"It was the first and the third quarters, the starters had 58 [points] in the first and third," Collins said. "We were playing uphill. We played a very fatigued game, which is disappointing. We hung around and still had a chance to win the game; the inconsistency just comes back to haunt us every night.
"Everybody thinks the NBA is a fourth-quarter game, but I think it's a first-quarter game," Collins said. "You get the tone of the game set. [Tuesday against the Lakers], Lavoy [Allen] got two quick fouls and all of the sudden that changes a lot of your planning - how you want to play, how you play your rotation. The fourth quarter is where all the excitement is in a lot of ways, but the first quarter to me always sets the tone."
That was both good and bad news on Wednesday when the Sixers faced the Suns in the sixth of this eight-game, marathon road trip. The good news was that point guard Jrue Holiday did whatever he wanted on the floor, collecting five points, six rebounds and five assists in the first quarter. The bad news was that the Sixers' defense allowed 31 points that buried them into a seven-point deficit after 12 minutes.
And after a 27-17 burst by the Suns in the third quarter grew the lead to nine, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. With the loss, the Sixers are now 1-18 when tied or trailing after three quarters.
Holiday wound up with his second triple-double of his career, collecting 16 points and 10 each of assists and rebounds. Thaddeus Young (10 rebounds) and Dorell Wright also scored 14, while Evan Turner added 13 and Nick Young 12. Allen gathered 10 points and nine rebounds.
Luis Scola led the Suns with 21 points and Marcin Gortat had 11 points and 14 rebounds. Goran Dragic, assigned to Holiday much of the evening, contributed 20 and played a big part in Holiday turning the ball over six times.
"We are all going out there and playing hard for the most part," Thaddeus Young said. "We're trying our best as a team, but at the end of the day it's no excuse for not winning games. We have to come out here and figure out how to stop guys and get wins. They were one step ahead of us all night, from the get-go. We weren't playing up to our potential."
The Sixers certainly haven't been very good in the opening 12 minutes of late, as they've allowed an average of 27.6 points in the past 10 games, but their defense has picked throughout the games, as evidence by them giving up just an average of 91.9 points in the past seven games.
"The last five games it's been better, more active," Collins said of his defense. "When you lose your point guard defensively [as Holiday sat four games with injury], you lose so much of what you have. With Jrue being back at the point of the ball, that starts everything for us.
"It's getting better. The one thing about Jrue is that he expends so much energy for us in all phases of the game. We can't ask him to get up the floor and pressure the ball. We'd like for him to do a really good job starting at the three-point line, that's sort of the point for us that we call the moment of truth where you have to make the decision of who you are playing. Is it a guy who can really shoot the ball, and then it's about getting over the top of that screen. If not, your bigs are communicating and pushing up and getting through to prevent penetration. I think we've done a pretty good job with that and are getting better."
But the offense had little fluidity Wednesday when many offensive possessions ended in turnovers (17) or desperation moves to get something at the basket before the shot clock ran out. Perhaps playing the day after such a nice win in Los Angeles was hard, but this appeared to be a gettable win. Though little is certain about the Sixers, particularly now.
"We knew how hard this trip was going to be," Collins said. "I don't think our team can ever breathe easily. I don't think that will ever happen, I don't think we are that kind of team. You look at Phoenix and they've had some very tough losses and a very difficult schedule. They've been on the road. We had a tough schedule, a tough five games, and we lost five games in a row without our point guard. But if you start looking deeper, they have actually started to play pretty well.
"I don't think our guys are leaving that game [Tuesday] feeling like now all of the sudden we beat the Lakers and we can breathe a sigh of relief. I think we know how much work we have to do. The trip gets tougher and tougher with San Antonio [Saturday] and Oklahoma City [Friday]."
When Philly native and former Kansas star Markieff Morris entered the game for the Suns, he was booed rather lustily. There were many Kansas State fans in the arena as their football team plays in the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday. His teammate, former Kansas State star Michael Beasley, got the opposite reaction . . . The win was the 1,999th in Suns franchise history. It will become the fourth fastest franchise in NBA history to get to 2,000. The first three are the Lakers, Celtics and Sixers.