With some idle time to kill between the 76ers’ final game of the old year, and their first game of the new one, I thought I’d take a crack at running through what, to me, were the top highlights from a memorable 2018.
It was a 12-month stretch that represented arguably the most promising period in recent franchise history. There were breakout showings on both collective and individual levels, historic feats achieved, and elite talent stockpiled.
So here it goes, in chronological order, the first moments that came mind as I thought back on a fantastic past year.
January 3rd: 112-106 W vs San Antonio Spurs
Hard to ask for a more promising start to a new year. The win came in the Sixers’ first outing of 2018, and halted a 12-game, six-season losing streak to Brett Brown’s old employer.
January 9th - 11th: NBA London Game
While the game itself wasn’t particularly memorable - aside from JJ Redick’s ridiculous first half - the trip on the whole sure was. The Sixers being called upon to represent the NBA overseas was a special opportunity.
January 15th: 117-111 W vs Toronto Raptors
The Sixers were at full strength, and so too was Toronto, making the triumph - just the second for the Sixers in 20 attempts against the Raptors - all the more noteworthy. Joel Embiid had a big night (34 pts, 11 reb), and this win, combined with ones to follow later in the month against Boston and San Antonio (the Sixers’ first victory in the Alamo City since 2004), indicated the club’s January push was for real.
February 12th: 108-96 W vs New York Knicks
Anything involving T.J. McConnell and an on-court water bottle shower deserves inclusion in this article.
February 14th: 104-102 W vs Miami Heat
There was plenty to love about Marco Belinelli’s debut (17 pts, 3-5 3fg). He was one of two key buyout acquisitions - Ersan Ilyasova, in March, being the other - who ultimately helped propel the Sixers into the postseason for the first time since 2012.
February 16th - 18th: All-Star Weekend
Joel Embiid became the first Sixer since Allen Iverson to start in an All-Star Game, and the big man didn’t disappoint (19 pts, 8 reb). The franchise was well-represented in Los Angeles, as Ben Simmons and Dario Saric also took part in All-Star Weekend festivities.
March 1st: 108-97 W @ Cleveland Cavaliers
As the Sixers continued to build steam heading into the home stretch of the season, a road win over LeBron James and Co. certainly made noise. This game also marked the return of Ersan Ilyasova, who, the next night, went for 18 points in a home win over the Charlotte Hornets.
March 15th: 118-110 W @ New York Knicks
Have to give a mention to the game that started it all - “it all,” of course, being the Sixers’ NBA-record setting 16-game winning streak that closed out the regular season. The starters were superb in this one, with Joel Embiid going for 29 points and 10 rebounds, and Ben Simmons spinning a triple-double (13 pts, 10 reb, 12 ast).
March 26th: 123-104 W vs Denver Nuggets
It was about as emotional as we’ve seen Brett Brown in his tenure as head coach. Prior to tip-off, he revealed that Markelle Fultz would be in uniform and available to play for the first time since the Sixers’ fourth game of the season. The 2017 no. 1 pick posted 10 points, four rebounds, and eight assists off the bench.
March 28th: 118-101 W vs New York Knicks
The night Joel Embiid went down with a face injury that would sideline him for parts of three weeks, Dario Saric summoned up an inspired performance (26 pts, 14 reb, 5 ast, 2 stl) to ensure the Sixers’ late-season surge stayed alive.
April 11th: 130-95 W vs Milwaukee Bucks
It was the perfect capper to a statement regular season. En route to wrapping up the Eastern Conference three seed, the Sixers blew out the also playoff-bound Bucks. Markelle Fultz registered a feel-good triple-double, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to achieve the statistical feat.
April 21st: 106-102 W vs Miami Heat
For each of the Sixers’ two playoff series, I decided to pick one game that stood out to me the most. In the opening round, the nod went to Game 4, played at American Airlines Arena. Miami pretty much knew that with the Sixers in front, 2-1, and guaranteed at least one more home game, this contest would be its last best chance to stay alive. With Joel Embiid back in the fold, and JJ Redick and Ben Simmons hitting key late shots, the Sixers turned in a clutch fourth quarter (27-19) to escape with a huge victory. Three days later in South Philadelphia, the Sixers rolled past the Heat to advance.
May 7th: 103-92 W vs Boston Celtics
With Boston having taken the first three games of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Sixers had no choice but to win, and they did. T.J. McConnell was moved into the starting line-up, and responded with 19 points. The Sixers, however, ultimately bowed to the Celtics in Game 5.
June 21st: NBA Draft
With two first round selections, the Sixers acted boldly on draft night, sending the no. 10 pick to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for no. 16 and a 2021 unprotected first-rounder. The Sixers then used the 16th pick on Zhaire Smith, before grabbing Landry Shamet later in the first round.
July 7th: NBA Summer League
In the Sixers’ first summer league game of 2018, Furkan Korkmaz lit up Las Vegas, erupting for 40 points. His explosive output was the fifth-highest scoring total in a summer league game.
September 20th: Elton Brand Introductory Press Conference
One of the most beloved, respected players in recent team history pulled off an impressive quick ascent. When Elton Brand was formally introduced as the Sixers’ new general manager, managing partner Josh Harris called the former no. 1 pick and Rookie of the Year the “perfect general manager for today’s NBA.”
October 20th: 116-115 W vs Orlando Magic
Long before the 2018-19 season got underway, Joel Embiid made it known he was on a mission to win MVP. Within the Sixers’ first week, he had already registered four straight 30-point x 10-rebound games (the team’s longest such streak since Charles Barkley had four in a row in 1988). Against Orlando, Embiid finished with 32 points, 10 boards, and three assists, the last of which set up JJ Redick’s decisive 3-pointer.
November 9th: 133-132 W vs Charlotte Hornets
42 points, 18 rebounds, and a 19 for 22 effort from the free throw line is a big enough box line to warrant a place in this piece. The Sixers needed every bit of Joel Embiid’s massive contributions to fend off Charlotte.
November 14th: Jimmy Butler, Justin Patton Introductory Press Conference
Two days after finalizing a rare, early-season blockbuster deal for a proven star, the Sixers welcomed Jimmy Butler to the organization in a jam-packed press conference at the team’s training complex. The four-time All-Star hit all the right notes with his remarks, saying, “I got to be able to love where I’m at, and have a great chance to win a championship. I think for me, that’s what it’s about. I think this city is going to be absolutely amazing.”
November 17th: 122-119 W @ Charlotte Hornets
In only his third game with the Sixers, Jimmy Butler showed the team and its fans exactly what he could do in crunch time. After coming up with a huge block and baseline possession save, he then went down to the opposite end of the floor and nailed a triple in the final seconds of overtime to lift his new squad over the Hornets.
November 25th: 127-125 W @ Brooklyn Nets
Jimmy Butler in the clutch, redux.
December 22nd: 126-101 W vs Toronto Raptors
Yes, Toronto was shorthanded, but either way, the Sixers - perhaps for peace of mind more than anything else - needed a win over their Atlantic Division rival, currently the best team in the NBA. Ben Simmons scored a season-high 26 points (11-13 fg) and grabbed 12 boards while helping lead the way.
As the Sixers get ready to ring in the new year Tuesday at Staples Center against the LA Clippers, the story of 2019 is just about to begin. Cheers to it being as special and fun as the last 365 days.