Fans of the 76ers might want to stop trusting the process. The team will tell you it’s on to the next stage of rebuilding.
This season, the Sixers want folks to “Welcome To The Moment.”
And, oh, it was nearly a memorable moment Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Fans were tailgating in the parking lot four hours before the game. A sold-out crowd of 20,816 provided a playoff-type atmosphere inside the building.
But just like in the previous three seasons, the Sixers suffered a home-opening loss. This time, it was a 102-92 decision to the undermanned Boston Celtics.
The Sixers (0-2) were competitive, but were ultimately doomed by bad shot selection, making just 38 percent of their shots. They were also hurt by an inability to stop the Celtics’ point guard Kyrie Irving, power forward Al Horford and reserve guard Shane Larkin in the fourth quarter.
Irving scored seven of his game-high 21 points in the quarter. Larkin scored eight of his 10, and Horford, who finished with nine rebounds, had nine of his 17 points.
The Sixers, who led, 72-69, after three quarters, fell apart in the final 12 minutes as the Boston threesome dominated. The Celtics as a whole outscored the Sixers, 33-20, while shooting 64.7 percent in the quarter. The Sixers, meanwhile, made just 9 of 23 shots (39.1 percent) — including going 1-for-6 on three-pointers.
“They just got more aggressive attacking, and obviously Kyrie started dominating, taking over the ball,” Sixers point guard Ben Simmons said. “It’s just what I saw.”
While the outcome was similar, the atmosphere was much different that the past three seasons.
“I feel like the endurance that we’ve all gone through to look at just a snapshot of what can be, there is a tiny element of satisfaction that we all should have,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown, who suffered through a 75-253 record the previous four seasons. “But it’s completely tempered with the reality that there is way more to do — way more to do.”
The coach, however, said it’s good to see the Sixers’ fan base loud and proud.
On this night, Joel Embiid had one his worst shooting performances. The center finished with 11 points, a game-high 14 rebounds and two blocks. But he made just 4 of 16 shots, while missing all six of his three-pointers. Embiid missed his first eight shots from the field — including five three-pointers — before scoring a layup with 4 minutes, 35 seconds left in the third quarter.
Most of his shots — especially the three-pointers — were wide open. They just didn’t fall. The big man basically spent most of his time in the perimeter instead of posting up down low for the first three quarters.
“You just got to rebound and find my spots, especially getting in the post and make something happen,” Embiid said.
Embiid played 28 minutes, 2 seconds in his first home game since Jan. 27 due to a torn meniscus in his left knee. He didn’t travel with the Sixers to Toronto for Saturday’s game against the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre. He has yet to be cleared to play games on back-to-back nights.
But on Friday, guards J.J. Redick, Jerryd Bayless, and Simmons picked up the slack.
Redick finished with a team-high 19 points. Bayless added 18, while Simmons finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
Meanwhile, the Celtics (1-2) avoided remaining winless through three games for the first time since the 2013-14 season by outscoring the Sixers, 46-27, over the last 16:20 of game time.
Boston recorded the road win without the services of Gordon Hayward (fractured left ankle), Marcus Morris (sore left knee) and Marcus Smart (sprained left ankle).
On this night, the crowd definitely gave the Sixers a lot of support. They chanted “Trust The Process” when Embiid was at the foul line and before he scored his first basket. They booed the Celtics throughout the night and gave it to the refs at every turn. They had plenty of opportunities, as 54 fouls were called, 30 against the Sixers.
And who can forget the tailgate?
“I saw that,” Embiid said. “I was like what is this a football game? I was surprised by that. But once again, I love it. That means we got something going. We just got to keep on going and win some games.”
The odds are against the Sixers on Saturday without Embid.
That fact that he’s not playing against the Raptors isn’t surprising. He has yet to play in back-to-back games as a Sixer.
Embiid said he’ll play in both games of some of the Sixers’ 14 back-to-back situations. He’s just not sure when.
“I just want to feel like an NBA player,” he said. “I feel like I’m not an NBA player because I don’t play back-to-backs”