PHOENIX – Every NBA skirmish is chaperoned toward its resolution by a micro battle or two.
One of these compelling games within Wednesday’s game between the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers co-starred point guards Goran Dragic and Jrue Holiday.
When it was over, the Sixers’ Holiday rolled out of town with the second triple-double of his career. But Dragic and the Suns ended their six-game losing streak – prevailing 95-89 — largely because Holiday allowed the personal nature of this matchup to dislocate his cool in the third quarter.
The tipping point occurred when Holiday drove to the hoop with just under six minutes to play in the period and the Suns holding a 60-59 lead. An aggressive defensive maneuver by Dragic resulted in one of Holiday’s 6 turnovers and enough foul-call-seeking bitterness from the Sixers’ top player to produce several selfish, payback-related possessions that stalled the Philly offense. When the quarter was over, the Suns held a 75-66 advantage and control of the game.
“Obviously, he’s a competitor,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said of Holiday. “I think he tried to go back at Goran.”
For the quarter, Holiday squeezed off 8 shots (he made 3), committed 2 turnovers and fouled Dragic once. The offensive flow he’s in charge of disintegrated.
For the game, Holiday’s line offered 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. But he missed 10 of 16 shots from the field overall and was limited to a pair of rebounds and dimes in the second half.
“We tried to keep him out of the paint as much as we could,” Gentry said after his team’s work against Holiday improved its overall record to 12-21. “We tried to make him a jump-shooter. We just tried to remain solid in what we were doing.”
That meant having Dragic work to stay in front of Holiday rather than crowd him at the risk of allowing defense-wrecking dribble penetration. In Tuesday’s victory over the Lakers in Los Angeles, the former UCLA guard constantly broke containment, putting up 26 points and 10 assists in his homecoming.
But one night later, Holiday ran into a more concentrated plan against ball screens than he faced against the Lakers.
“I thought he came back and he was really trying to force some things,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said in reference to Holiday’s battle with Dragic. “He was trying to force some passes. I just said, ‘Let’s just read what’s there.'”
Most of the game, Dragic was there. While teammates Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola took helpful angles when showing on ball screens for Holiday, Dragic did his part by riding the ballhandler’s hip, turning him into help before squaring him up.
“I thought we did a good job defensively,” Gentry said of his team’s work against Holiday, “and he ends up with a triple-double. You know, he torched us up there the first time we played, and I thought that we did a good job of controlling him. I think that’s just a testament to the quality of the player he is.”
For the record, Holiday scored 33 points and handed out 13 assists against the Suns on Nov. 25. Dragic was much more effective against him this time.
And, thanks to Sebastian Telfair’s sore left knee, The Dragon was required to play the entire second half and clocked more than 41 minutes for the game.
Dragic finished with a single double, giving the Suns 20 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds. But he only needed 13 shots for his scoring output, managed to block 3 shots, and coughed up one measly turnover. Since returning from a single-game injury absence, Dragic has averaged 17 .3 points and 8.7 assists.
Fortunately for the Suns, he hasn’t been their most productive player over this stretch. That would be Scola, who followed a 33-point splurge in Minnesota and a 24-point effort in Oklahoma City by going for 21 points and 9 assists against the Sixers.
“I feel like I’m in a better rhythm,” Scola, who’s made 33 of his last 57 shots, said. “I’m playing with more confidence and I know my teammates better. It took me a little time, but I’m happy with the way things are going now.”