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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Philadelphia 76ers Win NBA Europe Live Tour Mini-Tournament

Less than a week ago, the Philadelphia 76ers became one of the few NBA teams to ever lose an exhibition game to a European team. They have rebounded from that setback with two straight victories to win the NBA Europe Live Tour four team mini-tournament in Cologne, Germany. First they beat the Phoenix Suns, who made the Western Conference Finals last year, and on Wednesday they defeated CSKA Moscow, 85-71; earlier in the week, CSKA Moscow routed the L.A. Clippers, 94-75. Allen Iverson led the 76ers with 28 points and center Samuel Dalembert dominated the paint with 15 points, 18 rebounds and five blocked shots. Trajan Langdon led CSKA with 16 points, most of them scored long after the outcome of the game had been decided. After the Sixers lost to FC Barcelona, I read some criticism of Sixers Coach Maurice Cheeks and how he failed to take advantage of his team's athleticism in that game. Doesn't anybody understand that this was the Sixers' first preseason exhibition game, played overseas against an unfamiliar (and talented) opponent and governed by hybrid rules? Cheeks certainly seems to have made some good adjustments during the past few days; whether that will translate into NBA regular season success is of course a different question.

The Sixers took a 6-0 lead to start the game before Langdon hit a three pointer for CSKA. He would miss his next seven field goal attempts, looking more like the player who struggled in the NBA than the Euro League star that he has become. Philadelphia led 8-5 at the 6:54 mark when Theo Papaloukas checked into the game. You may recall that he is the point guard who orchestrated the Greek national team's victory over Team USA in the FIBA World Championships. He is considered the heart and soul of that team and the CSKA squad but is utilized in a sixth man role by CSKA. ESPN commentator Bill Walton compared Papaloukas' court vision to Steve Nash's. Papaloukas only made a cameo appearance in this game, however, before he was sidelined by a hamstring injury. Philadelphia led 20-16 at the end of the first quarter, with both teams shooting poorly from the field. Iverson looked sharp, though, with nine points on 2-3 field goal shooting and 4-4 free throw shooting.

The 76ers started the second quarter by making only one of their first six field goal attempts, enabling CSKA to take their first lead, 24-23. Then Philadelphia clamped down on defense and completely took over the game, going on a 15-0 run, featuring some nice passes by Dalembert to a cutting Iguodala and Webber to Dalembert. The 76ers forced seven turnovers and held CSKA to 3-12 field goal shooting during that stretch. The 76ers led 47-30 at the half, holding CSKA to 33% field goal shooting. Iverson led the way with 15 points on 4-8 field goal shooting and Dalembert already had 11 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots.

To use a phrase that ESPN's Mike Breen employed later in the game, the start of the third quarter looked like a "preseason game extraordinaire." The 76ers missed eight of their first 10 shots and CSKA missed nine of their first 13 shots. Halfway through the period, the score stood at 51-38 and it looked like the first team to 70 might win. The shooting improved in the remainder of the quarter but CSKA was unable to gain any ground and trailed 65-49 going into the final period. Iverson had nine of the Sixers' 18 points in the third quarter.

CSKA was unable to make a run in the fourth quarter and the Sixers led by as much as 24 (75-51) before coasting to victory. While it certainly would have been interesting to see how CSKA would have fared with a healthy Papaloukas, this was still a nice defensive performance by a Sixers team that had serious shortcomings in that area last year. The 76ers held Phoenix to 4-23 field goal shooting (.174) in the fourth quarter of their come from behind victory and limited CSKA to 27-76 field goal shooting (.355) overall. I'm sure that Sixers fans would like to see that kind of defense for 82 games, but Walton noted that he played on championship caliber teams that did poorly in the preseason and bad teams that did well in the preseason; just as I was reluctant to jump on the "bash Maurice Cheeks" bandwagon after the loss to FC Barcelona I am not sure that these two wins foreshadow great success for the Sixers this year either.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:36 AM

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