The 76ers’ new owner had a welcome postgame message for coach Doug Collins.
”First place, 6-2,” said a smiling Josh Harris as he shook Collins’ hand.
What a fantastic early return on his investment. All the Sixers are playing a role in this roll to the top of the Atlantic Division.
Andre Iguodala scored 20 points and Lou Williams added 13 to help the Philadelphia 76ers win their fifth straight game, 96-86, over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night.
Led by Iguodala and a deep roster, the Sixers are dominating in the second half to turn close games into comfortable ones. Against the Pacers, it was a 15-3 run in the third quarter that helped them pull away. The Sixers used a 30-8 run in the third to beat Toronto on Saturday night.
The Sixers have made the most of their favorable home stretch, winning in Philly for the third time in four nights. After an off day Sunday, the Sixers played the first game of a three-night stretch, that includes Sacramento and Wednesday’s game at New York.
”As long as we continue to keep our mistakes low and be defensively sound, we’ll be fine,” Iguodala said.
After spending most of the last few seasons out of the playoff picture, the Pacers and Sixers have emerged as two of the top up-and-coming teams in the Eastern Conference. Indiana (vs. Chicago) and Philadelphia (vs. Miami) both played competitive first-round playoff series a year ago against East favorites and more was expected out of them this season. It’s early, but both teams are in the hunt for a division crown.
”They’re going to be a in battle with us all season long,” Collins said.
The Sixers are winning without any superstars, and entered with six players averaging 9.9 or more points. Sure enough, six players reached double figures against the Pacers and there was no one person for the Pacers to key on.
Nikola Vucevic hit a 3-pointer that capped the Sixers’ 15-3 run in the third and gave them a 69-54 lead. Jrue Holiday got the lead back to double digits in the fourth with a 3 and help them win five straight for the first time since Jan. 31-Feb. 9, 2010.
The Sixers (6-2) are off to their best start since they went 10-0 in 2000-01.
Indiana’s Danny Granger, averaging a team-high 14.9 points, sat out with food poisoning. Pacers guard George Hill (back) also did not play. Roy Hibbert led the Pacers with 19 points and David West had 15 points and 11 rebounds.
”We are a pro team, so if one person doesn’t show up, the rest of us need to step up and play,” Hibbert said.
Tyler Hansbrough scored 10 points for the Pacers. He was scratched in an eye in the third quarter and did not return.
Sixers center Spencer Hawes started after suffering a strained back against Toronto and scored 12 points.
Hawes and Thaddeus Young went inside in the final minutes for a couple of clutch baskets that held off the scrappy Pacers. Williams forced a turnover and Iguodala went down and buried a 15-foot fadeway for a 94-84 lead. Hawes took a charge on the next possession and a small, but enthusiastic, crowd stood and applauded their first-place Sixers.
”We didn’t defend at a high enough level,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. ”They share the ball. Doug Collins has them playing really good basketball.”
Darren Collison and Holiday, former teammates at UCLA, didn’t have quite the epic showdown expected out of the young star guards. But both will have plenty of more chances as their teams blossom into threats in the East.
The Sixers reversed a 2 of 8 start with an 8 for 12 finish in the first quarter and stretched their lead to 45-40 at the half. The Sixers failed to keep a double-digit lead because of a general sloppiness that led to 11 turnovers.
Led by Williams, Vucevic and Young all scoring in double figures, the Sixers again had a great effort off the bench. Indiana’s reserves scored only 19 points.
”Their game plan was to dominate our second group,” Williams said. ”We kind of took offense to that. I think we came out a little juiced up more than other games. We sustained leads and created some separation.”
Notes: Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan sat courtside and chatted with members of the new Sixers ownership group. Rap DJ-actor Jazzy Jeff also was at the game. … The Sixers made eight straight field goals stretching the first and second quarters.