The Doc Rivers-led Sixers: Here they come, pulling us in …
I know. The Heat didn’t have their full roster. The Sixers didn’t have their full roster. This was just one game in the first month of an NBA season that could very well end up finishing once again in a bubble. But if you’re a long-time Sixers fan, wasn’t there a different energy you felt from our team?
Joel Embiid deciding to be unstoppable, leading his rookie teammates to a victory that seemed improbable in the final minute of the 4th quarter. The depleted rotation of Embiid, Maxey, Green, Scott, Joe, and Dakota (yes, we’re all on a first-name basis with him after this game) found a way to make sure that the Sixers Piano Girl led the entire city in a socially distanced celebration.
But let’s think about the overtime period against the Heat. Granted, Jimmy Butler didn’t play. And if he did, he most surely would’ve dropped 50 in his most arrogant stepdad style and the Heat would’ve left Philly with the win. But he didn’t play, and we as Sixers fans finally might have multiple reasons to feel optimistic. During overtime, was I the only one who felt just a little bit of nostalgia reminiscent of Allen Iverson and his 2001 squad full of defenders, rebounders, and Matt Geiger?
That 2001 Sixers team had confidence. That 2001 Sixers team had personality. That 2001 Sixers team had chemistry. Every time they hit the floor, we as fans knew that they were capable of defeating any team in the league. Not because they were the most talented, but because they played TOGETHER. Granted, I may just be on an enthusiastic high following an overtime win. But togetherness is the vibe I felt from the Sixers pulling out this victory.
There is no doubt that Doc Rivers has already made a colossal difference as head coach. He’s tenacious, dedicated, brilliant, and his raspy voice sounds like he even coaches in his sleep. The difference between Doc Rivers and Brett Brown is palpable already. Brett Brown is a tremendous human being. He’s so nice that he almost makes a New England accent tolerable (almost).
But unfortunately, Brown gave us all the feeling of a substitute teacher who would always attempt to follow the lesson plan but would quickly give up after the first paper airplane whizzed by his head. Rivers has this team taking shape by believing in each other and, dare I say, they look like they’re actually enjoying the game of basketball. When is the last time any of us could say that about a Sixers roster?
Perhaps Joel Embiid got tired of people criticizing him for being a better personality than a player. It’s also possible that Ben Simmons wants to prove that he’s worth being a cornerstone of this franchise instead of being traded for James Harden and his party belly. Daryl Morey and Elton Brand may have brought in the perfect blend of gutsy rookies in Tyrese Maxey and Isaiah Joe. Seth Curry is playing like he wants to be a star. Danny Green might clank all of his shots or he might hit 9-threes, but most importantly, he’s not Al Horford. Shake Milton plays with a passion that makes you want to go shoot hoops at midnight even if the court lights have long been turned off. Dwight Howard and Mike Scott should probably host a podcast together. As for Tobias Harris? Well, he’ll probably continue to have us complaining constantly about him while still managing to average around 20 and 8.
Now, with every ounce of enthusiasm I’ve just displayed for my first offering to The Liberty Line, I’m still a realist. I don’t think the Sixers will have enough to compete for a championship this season. But I do think they’ll give us all what we’ve been waiting for since AI stepped over Tyronn Lue, and that’s hope. That’s hustle. That’s giving a damn. That’s being tougher than the other team. That’s not laying down and getting swept in the playoffs. That’s standing side by side and knowing that they can defeat any team in the league if they go all-in on each other. That’s giving the great Marc Zumoff a reason to lose his mind and have us jumping to our feet. That’s what I want. That’s what you want. That’s what Sixers fans deserve. There won’t be any further need to trust the process once we can trust in these Philadelphia 76ers.