The floor was the same and the warmup routines were unaltered, but, as the Sixers prepared to play the Warriors Tuesday, it didn’t feel like a typical game night at Wells Fargo Center.
It clearly wasn’t, after the tragic deaths Sunday of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash.
Sixers player development specialist Roy Hibbert and Warriors guard D’Angelo Russell, former teammates of Bryant’s, talked at half court.
Stephen Curry tapped Joel Embiid on the back to briefly interrupt his warmup and share a few words.
Before tip-off, the Sixers paid tribute to Bryant and the other victims of the accident in several ways, including through players wearing No. 8 and No. 24 warmup uniforms, and by spotlighting Bryant’s framed No. 33 Lower Merion High School jersey.
The game began with the Sixers taking an eight-second violation, followed by the Warriors taking a 24-second violation.
Embiid wore No. 24 to honor Bryant after clearing the move with Hall of Fame forward Bobby Jones. Zhaire Smith sported No. 8 instead of his usual No. 7.
Business eventually resumed, in a way.
“There really isn’t a message that I’m going to purposefully convey,” Brett Brown said pregame. “I’m coming into tonight to win. I think that’s probably the greatest, in my opinion, tribute you can pay to such an amazing competitor. I’m going to coach with that spirit. I’m not going to reference it.
“We had a great day yesterday and we talked freely amongst our team. Everybody spoke. I think that everybody from that point will handle this tragedy in a personal way and I truly don’t think it’s my place anymore to determine what that is for individual players.”
The Sixers won the game, 115-104, to move to 31-17. Embiid played after a nine-game absence because of a torn ligament in the ring finger on left hand, and he had 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Those and other details feel very much secondary, but below are a few further notes from the game:
Embiid looked like himself — an All-Star starter for the third straight year — and didn’t appear hampered by the wrapping on his hand.
He seemed to run the floor pretty well and didn’t have any discernible conditioning issues, which is encouraging. Conditioning was a logical emphasis for Embiid during the time he was sidelined.
Neto gets hot
Backup point guard Raul Neto caught fire in the first half, scoring 19 points. His career-high is 22, while his previous high as a Sixer had been 13.
Neto’s run gave Brown a chance to give Ben Simmons a little rest. Simmons had averaged 39.5 minutes per game during Embiid’s absence, carrying a heavy load for the Sixers. He only played 8:34 in the first half Tuesday.
Smith looks solid, Milton impressive
Smith got hurt in his first NBA action of the season Saturday against the Lakers, spraining his left ankle.
The 20-year-old returned vs. the Warriors and acquitted himself reasonably well. He played 9:36 and scored the first NBA points of his second professional year on a dunk.
Another young player, 23-year-old Shake Milton, also had a positive performance. Milton started for the second straight game in place of Josh Richardson (left hamstring strain) and had 11 points (5 of 6 shooting). He’s gelled well with Simmons and did a nice job of picking his spots to attack.
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