Vivlamore reporting from Philadelphia. Here is my updated game story with quotes.
PHILADELPHIA — If the Hawks meet the 76ers in the playoffs they will have a body of work to study — and it’s not good.
Despite a game- and season-high 34-point effort from Josh Smith, the Hawks lost all three regular-season games to the Sixers. The latest was a 95-90 Sixers victory Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Hawks (31-23) lost for the third time in four games as they concluded a stretch of seven games in nine days. They have three days without a game before hosting the Bobcats at Philips Arena Wednesday.
Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala made back-to-back 3-pointers as the Sixers built six-point lead, at 83-77, with 5:05 remaining. Led by Elton Brand’s season-high 25 points, the Sixers (29-23) won an important game in the Eastern Conference playoff race a night after losing to the lowly Wizards.
“Coming down the stretch we didn’t make the plays,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “We missed a couple of defensive assignments and left 3-point shooters open. [Also, there were] the two and-ones by Brand where we gambled in the post and he got the angle on us and got to the basket. It comes down to making plays when you are playing that hard and are right there at the end. You have to make the plays.”
Brand’s basket with 1:30 remaining gave the Sixers a 90-86 lead that all but iced the game. Iguodala added 18 points.
Smith added nine rebounds for the Hawks. Joe Johnson finished with 15 points.
“They beat us to a couple loose balls in the fourth quarter,” Smith said. “It seemed like every time we were a step slow, they capitalized on all of our mistakes.”
The Sixers won the previous two meetings against the Hawks by 11 and 14 points.
Philadelphia is the top defensive team in the NBA, entering the game as the league leader in scoring defense (87.7 points per game) and field-goal defense (42 percent). It was a concern for Drew and the main lesson for the Hawks going forward.
“Right now, they seem to have our number,” Drew said. “We played well in stretches but we haven’t been able to put together consistency in any one game. … We seem to implode against this team. When a team is a good defensive team you have to be prepared to grind it out. All three ball games we were in similar situations where we self destructed at the wrong time.”
Smith scored 13 of the Hawks’ 25 third-quarter points as they erased a narrow halftime deficit and went into the final quarter leading 66-62. Smith picked up four personal fouls during the quarter and spent the final two minutes of the third and start of the fourth on the bench. He returned with 7:30 remaining. Smith fouled out with five seconds remaining after making a 3-pointer that pulled the Hawks within 94-90.
“I sat and I think they took advantage of it early in the fourth quarter,” Smith said.
The Sixers tied the score at 70-70 with 8:31 remaining in the fourth quarter, setting up the decisive final minutes.
The Sixers took a two-point lead, 43-41, at halftime after erasing a nine-point Hawks lead in the second quarter. Iguodala scored nine points in the second quarter to spark the comeback. Brand and Iguodala each scored 12 points in the first half.
The Sixers were 11-of-17 (64.7 percent) in the second quarter, after being held to 8-of-20 (40 percent) in the first.
Smith led the Hawks with 13 first-half points, nine in the first quarter. The Hawks ended the opening period on a 10-0 run to turn a four-point deficit into a 23-17 lead. Seven of Smith’s nine points came with Sixers center Spencer Hawes trying to guard the forward.
“I didn’t want to settle,” Smith said. “I knew he had me length-wise so I wanted to be quick on it. I was able to make some quick moves to the basket and get my rhythm going. But it would have been great if we could have gotten this win.”
The Hawks are sixth in the Eastern Conference and trailed the Pacers, who played at the Spurs Saturday, by a half-game entering the day. The Sixers are battling the Celtics for first place in the Atlantic Division and the fourth seed in the conference. A No. 4 vs. No. 5 playoff matchup between the Sixers and Hawks is a possibility with a month remaining in the season. If it gets to that, the Hawks have a lesson plan to study.
“It could be,” guard Willie Green said of the potential matchup. “They’ve got our number right now. This team, I’m sure, believes they can beat us and they’ve shown it but we’ve got to learn that it’s going to be a physical game. … We lost focus for a little bit down the stretch and they took advantage of it.”