For the bulk of the offseason, NBA analysts and observers have predicted a dire season for the Philadelphia 76ers. General manager Sam Hinkie has seemingly built a team precision-engineered to finish with the worst record in the league, boosting their chances at nabbing a high-lottery pick in what appears to be a quality 2014 draft. 2013 top pick Nerlens Noel will likely miss the full season, the team doesn't appear to have more than a handful of NBA-level players, and the front office doesn't seem concerned with setting a new record for pro basketball futility. Most people have been preparing for 82 games of pain.
However, in their season opener against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, the Sixers gave notice to the league that they may need to be taken seriously. Opening the game on a ridiculous 23-2 run during which they hit their first 11 shots from the field, Philadelphia weathered a steady Miami comeback and ended up with a 114-110 win over a team no one expected them to beat. It was like something out of the Mel Brooks film "The Producers," with a planned disaster turning into a runaway hit.
The star was rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who put up a stupendous line of 22 points (6-of-10 shooting), 12 assists, nine steals, seven rebounds, and just one turnover in his first NBA game. Beyond that, Carter-Williams looked like very comfortable, suggesting that his amazing performance might be a statistical outlier but not necessarily an incorrect impression of his abilities. Four other Sixers joined him in double figures, including Evan Turner with a team-high 26 points (10-of-19 shooting) and Spencer Hawes (24 points on 10-of-14 shooting, plus nine rebounds).
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the win was that the game appeared to be slipping away heading into the fourth quarter. After bouncing back from their rough start, the Heat began to find their strokes from beyond the arc (16-of-40 for the game, although they missed seven of their last eight attempts), including this buzzer-beater by Ray Allen to end the third quarter with a 94-85 lead:
The young, inexperienced, overmatched Sixers appeared to have little chance of besting the Heat. Yet they managed to out-execute LeBron James and Co. when it mattered most, getting major baskets from Hawes and key free throws from Turner and Carter-Williams in the closing minutes to seal the win. The Heat can use the unplanned absence of Dwyane Wade as something of an excuse for the loss, but they were also simply the worse team on Wednesday.
There is much evidence to suggest that this win could be the Sixers' most impressive game of the season. Their roster still lacks depth and talent, Carter-Williams will not flirt with a quadruple-double on a regular basis, and most nights won't feature the positive emotion related to the official retirement and celebration of franchise legend Allen Iverson. Nevertheless, there are many, many reasons for the franchise. After one game, it's OK to imagine a bright season lies ahead.
Unless, of course, the franchise's plan was to go 0-82 this season. In that case, Sam Hinkie will demand answers on how everything went so terribly wrong.
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