When the 20th anniversary of the 2016-17 season comes and we feel the need to commemorate the truly special moments of this most bizarre of NBA seasons, one that I will invariably go back to will be the 2:16-to-go mark of the first quarter of game No. 73 -- a game I happened to witness live in Brooklyn. I was watching the Sixers and Nets go through the motions of a largely meaningless late-March affair, when all of a sudden: Who the hell is that wearing No. 47? It seemed unfathomable, but there was only one logical explanation: Tiago Splitter was actually playing in a regular-season Sixers game.
It might be impossible to fully grasp the significance of this without going back through the last four seasons of Sixers history, which saw countless NBA luminaries -- Danny Granger, Earl Clark, Gerald Wallace, Ronny Turiaf, Keith Bogans, Travis Outlaw, Andrei Kirilenko and so very many more -- pass through Sixers lore without ever actually playing in a Philly regular-season game. They were cap filler, they were ballast, they were names changing dotted lines and nothing more. It seemed absolutely for sure that Tiago Splitter, injured and past his prime when traded from the Atlanta Hawks at the deadline in the second Ersan Ilyasova deal, would become a part of this richest of Process Legacies. Hell, even the fact that he wore No. 47 -- most famously donned by Kirilenko during his Utah days -- seemed to pay tribute to this lineage.
And yet, there he was on the court today: Tiago Splitter, the guy who played in two NBA finals with the San Antonio Spurs, the guy who was traded to the Hawks in a cap-clearing deal two summers ago and almost immediately vanished from NBA relevance, the guy who was ten games away from reaching free agency without ever having to notch a "PHI" line on his Basketball Reference page. And he played seven minutes for us, scoring four points on 1-2 shooting with three boards and a block. I will never forget a single second of it.
This was undoubtedly a corner-turning moment of some sort for the Philadelphia 76ers -- though the exact meaning of the occasion remains ambiguous. Maybe it means that the Sixers aren't so embarrassing a franchise anymore that we feel the need to do veterans the favor of not forcing them to put Philly service time on the resume. Maybe it means that the Sixers are no longer willing to write the months of March and April off as losing time, as they play the young guys and dream about next season. Maybe it means that Brett Brown was really, really worried about Shawn Long getting into early foul trouble last night. Whatever the meaning, it feels pivotal, and if Tiago Splitter never plays another second for the Sixers -- his legs may have fallen off from shock in the locker room over actually having been used, for all we know -- he's now a Process Truster for life.
Oh, and the Sixers won the game, 106-101 -- their 28th W, as many as they had the last two seasons combined. Sometimes these days, it's hard to even tell what team we're even watching.
Kevin Hart finally has his Lombardi Trophy.
Hart, a comedian and a native of Philadelphia, had a few too many adult beverages during Super Bowl LII and attempted to get to the stage for the presentation of the trophy. He was unsurprisingly denied.
But Hart refused to accept "no" for an answer.
The lesson here is, if you're big enough of a celebrity to get on the field after your hometown team wins the Super Bowl, you probably have enough coin to just buy your own trophy instead of trying to drunkenly crash the trophy presentation.
Most Sixers fans probably could've predicted the 2-0 result of the Sixers' back-to-back swing against the Knicks and the Nets, but the expenditure of energy it'd take to get there was hard to see coming. One night after needing a fourth-quarter comeback to escape from New York, the Sixers went even further down to the wire against Brooklyn at home, needing a huge final-minute three from Robert Covington and some savvy playing of the foul game from T.J. McConnell to squeak out the 120-116 win.
Both one of the biggest reasons the Nets were able to hang around and one of the biggest reasons the Sixers won anyway was the birthday boy himself, Joel Embiid. JoJo turned 24 yesterday, and he matched that with a 24-point performance -- though he needed 23 shots to get there, only hitting a Kobe-like six of them. But The Process was eminently trustworthy elsewhere in the box score: a career-high 19 boards, four assists (with only one turnover), and most importantly, an immaculate 11-11 from the foul line, where he'd been struggling recently (just 63% from the stripe this month previously). It was about as dominant a performance as our big guy could submit while being an absolute mess from the field.
And he was matched along the way by Ben Simmons. The Fresh Prince didn't notch his third consecutive triple-double, sadly, but he came damn close with his 21-8-12 line -- to go with three big steals and just two turnovers -- his highest-scoring night since he hung 32 on the Bulls in February. We've said it before, but having a superstar to carry your team when they're struggling is the ultimate luxury; having two feels downright immodest. (Simmons since All Stars were announced in late January, btw: 16-8-9 on 58% shooting and under three turnovers, with four triple-doubles and double-digit scoring in 25 out of 25 games.)
So the Sixers move to 38-30, two games up on Milwaukee in the seventh seed, half a game behind Washington at five, a full game behind Cleveland at four, and 1.5 behind Indiana at three. While the Sixers have struggled some against top-level teams in the past month -- going 1-5 in their last six games against playoff-bound opponents -- they've kept pace in the East by taking care of business against the sub-.500 teams, winning their last eight against losing squads, dating back to them taking an L against these Nets in Brooklyn at the end of January. Now they get a couple hard-earned days off before two more home games against lottery-bound squads in Charlotte and Memphis. Trust -- and celebrate -- The Process.