PHILADELPHIA - In his 18 seasons as Jazz coach, Jerry Sloan probably never has gone more than 20 minutes without telling someone that his team doesn't have a player capable of scoring one-on-one. He says it so often, his infant grandchildren probably know that "we can't win by going it alone."
Turns out, maybe that's a good thing.
Allen Iverson scored a circus-act 46 points with a typically virtuoso performance Wednesday night, but got less and less help as the night went on. The Jazz, meanwhile, marched en masse to the basket, practically locking arms in solidarity as they helped each other to layup after layup. Teamwork ultimately trumped solo talent, producing a convincing 110-102 victory - the first-place Jazz's eighth win in nine games.
"We execute almost perfectly," exclaimed Andrei Kirilenko, and he's got the numbers
to back him up. The Jazz surged to a 35-point fourth quarter and a 62-point second half Ñ both of them their best of the season Ñ mostly because they became addicted to finding the open man.
Utah piled up 29 assists, including a career-high eight from Mehmet Okur, hit 11 consecutive shots at one point, and connected on 20 of 27 shots in the second half Ñ a 74.1 percent success rate they had not equalled since Feb. 5, 1999.
"For us, it was easy," Kirilenko blurted after his usual all-everything effort recorded 23 points, six rebounds, four assists, four blocks Ñ including a couple of crucial ones on Iverson Ñ and three steals. "Our execution is phenomenal."
And once again, the decisive stretch was quarterbacked by Milt Palacio, the only point guard wearing No. 3 who earned a win. With Keith McLeod and Deron Williams collecting fouls and skid marks trying to keep up with Iverson, the veteran played the final 16 minutes, a span in which the Jazz outscored Philadelphia 48-38. He made the pick-and-roll a deadly weapon, hitting five of his six shots, getting to the free-throw line eight times, and finishing with 17 points and two assists.
"He was terrific down the stretch," Sloan said. "He made his free throws, he took the ball to the basket, he just played extremely well. He seemed to be very confident playing in that position."
Well, all except the juggling-hand-grenades part. That's what guarding Iverson, the league's quickest man, must be like. The former league MVP attacked the basket relentlessly, scoring 13, 12, 11 and 10 points in each quarter - maybe he was getting tired - and exhausting Utah's help-help-help-oh-hell defense.
"I'm glad we're done with him," Palacio said with unmistakable sincerity. "You've got to guard him with five people. I was saying in the huddle, if your man comes up to set a pick, you know damn well who's shooting."
Yep, you always know who's shooting on the Sixers (though Chris Webber chipped in 21 points, 18 in the first half). But you know who's defending, too: Nobody.
The Sixers rank 28th in points allowed and 23rd in shooting percentage allowed, and it showed. The Jazz simply swung the ball around, waited for someone to spring free, and got him the ball for an open shot.
"If we take our time, we're going to get whatever we want," Palacio said. "They're not the best defensive team out there; we know that."
So do the Sixers. "There's a lot of troubling aspects of this game, but the fact they shoot layup after layup, I think that's it," said Philadelphia coach Mo Cheeks. "That's not the best defense you can play, put it that way."
It might be about as good an offense as the Jazz can play. They fell behind by six at halftime, but came out determined to finish this Eastern trip with their third straight victory. They hit 71 percent in the third quarter, cutting the Sixer lead to a point, then roared away with a 16-7 run in which they didn't miss a shot.
Okur reacted to double-teams by firing the ball underneath to Harpring, outside to Gordan Giricek (16 points on 7-for-11 shooting) or simply shooting before the extra defender could arrive. The Turk finished with 25 points and eight rebounds to match his eight assists.
He even hit the night's biggest shot, a 20-foot high-arcing hopper near the end of the shot clock that preserved a Jazz lead that had dwindled to five.
And when the Sixers made it 102-98 with 1:27 to play, Kirilenko made the biggest defensive play, blocking Andre Iguodala layup attempt.
"Andrei, he was amazing on defense," credited Okur. "Whole winning streak is because Andrei plays good and we play as a team. That's all you need."
Yep. No one-on-one play necessary.
Jazz 110, 76ers 102 IN SHORT - The Jazz enjoyed the latest episode of the Allen Iverson Show, particularly when their team-first approach overshadowed his 46 points and produced Utah's eighth win in nine games.
KEY STAT - The Jazz went more than 11 minutes without missing a field-goal try midway through the second half.
KEY MOMENT - Philadelphia was within four and had the ball with a minute to play, and got the ball to Andre Iguodala under the hoop. But Andrei Kirilenko swatted the shot away and Milt Palacio picked it up and got fouled, ending the Sixers' threat.