Sixers make opening statement

Posted: November 01, 2013

ON TUESDAY, Daily News managing editor Pat McLoone sent me an email about the column I'd written about many Sixers fans wanting the team to lose so it could get a better draft pick.

"Where I lose it is when Thad Young drives through traffic and banks in a runner at the buzzer for a win and fans scold him for making the shot," he said.

Last night at the Wells Fargo Center, it wasn't Young driving through traffic.

It was oft-maligned swingman Evan Turner and rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams going to the free-throw line in the closing moments of a close game against the two-time reigning champion Miami Heat.

The crowd of 19,523 didn't jeer to distract. It cheered loud encouragement to try to help the Sixers pull off a stunning, season-opening upset.

Turner sank his two and then Carter-Williams, completing as fabulous a debut as Philadelphia has seen in a long time, made his two to give the Sixers a 114-110 victory nobody saw coming.

Maybe, at some point later in the season if the Sixers are out of it, hoping for more pingpong balls in the draft lottery may become the primary focus.

But for at least one night, Sixers fans cheered their team to a victory they desperately wanted.

"You never really know what to expect, but this city was fantastic," said Brett Brown, who won his NBA head-coaching debut against a Miami team that beat him last June in the Finals when he was an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs. "The crowd played a role in bringing us home tonight.

"The emotion of the crowd at times when the game was fragile, how can you not feel that? We appreciate that. We need them."

The Sixers got that support because from the beginning, when they jumped out to a 19-0 lead, to the final 5 minutes of the fourth quarter when they outscored Miami by 15-3, they played with a desire that allowed them to overcome what they may lack in overall talent and experience.

Philadelphia has always claimed that it will support a team that works hard. It's been a while since a Sixers team worked so hard against so much adversity.

Nobody is going to get carried away. This is not going to be like the euphoria over the Eagles after the first half in their season opener at Washington.

Over an 82-game season, the reality of the Sixers being overmatched against most opponents is going to play itself out.

The franchise has "Together We Build" as its theme for the 2013-14 season for clear reasons.

But Brown can't sell "Wait until helps comes from the 2014 draft" to the players currently in the locker room. He has asked these guys to get in better shape physically and mentally. He has asked them to fight against what everyone else is saying and stay together and true to themselves.

Brown couldn't have had a better opening performance to sell his players on sticking with the program.

In a season when victories may be in short supply, the Sixers have already gotten their biggest.

You want attitude?

Well, consider the likelihood of any NBA team, much less one almost unanimously picked to have the worst record, blowing a 22-point lead to LeBron James and the Heat and still finding a way to win.

Consider the impossibility of a team surrendering 80 points in the second and third quarters, trailing by eight with 4:54 to go and then coming back to win.

That takes some character.

"Everybody had a role in this win," Brown said. "We gave up 80 points in the two middle quarters. We had 34 points in the third but still got outscored by 11. To find a way to get a win out of those types of numbers required a group effort. They took some hits and got back up.

"It's early. We have this in perspective. But those signs were real. To go down to a team like Miami and then find some chemistry and toughness to get back in it is a fantastic sign."

There weren't a whole lot of things to get excited about coming into this season, but seeing Carter-Williams play was.

Even if you're focused solely on the 2014 draft, you wanted to see if Carter-Williams had the stuff to justify trading a young All-Star point guard in Jrue Holiday.

Maybe it was fitting that Allen Iverson was in the house after officially retiring earlier in the day, because the last time this building saw a debut of this quality was from Iverson in 1996.

MCW was phenomenal, with 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and franchise record-tying nine steals. He had just a single turnover.

One game does not make a season, but in a season where not much is anticipated, one good game makes for a good night.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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