Discarded swaths of adhesive tape, gauze and bandages littered the floor in front of the lockers in the 76ers dimly-lit dressing room after another overtime loss at the Center on Wednesday night. Players took turns running in and out of training room where athletic trainer Kevin Johnson could have had the Sixers take a number as if he were running a deli counter.
Now serving No. 21
So banged up are the Sixers that there was an extended run in the 97-90 loss to the New Jersey Nets where coach Doug Collins sent five guards onto the floor. As the biggest player of the bunch, 6-foot-6 swingman Andre Iguodala was the de facto center after power forward Elton Brand had fouled out.
Youre not going to win in the long haul playing five guards, Collins said.
Still, even though the Sixers did not have their starting center in Spencer Hawes or their top draft pick in 6-foot-11 Nik Vucevic, and considering Brand fouled out in overtime while 6-foot-8 frontline forward Thad Young took a hard fall and suffered a back contusion, its doubtful that there would have been a remedy for Deron Williams.
The most healthy team in the world probably would not have been able to stop Williams on Wednesday night.
He was sensational, Collins said. He just wasnt going to let them lose that game. He hit big shot after big shot.
Williams, the Nets All-Star guard and Olympian, lit up the Sixers for 34 points on 14-for-28 shooting. If that wasnt enough, Williams also handed out 11 assists and grabbed four rebounds in 48 minutes. It was Williams who scored on a falling away 17-footer with 1:03 remaining in overtime to tie the game and drilled a perfect, step-back three-pointer in front of the Sixers bench with 26.8 seconds left.
If there was a way for the Sixers to stop Williams, they couldnt figure it out.
The key to the game was they got us playing their pace, Collins said. They outplayed us in every phase. I thought we had a couple opportunities to make things happen, but then we make a bad play.
They had control of the whole game.
Where the game turned was in Williams ability to control the pace of the game. Not only did he keep the Sixers guards off balance with 28 shots and the 11 assists, but also he kept the tempo of the game moving at a rate that favored the Nets. With a much smaller and quicker lineup, the Sixers had trouble getting the ball into the open floor and ended up with just five fast-break points and just 11 points off of turnovers.
One of the biggest reasons behind the Sixers success this year has been the ability to score off turnovers, get out on the break and defend the three-pointer well.
On Wednesday night they did none of those aspects of the game particularly well.
We had a couple of opportunities and then wed just make a bad play, Collins said. We made some plays that are uncharacteristic of us and we played very sloppily. We couldnt get that spurt.
And while Williams filled it up on the offensive end, the Nets big man Kris Humphries, known more for his made-for-TV weddingdivorce with Kim Kardashian, pulled down a season-high 19 rebounds. Undersized without Hawes and Vucevic, the Sixers had trouble keeping Humphries and the Nets off the glass.
In fact, the Sixers leading rebounder in the OT loss was point guard Jrue Holiday, who had eight of them. To make things more difficult, the Sixers allowed 12 three-pointers by the Nets shooters. Thats significant because the Sixers led the league by holding opponents to just 27.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc going into the game.
They made a couple of shots, Iguodala said of Williams game. We could have trapped him a little more or forced the ball out of his hands.
Still, even with the depleted lineup and matchup issues, the Sixers still had a chance to put the game away. Lou Williams hit a 23-footer with 8.8 seconds remaining in regulation to put the Sixers up by two points, only to see the game knotted up again when the Nets Williams scored on a layup with 1.9 seconds left.
When the Sixers tried to inbound the ball at half court, Iguodala did not spot Jodie Meeks breaking out wide open across the court for a chance at a game-winning jump shot. Instead, Lou Williams got the ball in traffic and forced up a shot that had no chance.
In overtime, Holiday got a steal and a dunk with 1:18 left to give the Sixers another two-point lead, but all that did was make Williams heroics more dramatic for the Nets.
He had 30 attempts, Lou Williams said of Deron Williams. Its hard to guard a guy like that when you take that many shots. The rhythm isnt something you worry about because hes made big shots like that before.
In the meantime, the Sixers will prepare for Friday nights home game against Charlotte and another on Saturday night against Detroit, though Collins has no idea which players will be healthy enough to go. However, at 12-6, the Sixers are in first place in the Atlantic Division by four games over Boston with five home games remaining on the seven-game stand.
We have Friday and Saturday back-to-back and I dont know who is going to be healthy enough to play, Collins said. Thats kind of the story this season with every team, but we have to be ready.
Lou Williams led the Sixers with 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting. He also led the team with six assists. Before fouling out in overtime, Brand scored 16 points (6 for 10), but grabbed just four rebounds. The Sixers bench outscored the Nets bench, 40-20.
E-mail John R. Finger at email@example.com.