Saturday, coach Doug Collins changed his starting lineup, and it proved beneficial as newly implemented starters Spencer Hawes and Nick Young helped the team jump out to a 12-2 lead in an eventual easy win over the New York Knicks. Monday, the Sixers again began the game well, hitting 12 of their first 14 shots and jumping out to a 17-point lead.
But the Grizzlies pretty much stole the game with an electric second quarter in which they outscored the Sixers, 37-21, made 14 of 18 from the floor and took back every single ounce of momentum the Sixers had built over the first 12 minutes.
Still the game was there to be won, and a Jrue Holiday jumper with 3 minutes, 5 seconds left in the game gave the Sixers a 100-97 lead. But the Sixers failed to score on their final six possessions, including an apparently wide open three-pointer by Nick Young just before the buzzer that would have tied the game. That shot was blocked from behind by Marc Gasol, and the Sixers dropped to 18-26.
"We had great looks down the stretch, we did a great job of finding people and once again shots didn't fall," said Evan Turner, who scored a season-high 27 points and dealt seven assists. "We're getting closer and closer to where we want to be at as a team. Once we get over this hump we'll be rolling. The past four or five games we've played with great effort. Hats off to the Grizzlies. They got the 50-50 balls. It wasn't in regard to effort, it was in regard to luck and how the ball bounced.
"Basketball is a game of runs. They made shots and they got it going just like we did at the beginning of the game. I think our next step is closing off the game when we have leads. Just execution."
There was terrific execution from the Sixers in the first quarter as they found themselves running an offense that presented a myriad of open shots, both inside and out, lanes to burst through and seven trips to the foul line. After that, though, the Grizzlies, who are the stingiest team in giving up points (89.2) in the league, clamped down defensively and allowed the Sixers to get to the line just two more times the rest of the game. Throw in a terrific performance from Gasol (27 points, seven rebounds, seven assists), a more than admirable fill-in job by point guard Jerryd Bayless (21 points, nine assists), who replaced injured Mike Conley, and a 17-point second half from Rudy Gay (26 overall) and the result starts to make a little more sense.
"I'm not disappointed in them, I'm disappointed for them," said Collins. "We played well enough to win that game, we just couldn't finish it. Were they good shots [at the end]? Yes. Jrue missed one, Thad [Young] missed one, Swaggy [Nick Young] missed one. We ran a really good play [at the end] to get a really good three-point shot and Swaggy was wide open and Gasol came over and blocked it. He was tremendous in every phase tonight.
"Early I think everybody had a basket, but sometimes when we score like that, it's a little bit of fool's gold for us. I think we got very soft defensively."
Memphis was coming in on the back end of consecutive games, but it wasn't as if the Sixers were in an enviable position. After all, the Grizzlies had to be stinging a little from losing on Sunday, at home, to New Orleans. And the Sixers had handed them a 99-89 setback a little more than a month ago. After finally finding their legs after that first quarter, the Grizzlies showed why they are 29-15 and among the NBA's defensive elite.
"They are a tough team, a playoff contending team each year," said Thaddeus Young, who had 23 points. "We just have to man up and go out there and do our job and get a hold of the guys making shots. They're a solid, veteran team. They have a lot of guys who can score the basketball and do different things. The experience that they have, they do a good job of feeding off of each other's energy."
Collins appears to have found the energy to begin the game that he was so lacking for a period of a few weeks. Keeping it throughout is still going to be a tough challenge now that his premier bench players have been moved to the starting lineup.
"Now what I'm trying to do is create a bench," Collins said. "The biggest thing that I was concerned about to start the year was having no scoring off the bench."
Jrue Holiday collected 18 points and 10 assists and Nick Young added 13 points for the Sixers . . . Jason Richardson was out again with a bad left knee and Dorell Wright got his second straight "Did Not Play - Coach's Decision."
On Twitter: @BobCooney76