Phoenix Suns 95, Philadelphia 76ers 89 — Learning to close


PHOENIX – A tired Philadelphia 76ers team found themselves behind 11 points early in the fourth quarter, but as has been the case lately, the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday came face-to-face with a potential close loss in the final minutes.

Whether it was that fatigue that took Phoenix over the top in a 95-89 win against the Sixers in U.S. Airways Center or the Suns figuring out how to close a game without miscues, well, coach Alvin Gentry will take the win that ended a six-game losing skid.

Luis Scola recorded his third 20-point game in a row with 21 points and added nine assists, including a dime to P.J. Tucker with a minute to go that helped to hold off the 76ers.

“It’s only one win but we desperately needed it,” Scola said. “We need to find a way to make this longer and don’t go back to the same mistakes.

“We’ve proven we can stay in games,” he added. “We haven’t proven we can close those games and win those games consistently.”

And the Suns survived as unimpressive of a triple-double (16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists) as could be from Philly point guard Jrue Holiday to come away with a victory.

“He ends up with a triple-double,” Gentry said, “but I think we did a good job, for the most part, against Jrue Holiday. He torched us up there the first time we played. I thought we did a good job of just controlling him and making him shoot contested shots.”

Holiday also had six turnovers and shot 6-of-16 from the floor. Much credit could go to Goran Dragic, who arguably outplayed Holiday with 20 points, six assists and three blocks. As a whole, the Suns’ defense looked solid throughout and at the least contested most of the Sixers’ shots.

For the second game in a row, Phoenix went with Tucker in place of Shannon Brown, and Gentry didn’t say how permanent of a change it’d be.

Leading 31-24 after the first quarter, the Sixers went at the Suns with the power forward mismatch. Thaddeus Young scored 10 points in the first period by using his quickness against Scola, but Phoenix got excellent production out of Marcin Gortat, who scored nine early points and grabbed six rebounds.

Gortat was a major key in the game, and though he finished with 11 points, he also had 14 boards. With all the drama this season, it was a good sign then that Gentry went out of his way to applaud the center. He even said the team could – yes – give the Polish Machine more opportunities.

“I think the guy that’s doing really well right now is Marcin,” Gentry said. “I think he’s doing a really good job rebounding the basketball, I think he’s doing a good job finishing around the basket. I mean, obviously we’d like to see if we can get him a few more shots.”

In the first half especially, the atmosphere was awkward. A large Kansas State contingent that returned a purple hue to Planet Orange begged for former Wildcat Michael Beasley (and even booed former Kansas Jayhawk Markieff Morris).

KSU fans got their wish when Beasley entered at the beginning of the second quarter after receiving a DNP-Coaches Decision a game prior. But his presence came with a stagnant offense, and Phoenix was outscored 17-6 in the first seven minutes of the second quarter.

Neither he nor Sebastian Telfair, who was struggling with a sore knee, played in the second half.

The Dragic-Holiday matchup was something to keep an eye on, and it didn’t disappoint. Dragic held his own against the player that Gentry said was “flying under the radar,” even frustrating the point guard into forced shots during the second half especially.

“I thought (Holiday) came back and he was really trying to force some things,” Sixers head coach Doug Collins said. “He was trying to force some passes. I just said, ‘Let’s just read what’s there.’ “

Scoring just two points in the first half, Scola sparked the Suns in the third quarter, scoring 14 points – mostly 17-footers – as Phoenix built a 75-66 lead going into the fourth.

“I feel like I’m in a better rhythm, I play with more confidence, I know my teammates better,” Scola said. “It took me a little time. I’m happy with the way things are going on now. We just need to keep going.”

The Suns led by as many as 11 in the fourth quarter, but Philadelphia made a push, bringing its deficit down to two points at 87-85 with two minutes to play. And much unlike they’d done often during the six-game losing streak, the Suns closed the game as the tired Sixers faultered. Dragic drew a shooting foul on Lavoy Allen on a pump-fake, and Tucker took a nice pass from Scola to bounce in a 14-footer with just more than a minute to play as the Suns finally held off an opponent.

“We played well tonight,” Dragic said. “The ball was circling around, everybody was engaged. We played good defense. Almost every shot was contested.

“The key was just to try to be solid and have no turnovers.”

That, the Suns did. They recorded 24 total assists leading to 39 made field goals, shot a decent 46 percent and won the turnover battle 13-17.

And 1

Alvin Gentry got a nice game out of Shannon Brown in his second game off the bench in a row, even running a few set plays for him that helped to keep the second-half lead intact. After trailing 49-48 at the half, the Suns never relinquished their lead, and much of it had to do with Brown’s 12 points on 50 percent shooting.

“That’s what we anticipated with him, playing off the bench,” Gentry said of Brown. “We can kind of zero in on him, we can call plays for him to make shots.”