But those who watched every minute of that game will know it was more like an old wooden roller coaster at Six Flags. Herky-jerky. Uncomfortable. Nausea-inducing from the outset and wholly disappointing with how long the frickin’ climb takes at the beginning.
The Suns were sluggish, to say the least, getting down by 23 while allowing Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to take 28 free throws in the first half alone. Embiid himself had 30 points and 14 rebounds at the half in a truly impressive show.
“Just incredibly dominant,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.
The only player on the Suns who showed up big in those first three quarters was Devin Booker, who had 23 points and 5 assists at halftime, drawing 14 free throw attempts himself.
Deandre Ayton, who was not as engaged as he was saddled with foul troubles, was appropriately reflective of his second round against Embiid.
“I’m not there yet to find rhythm when the momentum of the game has been stopped multiple times [on free throws],” Ayton said. “I’m getting there, but I don’t think I’m there yet to really get back in rhythm right away like most guys do.”
Ayton finished the game with a fine line, but was thoroughly dominated when Embiid was focused and engaged.
The roller coaster finally hit that inexorable apex when Philly got up, 99-69, with 3:20 left in the third quarter.
30 FTs between Embiid and Simmons. It's only halfway through the third quarter.— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) January 3, 2019
Coach Igor Kokoskov turned to his 13th man (Troy Daniels) and finally hit the jackpot as the roller coaster began its downhill descent.
The downhill descent began with Daniels and Elie Okobo combining for four threes before the quarter was out, helping cut Philly’s 30-point lead to 17 in that final 3:20. Full herky-jerky speed hit when Josh Jackson, Richaun Holmes and Kelly Oubre Jr. started doing crazy “effort” things that collectively worked.
OMG— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) January 3, 2019
Suns within 8 with the most unlikely string of plays I may have ever seen.
But guess what's at the root of it????
The wacky Suns outscored Philly 41-17 in a span of 12 game minutes, cutting the Sixers lead down to 116-110 with more than three minutes on the clock.
Talking Stick was screaming like kids on that roller coaster, hands up, eyes wide, not knowing what would happen next but at the same time KNOWING how it was going to end, anyway.
It’s a roller coaster, folks. What goes downhill must also go back uphill. On the ensuing possession, the Suns whirling dervished their way into messing up the Sixers play again, but Furkan Korkmaz stepped back into a dagger three anyway.
I feel like that one three by Korkmaz was all they needed.— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) January 3, 2019
That's what a 30-point third quarter lead does for you.
The Suns made it close by trading free throw clanks for deep threes, but the comeback was just simply got quite enough.
“It didn’t really end as authoritative as we’d hoped,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said after the game. “Give them credit, they didn’t go away. Devin Booker is for real. They have young guys that made some shots.”
The ride was a thrill, but it ended the way it was going to end. The Sixers walked away with a win that they’d earned over that first 2.75 quarters.