "He hurt us on the offensive glass, especially at the end of the game. He had a couple of critical shots. We tried our best and our big guys had to try to stay out of foul trouble.
"They are heavy-weighted on the inside, obviously with Gasol and Zach Randolph. They are a heavy load. We have to be smarter moving forward. A couple of turnovers and when you count all the free throws we missed . . . It's small things, but if you put all those things together, we are going to be real good."
With the scored tied at 91, the Sixers threw the ball out of bounds on what appeared to be a miscommunication between T.J. McConnell and Saric with one minute, six seconds remaining. Twenty-eight seconds later and his team now trailing by two, Sergio Rodriguez threw an errant pass, and Memphis was able to seal the game.
For the game, the Sixers made only 13 of their 26 foul shots.
"This is our fourth games in five nights, and we came down with nine guys and you're playing against a veteran, tough, playoff-hardened Memphis team," Brown said. "We had a chance to win the game, and I was proud of their effort.
"(Randolph) rebounds in his sleep. He does so much work below the vision line of referees. He's very clever, I give him credit. He can use his lower body and drive people an inch further under the basket and take them out of a rebounding position."
Ilyasova led the Sixers with 23 points and 17 rebounds, using his craftiness at the offensive end to gain enough minimal space to get off shots and his toughness at the other end to battle for rebounds against his much bigger opponents. Saric continued his good play of late, as he gathered 17 points and seven assists. Nik Stauskas added 12 points and Holmes 10.
It was the 11th time this season the Grizzlies have played in a game decided by five points or fewer, and it was the 11th time they've come away with a win.
"They don't care if it's back-to-back or whatever, they just come out to play," Memphis coach David Fizdale said of his players. "They play hard, and they don't make excuses about it being back-to-back. They just compete really hard, they understand that you know right now our games are going to be close and so they are mentally prepared for that."
And when you have stars, they can overcome any mental lapses or physical distress that might arise during a game. For the Sixers, the room for error is much, much smaller. And late turnovers and missed foul shots simply can't be overcome.