Game Notes: Suns at Sixers
Jrue starts it and Cube finishes.
by Doobie Okon
I woke up this morning feeling like Charlie on his way to Wonkaville. Eight months ago, I was preparing for the MCATs and now, somehow, I’m embarking on my first media adventure ever. In my hometown, nevertheless. Not too shabby, my friends.
4:13 p.m. – I’m told I could go as early as three hours before the game, so you can bet your rear I’m doing just that. But I can’t find the media entrance to the Wachovia center and nobody seems to have any information for me on this day. Awesome.
4:32 p.m. – A Tzvi-Twersky-lookalike is smoking a boge outside. Seriously though — sweatpants, black hoodie, same beard. Anyway, he showed me the way to the media entrance where I proceeded to get my press pass, the golden key to the adventure.
4:36 p.m. – Follow the herd to the media room. Surely, these vets have done this a million times. To them it’s routine but to me, new, exciting and appetizing. Yes — great tacos. The buffet’s a phenomenal perk, for sure.
5:09 p.m. – As if it was my first day of school and I, the new kid, am just trying to make some friends at lunch. Some guys from the sales department sit at the same table and shoot the breeze with me about SLAM and the Eagles-Cowboys game. One of them was a Dallas fan. Ugh.
5:24 p.m. – ‘Lunch’ is over, so let’s take a stroll….
-Is it 1987? Seriously, if any court has a retro feel to it, it’s Philadelphia’s. After taking some time to enjoy the court-side view and watch some bench players warm up, I finally stroll into the home locker room. Immediately I spot Jrue Holiday, all 19 years of him, chilling by himself. Really nice, mature and level-headed kid–I’m glad he was my first interview.
-After complimenting him on his sizzling red sneaks, I just have to know what it’s like to be under 20 years old in the pros. “I’m just learning from the vets and the coaches. It’s tough being young but I’m just trying to stay humble and make the most of it.”
-On the East coast: “I never had to wear jeans before. Out in California, I never had to worry about the weather, but over here you have to prepare for it. I just gotta try to care of myself.”
-Future role: “As a point guard, definitely. Somebody who runs the offense…I would’ve loved to have learned from Andre [Miller], but I think he left the job to me for the future.”
-On getting up for the Suns and the sparse home crowds: “Yea, most definitely. Steve Nash is very distinguished and the best at what he does, so you definitely have to be more focused playing a guy like him…Of course we want to see more fans, but if we just keep playing hard, they’ll come.”
-Suns coach Alvin Gentry, donning a pre-game sweater, talks outside his locker room about how close his club’s become, eating meals and going out together, especially down in Miami. He makes fun of how Marreese Speights and Jrue Holiday spell their names. I ask him if he likes the early-season road trip, to which he replies that it’s more fun playing a team like Boston now when they’re trying to find themselves than in March when they could be 45-12. Touche, coach.
-I find a corner seat on the court which luckily remains vacant the entire game…Matt Cord, 76ers PA announcer, tries everything to get the fans amped up during the intros. Honestly though– it’s the thinnest crowd I’ve seen in years. Oh well…tip-off.
(Pre-game prediction: Suns by 8. As you can tell from the Dime, predictions are essential to sports fandom, cause you either look like a genius or an ass. The key’s to not ass-ass-inate yourself too much.)
-The run and gun needs no young: 37-year-old Grant Hill scores 6 straight early points for Phoenix, highlighted by a cross-court dart from Steve Nash. 8-4 Suns.
-Amazing: Nash dances his way through the paint and draws all five defenders in his direction, easily kicking the rock out to Jason Richardson for the trifecta. JRich three-ball count: one. Phoenix up 11-6.
-29 seconds later…JRich three-ball count: two.
-Hill’s doing a great defensive job on Andre Iguodala, but Thaddeus Young is picking his teammate up with some tough short shots. Thad really is a master with that pivot foot–dude can get through any small space you give him.
-Whaddyaknow? Richardson gets the Forrest-Gump-friendly roll to bring the J-Rich three-ball count to three at exactly 6:12 left in the first. Suns leading 19-14. Hint to Eddie Jordan: cover 23.
-Score at first TV timeout: Sixers 18, Richardson/Hill 18. (Sixers 18, Suns 21)
-Iguodala hits the spot up 16-footer to give Philly their first lead, 22-21.
-Two early fouls on Samuel Dalembert has him in the ref’s face. Not sure what he’s saying, and I’m pretty sure the official has no idea, either.
-Jrue subs in at 1:06, seeing his first action since the Celtics game. He draws a ton of ‘Jruuuuuuuu’s from the crowd which has got to be a boost for the young fella.
-After Iggy hits the sleeping Suns for a sweet put-back dunk (which might have hurt Dre’s hand), bench residents Willie Green and Goran Dragic trade a few points before the buzzer. End of the first: 76ers up 27-25.
-Jrue plays good tight defense on Dragic on the first possession leading to a Speights downcourt rope to Rodney Carney for the and-1.
-Leandro Barbosa fires his first awkward jumper and misses–it really reminds me of his shot on 2K10. Tough release to figure out.
-As I revel in Jrue’s shoes some more, his official coming out party begins: He connects for the touch steal on Dragic at half court, dives onto the ball and finds a trailing Speights for the easy slam. The crowd is finally louder than crickets and on their feet for the first time. Philadelphia leads Phoenix, 35-28.
-It’s a lil’ early for the Holidays, isn’t it? Jrue’s doing it all: He hits his first shot, a three-pointer, then goes strong to the hole on the next possession but draws the charging call. He’s running the point off a handful of Suns turnovers and gets Speights and Young to the line for easy points. Finally, he steps back to nail his second three of the game. He’s still 100 percent from the field on the year! (4-4)
-Nash and Channing Frye answer with three-balls of their own to cut the Sixers lead to 49-40. The Suns can truly reel off 6, 7, 8 points in a matter of seconds. Unreal.
