THREE WEEKS ago, when the Flyers opened their season at the Wells Fargo Center, an orange-and-black banner was raised commemorating the team's winning the Eastern Conference championship last season.
Last night at the same venue, the only thing that fans were expecting to be raised was a white flag by the 76ers.
The vaunted Miami Heat, coming off a season-opening loss in Boston the night before, defeated the Sixers, 97-87.
But, it wasn't as quick as the 1-2-3 punch that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will certainly provide many times this year to opposing teams. The outcome was due more to the three-point haymakers thrown by reserve swingman James Jones.
Jones knocked down six of nine three-pointers en route to 20 points off the bench. He was instrumental, along with Wade, in leading the Heat to a decisive 31-13 third quarter that took the air out of the Sixers and their vocal fans.
The first half was actually quite competitive and assuring to the sellout crowd of 20,389. The Sixers limited the Heat's fastbreak, held their own on the boards and got great play from their bench.
But in the third quarter, Wade decided to put the team that he has carried throughout his 8-year career on his shoulders. He scored 10 of the Heat's first 18 points of the quarter, helping Miami pull in front by 18. And when Jones hit a couple more treys late in the quarter, the lead ballooned to 25.
Wade (30 points), James (16) and Bosh (15) combined for 61 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists. That was pretty much a given going into the game. What wasn't anticipated was Jones' contribution. In less than a 4-minute stretch in the second quarter, the 8-year player drained four treys, helping grow a one-point lead to 12.
"You have to pay so much attention [defensively] to those three guys that someone is going to get some open shots," said Elton Brand, who collected 12 points and nine rebounds. "You just have to locate him and get to him a little faster. But it was our defensive mishaps. We didn't have to leave him that open."
Though the lead got as high as 26 in the third quarter, the Sixers did battle back in the fourth, cutting it to eight with a minute to go in the game.
The highlight of the fourth was a killer crossover move by Sixers rookie Evan Turner on Wade. With the ball on the left wing, Turner started to his right, but quickly moved the ball back to his left while Wade was left flailing the other way. Turner calmly pulled up from about 18 feet and drained the shot.
In a little less than 31 minutes, the second overall pick scored a team-high 16 points off the bench, pulled seven rebounds and dealt four assists. Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young each had 15 points, and Andre Iguodala and Andres Nocioni added 10 each.
"I was so proud of him," Collins said of Turner after losing his coaching debut with the Sixers. "He took the ball to the basket, played with poise, played with confidence. He did his best covering LeBron, tried to get up the floor and guard him, tried to guard Wade. I talked to many people about him, and they said the scouting report on Evan was he will be a pain in the ass until he feels like he belongs and then he will be fantastic."
The Sixers starters certainly weren't fantastic, as only Brand and Iguodala scored in double figures. Center Spencer Hawes left the scoring column blank in 14 minutes, Jason Kapono scored just two points and Jrue Holiday struggled to six points and five turnovers in 21 minutes.
But the Heat certainly weren't flawless, either, which many expect them to be just about every night. They are talented enough to overcome any kind of effort the Sixers can put forward right now, and that's exactly what happened last night.
But Collins, always the optimist, didn't leave the court without noticing a lot of positives.
"You know what's great, when we left the court, the fans cheered. They cheered," Collins said. "You know what that meant to our team in the locker room that those fans cheered them? Because a lot of these guys have never felt that before and that's tremendous. I'm so thankful to our fans for doing that."
It surely beats raising a white flag.