After all the excitement of the last couple days, there was a real life basketball game to be played on Friday.
The Sixers rolled out their new starting five, which had been touted as the NBA’s second-best unit before it even got on the floor. The Nuggets found out it’s not just hype.
Tobias Harris made his Sixers debut alongside Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler, JJ Redick and Ben Simmons in a 117-110 win in front of a raucous Wells Fargo Center (see observations).
It’s hard for things to live up to the hype, but early on it appeared the juggernaut that is the Sixers’ starting five might just run Denver right out of the building.
“I think when we go back and look at film of this game — and even in this game you could see — there were pockets in the game where you said, ‘Dang. This is something scary there,’ Harris said. “I always knew the talent from afar but going out and playing and seeing it today, seeing how much spacing we have out on the court and playmakers was big.”
Of course it wasn’t perfect. There were moments of guys almost being a little too unselfish, passing up decent looks to make the extra pass. Defensively there were issues, a big reason the Sixers — who led by as many as 16 in the first half — found themselves in a dog fight.
Joel Embiid, who was battling a stomach bug, shot 4 of 17. Ben Simmons had nine turnovers.
None of that mattered in the end, as JJ Redick went off for a season-high 34 points, Jimmy Butler was quietly excellent all around with 22 points and Harris pitched in with 14 points.
Harris’ first basket could be the first of many like it. Simmons grabbed the ball off the rim, pushed it up the floor and threw a cross-court frozen rope to Harris on the wing for a three.
There were moments when the ball movement was a thing of beauty. The ball never seemed to stick.
“I think that we all feel the responsibility that we have to take this circumstance, this situation, in all of our sporting lives — it might sound cliche, but it’s true — and maximize it,” Brett Brown said. “And to come out in this fantastic basketball atmosphere and the home crowd and roll out our new team was a real special treat, it was for me. To see our guys and to see [Simmons] with new teammates was something special. The responsibility, the opportunity, this amazing home crowd — we wanted to capitalize on that. I think the momentum can easily grow from this type of base.”
While the Sixers won a basketball game against a good team, the vibe in the arena felt more like a party. A group of fans showed their love for Elton Brand — who was in his customary seat in the press area — chanting “Thank you, El-ton.”
What Brand has done is nothing short of spectacular. As a first-time GM, having played in his last NBA game less than three years ago, Brand has assembled the second-best starting lineup in the league. Not bad for a guy that’s been on the job for less than five months.
With that kind of firepower comes expectations, but that doesn’t mean these guys won’t enjoy it.
“It’s funny because after the game somebody texted me and sent me a video of me smiling after a play and wrote to me, ‘This is literally the first time I’ve ever seen you actually smile in a game’” Harris said. “And I was like, ‘You ain’t lyin’.’ It was cool to see. It was fun out there. I really had a lot of fun.”
Sixers fans are hoping the fun has just begun.
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