-Midway through the quarter, the offensive tempo picks up as the two clubs trade baskets on four straight possessions. During that run, the JRich three-ball count grows to four.
-Eddie Jordan calls a timeout and I’m really astounded at how dead this stadium is. I feel like the guy who’s sitting across the stadium and taunting Jason Smith is yelling in my ear. “Why don’t ya post up and stop taking so many damn 3’s!” I can’t say I disagree, guy in crowd.
-Jrue out after contributing 8 points in a solid 10-minute run. Very happy for the kid.
-Final bucket of the half–a 3 by none other than Jason Richardson. That’s five, ladies and gentleman. Score at halftime: Sixers 66, Suns 54. Truth be told, the Sixers are dominating this game so far, especially on the defensive end. Sixers are out-rebounding (24-16), out-blocking (4-0) and out-stealing (5-2) the Suns.
-Twelve second in, Nash hits J-Rich with a ridiculous ally-oop that has the entire Sixers ‘D’ frozen. Pathetic. Philly better be ready for a Suns spurt right here.
-Jason Richardson, are you kidding me? 6 for 6 from beyond now. 71-61, Sixers still lead.
-Ha! Brand does his best Jrue Holiday impression with the mid-court interception of his own, then out-hustles Frye to the ball and finishes with the open court slam. Feels like that play took forever to develop. 75-66, Sixers.
-Woah, before I even blink, Suns rip off 6 unanswered points in under a minute to make it 75-72. Amar’e is a beast down low–one of the best rim-attackers in the NBA.
-Sixers big men continue to maintain the small lead, but Nash and Amar’e keep answering. Nash makes it look too easy: he simply glides around the Grant Hill pick and drains the deep two. Philadelphia still leads, 81-77
-Something I’m noticing: Nash is splitting every double team like he’s Moses at the Red Sea. The second defender is way too slow rotating to No. 13.
-After Barbosa’s 3 finally has Phoenix tied up with Philadelphia at 84, Speights hits a jumper from the top of the key to give the Sixers the lead heading into the stretch.
-When I knew the Sixers were in trouble: On the first Suns possession, Amar’e hits an awkward, off balance 20-footer at the 24-second buzzer after Philly plays fantastic rotating defense. 86-86.
-Jrue with a drive, no-look pass to Speights who then proceeds to hit the no-look heave. And-one. 89-86, Philly. And at this point, the Sixers probably could have won this game if not for one guy: Jared Dudley.
-As Speights scores eleven of Sixers’next 16, Dudley throws on his B.C. jersey and rips off ten of the Suns’ next 12. This includes two three-balls in 32 seconds that cuts the Sixers lead to 102-100. Dudley is fired up at mid-court.
-At this point, Phoenix just turns on the gas and Philly starts hitting the brakes. Barbosa hits a three that gives the Suns its first lead in forever at 105-104.
-Iggy is really trying to carry his team to victories. It’s clear he’s the go-to guy in the 4th. He drives the lane a’la his own dunk against the Nets last week, except he loses control of the rock only to get the difficult put back lay-up to go. He follows that with a runner through the paint to tie it 108. But the good times ended there for Philly.
- Both Carney and Thad miss two-footers that practically costs Philly the ‘W’, and then Nash goes to work:
- Half court pass to J-Rich for the dunk. Stupid foul. 111-108, Phoenix.
- Another Nash strike to Richardson through the heart of the defense for the easy lay-up. 113-108. Second 20-assist game for Nash on the season. And as reward for all his hard work, he hits the last six free throws to close out Philadelphia.
- Final score: Suns win, 119-115, to go to 7-1 on the season. Sixers are now 3-4 to go under .500 for the first time this year.
- Sixers coach Eddie Jordan speaks in his press conference about his team’s passion–a losing coach’s favorite word. “Right now, Phoenix is smarter and has more weapons. We just missed our chances, but they were there.”
- The Sixers locker room is very mum. Speights and Iguodala talk to the microphones about the disappointment, while Jrue Holiday gets some deserving camera time.
- I decide to see what the visiting locker room is like. To be honest, I didn’t expect Steve Nash to be sitting by himself, so I make a b-line to the Canadian. On Gentry’s halftime adjustments, Nash comments, “We just had to play harder. It’s been a long trip, we’re tired. We just gotta find some toughness and come out and try to compete.”
- As I turn away from Nash, Jason Richardson comes out of the shower and practically steals my stats sheet. Presumably, he was looking at his 29 points. Keep it, Jason.
- Dudley looks very excited talking to the press, as he should. What a fourth quarter show–he propelled the Suns to this victory. Anyways, I look over and see Grant Hill, hoping he has a minute to spare. On his age in the run and gun and fun and run and fun and fun and gun offense: “I like to run, that’s my game. I felt good running in the first quarter and so did J-Rich and we just got going early. I came out late and Dudley did his thing. So that’s fine with me”
- Hill, on the Sun’s hot start, echoes his coach’s pre-game comments: “Nobody really expected us to start this well. We generally feel like we’re better than people’s expectations and we also are really close. We hang out all the time on the road. Almost everyone in here. So it definitely feels good to be 7-1.”
- I thank all the players for their comments, and step outside to some fresh Philly air for the first time in 6 hours. Looking back on it, my first media adventure was beyond exciting. Got to sit court-side, eat some free buffet, and talk to the best players in the world. Appropriately enough, I drive away to Ice Cube singing, “I can’t believe…today was a good day.”