The 76ers came out of the tunnel before the game Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors dressed in Jerseys over their warmups with either number 8 or 24 and the name Bryant on the back. Kobe Bryant played at Lower Merion High School before going directly to the NBA in 1996. His impact on the current crop of NBA players is undeniable. Brett Brown spoke prior to the game “I’m coming into tonight to win. And I think that that’s probably the greatest, In my opinion, tribute, you can pay to such an amazing competitor.” Said Brown about the famously intense and hard nosed Bryant. “And I’m going to coach. With that spirit.” Brown admitted after the game, however, that it was hard to really coach in the early part of the game as the sadness of the tragedy hit home.
The game took place a night after the Lakers and Clippers postponed their game in Los Angeles as the city deals with the loss of 9 lives in their community. As the clock struck 7:03 the crowd went silent and stayed virtually silent as the 76ers turned the lights in the arena down and eventually Lakers purple. The names of the 9 victims in the crash showed on the jumbotron as the arena announcer paid respects to Bryant’s legacy in the city as well as to the game of basketball. “I thought the Sixers did a fantastic job of capturing what is such a difficult moment.” Said Warriors coach Steve Kerr “You want to honor Kobe, his daughter, and all the victims and their families. You want to do it in a respectful way and a professional way, but you still have a basketball game to play, so it’s a very tricky thing to put together. I thought the Sixers handled it beautifully”
Joel Embiid, who returned from a dislocated left ring finger wearing #24 in honor of Bryant won the opening tip. Ben Simmons then promptly took a knee and accepted an 8 second shot clock violation. The Warriors returned the gesture with a 24 second violation as has become tradition over the last 48hrs.
Sixers Win 115-104
The highlight of the game was a toss up between Raul Neto exploding for 19 first half points in a 15minute run and Joel Embiid yelling “Kobe!” as he hit a baseline fadeaway jumper for his 24th point of the night. “I didn’t know it was actually 24 points as I shot that fade-away.” said Embiid “That was what he was about. I actually yelled “Kobe.” A lot of us, since I started playing basketball, that’s how we’ve always done it. You shoot something in the trash and you just go “Kobe,” so that was cool. For that to be the 24th point and me wearing 24 means a lot”.
In all it was a professional victory for the 76ers who put away the Warriors after a back and forth start. The final score was 115-104. The Sixers had a balanced offense with 5 players in double figures despite no player taking more than Embiid’s 13 field goal attempts. Ben Simmons struggled from the floor, but shot 9 of 10 from the free throw line.
After the game Brett Brown spoke about not doing much in the way of coaching in the early parts of the game, as the sadness of the evening sunk in. He noted that during Neto’s hot stretch in the second quarter, Ben Simmons relayed to him via his assistants that Brown should let Neto play. Raul Neto who admitted to being tired near the end of the first half spoke to the spirit of the team and the unselfishness of Ben Simmons. He also noted that he has the best job in the world as an NBA player.
When asked about his memories of Kobe Bryant, Neto talked of his passion for the game as an inspiration to him as a player. “The way he approached that game” Said Neto “it’s something that I can remember like it was yesterday. I remember his face, the way he loved the game, the way he played that game with so much passion.”
Blue Route Dividends
Shake Milton and Zhaire Smith acquitted themselves well in the game. Milton starting his second straight game because of his ability to operate a pick and roll scored 11 points on 5-6 from the field including some crafty finishes. Milton was also solid defensively and was compared by Brian Jacobs to Aaron McKie a key stabilizing force for the 2001 76ers team that went to the NBA finals. Milton plays with a poise and steadiness that could open up future opportunities for him. Milton was signed to a 4yr NBA contract last summer after a year on a two way contract as a rookie in 2018/19. Smith who changed his number 8 to 7 temporarily was active defensively and attacked the rim, but was just 1-5 for 3 points. Smith said that he will play with #5 for the rest of the season.